November 19, 2010

Jean Valentine, NYS Writers Institute, November 16

Jean Valentine, the New York State Poet, did a seminar & reading for the New York State Writers Institute on November 16. The afternoon seminar was held in the Standish Room of the Science Library Building at the University at Albany (NY). The largely informal gathering of mostly students, with a gathering of local community poets & some faculty, was conducted by Edward Schwartzchild & Tomas Noel from the English Department.

Ms. Valentine began the discussion with an account of her early days of writing poetry as a young mother while her children were in nursery school. While many of the questions centered around her inspirations, how she wrote her poems & on the craft of writing, Ms. Valentine was not afraid to answer "I don't know" when necessary. She talked about her friend Grace Paley, whose spirit was quite a presence in the room; Paley was the very first New York State Poet (before the honor was split between the NYS Poet & the NYS Writer). Valentine read her poem in memory of Paley, "On a Passenger Ferry," from her new book, Break the Glass (Copper Canyon Press).

A young student asked Ms. Valentine what poets she would recommend to someone just starting to read poetry & the list included Lorine Niedecker, C.D. Wright, Emily Dickinson, Elisabeth Bishop & Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Later in the evening the Friends of the Albany Public Library joined with the Writers Institute to sponsor a reading at the library's main branch on Washington Ave. in Albany. Ms. Valentine was introduced by Gene Damm & Tomas Noel. She read one, extended piece, "Lucy," from her new book, about the famous bones discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. This poem composed in a number of short segments was written in the Summer of 2007 & first appeared in Sarabande Books' Quarternote Chapbook Series.

While I was reading Valentine's poems in the days before here visit, I was struck by how spare & elliptical they were, & indeed during the seminar she described how she would fill a page with words then take out the ones she "didn't need." But hearing Jean Valentine read her work often the connections were made by her tone & inflection aiding my understanding of the poems -- why we need to go to readings to hear our living poets read their work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

from Therese L. Broderick -- Yes, definitely we need to go hear the poets that we also read on the page. Wonderful that early on in her career, she won a major award with no MFA training, just her genuine love of poetry :)