Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965-2003
By Jean Valentine (Wesleyan University Press, 285 pages)
Jean Valentine made her poetic debut in 1965. While her contemporaries turned the blank page into a confessional, Valentine fashioned a magic carpet out of it instead, transporting readers to cloudy dreamscapes, where ordinary things take on secret menace and poignancy. Door in the Mountain, winner of the 2004 National Book Award, collects four decades of Valentine's work and adds a hefty selection of new poems. Read it chronologically and you can appreciate the gradual winnowing down of Valentine's style as well as infer the emotional arc of a life, from the heartbreaking honesty of the line, "God break me out of this stiff life I've made," to the poem "Happiness," which replays a street encounter through the prism of the poet's weary gratitude. To fully appreciate Valentine's care with language, one must slow down and watch the words fall to the page. It's a luxurious mandate, this style of Valentine's, for it gives the reader a chance to indulge a heightened awareness in the natural world, the passage of time, and the aural quality of language.