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UNH Writers Series brings in poet Jean Valentine

By REBECCA ANDERSON, contributing writer

Renowned poet, Jean Valentine, performed a soft-spoken reading at the University of New Hampshire Thursday, March 5 as part of the Writers Series. Faculty from the English department, graduate students, and undergraduate students gathered in the Memorial Union building to listen, and learn from some of her most beloved poems. Over the years, Valentine has produced a bookshelf full of her bound poems, along with many award-winning pieces.

If it were not for English professor David Rivard, Valentine may not have performed a reading at the university. He personally accompanied the poet from Boston to the UNH campus. 

“She doesn’t do a lot of readings now, since she’s recently turned 80,” Rivard said.

For years, the Writers Series has brought a variety of fiction, poets, and non-fiction writers to campus each semester.

Both Rivard and poetry professor Andrew Merton believe that poetry is transformed when read allowed, such as Valentine’s work on Thursday evening.

“We stress that in poetry there is an added dimension if you hear the poet read,” Merton said. “She was relatively casual yet her poems were about dark subjects.”

Valentine admitted that she writes a lot about love and death. She comically added that just about everyone else does so as well.

Merton said that this is important for students to note; that although many write about these subjects they can be made fresh. The reading provided a different medium for students and admirers to learn from.

“So much of the meaning in poetry is embedded in ‘how’ it sounds, the tone of the speech, the music and the silences,” Rivard said.

Valentine’s voice was soft and easygoing. Those in the back listened attentively, leaning forward in their seats to grasp onto her words. She began with work, not of her own, but work she was fond of that helped with her own reading.

“I wanted to read a couple of things about poetry that I love, maybe to get out of my own nervousness,” Valentine said.

Throughout the reading it was clear that most of the poems she chose were either memorial pieces or inspired by notable individuals. People of different professions, those going through adversity, or people that simply catch her eye are her muses.

Roughly 15 poems were recited all in a similar tone, but a difference in pace and emotion. Most, she prefaced by announcing the theme or subject. She also spoke about her fascination with translating poems and working in tandem with those who help along that specific journey.

The audience gave a grand round of applause after the reading and it was clear that the majority were dedicated fans.

“There’s a wonderful sense of mystery and wonder in Jean Valentine’s work, and anyone hearing it last Thursday would likely come away feeling more of that in their own life,” said Rivard.

Many await Valentine’s next book of poems, due to be published later this year. Even late in her career, Jean Valentine continues to create and inspire.

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