When Jean Valentine died on Dec. 29, 2020, America lost one of its most generous poets. Just days ago I was going through the many letters my friends from prison have sent me. And somehow within the mix was a letter from Jean. She wondered if I had the names of some young poets she should be checking for. I wish I remembered whose name I gave her, if anyone’s. But maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe for us poets, it only matters that someone is asking if we exist. Jean Valentine was a poet always looking for and singing the names of others. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts
Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman
I came to you
By Jean Valentine
I came to you
Lord, because of
the fucking reticence
of this world
no, not the world, not reticence, oh
We were sad on the ground
We were sad on the ground.
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, ‘‘Felon,’’ explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 article in The New York Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. Jean Valentine was a poet whose work included ‘‘Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003’’ (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), which won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2004. She was the New York State Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010.