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Featured Poet #3
May 2006 - V1 I3
Jared Carter is a careful
writer. So much so, that he gives every detail the attention it deserves, and the results are apparent in his
finely crafted poems and stories. I had the opportunity to work with Jared on several projects for this Spring issue, and
it afforded me a brief glimpse into this man's probing mind, and equally charitable heart. He denies being "a hearts and
flowers kind of guy", but nonetheless, much of his work touches upon plants and gardening, as do the poems showcased here
on his Poems page. And Gram Davies' review of Jared's new book also reveals the empathetic viewpoints of a man with a tender
side. Despite an admitted preference for looking forward, Jared Carter often looks back long enough to give us the gifts
of his – and our history's – memories.
~ E . A. Hanninen
| EAH: Does your current
interest in history exceed your enthusiasm for poetry?
JC: Not really. However, as I've gotten older, books on history have been a good way of looking back, perhaps
even a way of summing up. I try to keep in touch with contemporary poetry, of course. There are dozens of books of poems beside
my bed. But in the last ten years, the bookshelf in my bedroom indicates I've also gone through a lot of history, biography,
archeology, and popularized cosmology. Something like Timothy Ferris's The Whole Shebang is about as technical as I
can manage. A marvelous book, by the way.
EAH: Can you share the names
of the authors of one or two of those poetry books stacked beside your bed?
JC: Well, let me see. When possible, I like to read poets in depth. I have a handful of small collections
by Leo Yankevich, a young American poet now based in Poland. His latest is The Last Silesian, which contains some
first-rate formal poems.
I have an additional stack of books by Roland John, who's been a fixture on the UK poetry scene for many years. Roland is
a man for all seasons. His newest book, A Lament for England, is simply splendid. I have a stack by Lola Haskins,
whose work I've admired for years. And another stack by the wonderful Kentucky poet, Charles Semones.
Finally, I have a single volume by Roy Marz, who was active here in Indianapolis in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The title
is The Island-Maker. It's the only book of his poems that was ever published, shortly before his death in 1984. And
it's a dilly.
EAH: So, you keep an eye
on contemporary poetry, but you're drawn to other fields as well. Does your extra-curricular reading resurface in your own
JC: I do write poems dealing with history, or set in the distant past. But I'm not intentionally combing
through non-fiction books looking for something to write about. Rather, I'm absorbing concrete details and facts and words
that might come in handy. A poet needs to be intensely curious about everything.
Frost says somewhere that poetry is a master art, because nothing is unavailable or off limits. You can incorporate anything
at all in a poem – history, architecture, cooking, plants, animals, gardening, particle physics, and so on. Provided
that you do it well, of course.
EAH: Such as your inclusion
of the neglected orchid cactus in your poem "Grandmother"?
JC: A good example. In fact, that poem went nowhere, after I wrote it several years ago, because I was far
more interested in the plant than the poem. I thought the novelty of the cactus ought to carry it, and a couple of editors
disagreed right off the bat.
I put it away for a few years and then looked at it again. I rewrote it and added the present ending and it seemed to get
better. When you and I began polishing it, the cactus stayed in the foreground, but the poem itself came into much greater
EAH: You inserted some new
stanza and line breaks in "Grandmother" that facilitated the reading, in my opinion. What do you think of Joseph Salemi's
online essay in which he asserts that to employ the "split-level line" in contemporary poetry is useless and cowardly?
JC: He's right about how it's increasingly overused these days. But rather than ban it, why not use it
sparingly? I've been breaking lines for a long time. I try not to do it excessively or arbitrarily. I'm always concerned
with how the poem looks on the page or the screen.
Solid, page-long blocks of lines risk intimidating the reader. Sometimes you need to open the text a little and give it a
chance to breathe. Simply skipping an entire line is too mechanical. But breaking a line, if it's done grammatically and
in terms of the poem's own logic, can be quite helpful. An attractive textual image is as important as any other dimension
of a poem.
EAH: There's quite a bit
of debate among poets and editors about what poems "should look like" on the printed page, versus poems some claim are meant
only to be read aloud/heard by audiences. Now there's the more recent question of how poems are to be presented and viewed
on-screen, versus on paper. You've had several books published. What do you see are the differences?
JC: I don't think we can say that a poem is "meant only" to be read aloud. A poem is a poem. It can be
shown on a screen, reproduced on paper, or spoken aloud. It remains the same poem. But each medium of delivery has its
own technical requirements.
One of the things I learned, years ago, when I was going to a lot of open-mike readings, is that you can ruin a good poem
with poor verbal technique. Not knowing how to handle a microphone, for example, so that it pings and booms because you're
too close to it.
Some poets have terrible delivery skills. Others are quite capable. If you have a trained voice, such as most actors and
professional broadcasters possess, you can make the phone book sound interesting.
But to get back to your question, a poem on the printed page is fixed, and there are longstanding typographical conventions
about how to fix it – margins, indents, line spacing, type size, fonts, leading, character spacing, and so on.
A poem on a web page is far more protean. The elements just mentioned can shift in a dozen different ways, depending on the
browser you're viewing it through, and the sophistication of the html code in which it is written.
On certain poetry sites, for example, The New Formalist, the viewer can adjust the type size and also select from among a number of fonts. You can't do that with a book. But then
books don't go blank or freeze up, either.
Either way, print page or web page, the more the poet knows about how they're put together, the greater the likelihood that
his or her poem will be effectively and attractively presented.
EAH: Do you have any advice
for the would-be writer?
JC: Yes. Move to Seattle and get a job washing dishes.
EAH: Why Seattle? Is the
city known elsewhere as a writer's Mecca? Or is it the exceptional marketing ploy of our "Freeze-dried Rain" that's attractive
to poets? Or maybe just something in the dish-suds?
JC: All of the above, without question. I should make it clear that I have the highest regard for Seattle.
It's a great town. No other city in America regards the slug as its signature animal. That's genuine civic pride.
But seriously, about getting away from the predictable – that's all I'm saying. Step out of your everyday frame of
reference. Be humble. Prepare for the long haul. You don't really have to go anywhere else, either. You can do it in your
own backyard. Ultimately it's a matter of will. What did Thoreau say? "I have traveled much in Concord."
EAH: Your newest book, a
collection of poems titled, Cross this Bridge at a Walk, just out from Wind Publications, begins with a poem in which
the narrator is out on the road. You have suggested that the writer's most important tool is the automobile – can you
(Read Gram Davies' review of Cross this Bridge at a Walk in this issue!)
JC: The word-processor was a wonderful invention for writers when it first appeared. I could entertain
you for hours with funny and also tragic stories about the early days in the ‘80s, when an entire electronic manuscript,
on which you had worked for weeks or months, could disappear in the blink of an eye. Merde alors!
But I still believe the automobile to be the writer's indispensable tool. I don't mean for going to the corner grocery.
I mean for going out to look at America.
This is a very big country. It is topographically, historically, culturally, and ethnically diverse. It's a great joy to
explore it and to come to know its people firsthand. This is extremely important – and not just for aspiring writers.
I'm not putting down hikers and travelers on foot. You can cover much vaster distances with a vehicle. But you can probably
see and understand much more when you're simply walking along the side of a road. My hat's off to those people.
I'm not contradicting myself, either, in terms of my answer to the previous question. You can write anywhere. You don't
have to fly to Paris or drive to San Francisco in order to be inspired. But while you're still young and impressionable,
it's a vital part of your education to get out and see the country. See the world, too, while you're at it.
EAH: Is that what takes
place in the poems in your new book – the poet takes to the open road? Kerouac all over again?
JC: Only in the first poem. It's a souvenir of the ‘80s, when I was giving a lot of poetry readings.
The new book circles around for a while, from New England to Illinois and Kentucky, but it ends up back in Mississinewa County,
my old stomping grounds.
EAH: No place like home?
JC: Over the years I've come to understand that it's as universal as anywhere else. I guess you could
say I've put down a longterm bet on Mississinewa County. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received, many years ago
– and I have no idea who said it first – was "Create a world." I've tried to do that. I'll probably keep right
on doing it to the end.
As Tim Deines has pointed out in his unpublished study of my first two books, there is a "‘Mississinewa novel,' a single
thread that connects all of the poems together." In other words, a river runs through it.
EAH: Are there any writers
who have influenced you?
JC: First and foremost, Faulkner -- a writer who definitely "created a world." And what a world! After
Faulkner, I don't think I could say that this or that particular writer's example influenced me. I can't take credit
for being that perceptive. Or that proficient a student. I just kept plugging away.
But since those early days, a host of writers have appealed to me primarily because they have moved me. They have given me
hope. Hope that writing can matter. Turgenev and Flaubert. But not Proust, whom I simply haven't read at any length. Nor
Joyce, except for Portrait and Dubliners.
But to be more specific – I dearly love the works of Sarah Orne Jewett. She's an American master, right up there with
Twain and James and Cather. And not long ago I read Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita in translation. There's
no way I could claim that it influenced me or the way I write. But it knocked me off my feet. It's one of the great post-war
EAH: What are your writing
goals for the next several years? Do you have any long-term projects lined up?
JC: In looking to the future, and to the kind of poetry I still hope to write, I find myself thinking back
to the time in high school when I was a dash man on the track team. Curiously, I set a school record that has never been
broken – my time for the quarter mile, which is the equivalent of today's 400 meters. I set it exactly fifty years
ago, in May of 1956.
Ever since, in many different contexts, I've thought of myself as a sprinter, not as a miler or long-distance runner. I'm
a sprinter in poetry, too. In Cross this Bridge at a Walk, I attempt a few middle-distance poems of around four-hundred
or five-hundred lines. But that's my outer limit, and I'm never going to run the marathon or write an epic poem or even a
I'm essentially a lyric poet. Fifteen or twenty lines, and the race is over. Short and sweet. An example of the kind of
lyric I hope to keep writing is "Mourning Dove Ascending," in The Evansville Review. Or "Emily Cannon" in Poems Niederngasse.
I have fifty or sixty lyrics saved up – much shorter poems than are contained in the new book. I have enough already
for two additional full-length collections.
EAH: Yet you put a number
of relatively long poems in this new book?
JC: I tried to include the ones that seemed to fit together. They're essentially narratives and dramatic
monologues. After the introductory poem, they're arranged in approximate historical sequence, beginning at the time of the
American Revolution and continuing to the present.
I try to assemble each new book around a theme, or even a method or a form. The previous collection was all villanelles.
The next one will be primarily lyrics, with a sprinkling of narrative poems.
EAH: Your first published
poems appeared in 1967. Fortieth anniversary coming up in 2007. Any thoughts?
JC: There's an interesting bit of coaching insight about running the 100 meters. I reflect on it sometimes.
All of the runners approach top speed at somewhere around 60 or 65 meters. After that, even with only a couple of seconds
to go, fatigue sets in, and everybody is actually – measurably – beginning to slow down, compared to their rate
of speed during the first half of the race. This seems difficult to believe, but it's true. In physiological terms you can't
run at full tilt for more than about 60 meters.
So at this point you should not be trying to run faster than the people in the other lanes. What you're really trying
to do is not slow down as quickly as they're slowing down. Everybody in the race is decelerating at this point. You're
simply trying to decelerate less rapidly than your competitors.
For any writer approaching the end of a long career, this is a striking metaphor. Except for one difference: there are no
other runners. There never have been. You're alone on the track. It's a race you've been running all this time against your
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