The HyperTexts

Jared Carter




Jared Carter’s first collection of poems, Work, for the Night Is Coming, won the Walt Whitman Award for 1980. His second, After the Rain, received the Poets’ Prize for 1995. His third collection, Les Barricades Mystérieuses, was published in 1999. His latest book is Darkened Rooms of Summer, published in 2014 by the University of Nebraska Press, with an intro by Ted Kooser. Jared Carter was a recipient of the Indiana Governor’s Arts Award for 1985. His fellowships include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Other honors have included the New Letters Literary Award for Poetry in 1992, judged by Philip Levine, and the 2002 Rainmaker Award for Poetry from Zone 3 magazine, judged by Marilyn Chin.

Jared Carter was invited to read his work at the Library of Congress on December 9, 2004. For more information, please click here.

Jared Carter is a Midwesterner from Indiana. He studied at Yale and at Goddard, and worked briefly as a newspaper reporter. After military service and travel abroad, he made his home in Indianapolis, where he found employment in textbook publishing. He continues to serve as a consultant in that field.

In his main body of work, Carter offers “a local habitation and a name,” and invites the reader to explore a place called Mississinewa County, a world of small towns and family farms and hard-working people who live close to the land.

The many characters in Carter’s poemssoldiers, Shakers, farmers, ex-football players, berry pickers, derelictsstrive to maintain their dignity and to uphold their traditions. It is the striving that connects them with the universal, and it is the author’s craftsmanshipa style one critic, H. L. Hix, has described as “diamond-hard clarity”that makes them memorable.

Mississinewa County first sprang to life in Carter’s initial book, Work, for the Night Is Coming. Critical response was immediate. “From beginning to end,” Dana Gioia wrote in his review of the book in Poetry, “this volume has the quiet passion of conviction, the voice of a poet who knows exactly what he wants to say and how to say it.” In McGill’s Literary Annual, Henry Taylor described Work, for the Night Is Coming as “one of the clearest and strongest first books to have appeared in recent decades.” Writing for Library Journal, Margaret Gibson called it “a true winner. It is simply splendid.”

Carter’s second collection, After the Rain, attracted similar notice. “Extraordinary,” Gioia reported in the Washington Post Book World, “a dark, haunting book in the tradition of Frost.” In New Letters Book Reviewer, Ted Kooser found After the Rain to be “a moving and masterful book, charming in the best sense of that word.” It offered “proof,” Robert Phillips wrote in the Houston Post, “that the art of poetry is alive and well in America.” Perhaps Robert McPhillips, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, 1994, best summed up the critical reaction to Carter’s second book: “Well crafted, philosophically profound, and eminently readable . . . the finest, most varied, and most rewarding volume of poetry published in 1993.”

Carter’s third collection, Les Barricades Mystérieuses, published by Cleveland State in 1999, takes the reader even farther into Mississinewa territory.  At the same time it pays homage to one of Carter’s particular interests, the heritage of French exploration and discovery in the American heartland. Always an upholder of traditionalism in prosody and poetic practice, Carter turns, in this third book, to the extremely repetitive and very French poetic form of the villanelle. David Lee Garrison, writing in The Southern Indiana Review, found these villanelles to be “as simple and subtle as the change in light and shadow against a wall created by the shift of a log in the fire, the sound of a door swinging open in the wind, or peonies that reveal an old pathway through an orchard.”

“Carter’s is a poetry of a resolute middle distance, firmly of this world: between the dust under the earth and the dust of space there exists the place that the poem can illumine.”—Helen Vendler, New York Review of Books

You can check out Jared Carter's web site by clicking here.

Jared Carter's books are available on-line at the links below:

Work, for the Night Is Coming
After the Rain
Les Barricades Mystérieuses
Darkened Rooms of Summer
and at amazon.com



After the Rain

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different viewthe glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

From After the Rain. First published in The Formalist.
Copyright © 1990, 1993 by Jared Carter.

 


Improvisation

To improvise, first let your fingers stray
across the keys like travelers in snow:
each time you start, expect to lose your way.

You’ll find no staff to lean on, none to play
among the drifts the wind has left in rows.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray

beyond the path. Give up the need to say
which way is right, or what the dark stones show;
each time you start, expect to lose your way.

And what the stillness keeps, do not betray;
the one who listens is the one who knows.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray;

out over emptiness is where things weigh
the least. Go there, believe a current flows
each time you start: expect to lose your way

Risk is the pilgrimage that cannot stay;
the keys grow silent in their smooth repose.
To improvise, first let your fingers stray.
Each time you start, expect to lose your way.

From Les Barricades Mystérieuses. First published in Poetry.
Copyright © 1987, 1999 by the Modern Poetry Association.



The Measuring

You’re sickly palea crooked root.
But one last remedy remains:
Before the dawn we’ll go on foot
Through grass sleeked down by heavy rains
To the sexton’s house. Already he
Takes down his spade, and goes
To walk among the whitened rows.
His wife awaits with lengths of string
Necessary for measuring.

She has no fire alight, nor words
To spare, but bolts the wooden door
And helps you out of clothes that fall
Soundlessly to the floor. Naked,
You mount the table and recline;
She comes, her eight stiff fingers
Trailing bright bits of twine. First,
Crown to nose, then mouth to chin,
Pressing against each crevice, in
And down the length of your cold frame
Whispering unintelligible names.

The feet are last to stretch: from heel
To toe each one must be times seven
The other piece. She nods, and knots
The two together, breathes her spell,
Then turns to go. I leave a pair
Of silver dollars there, and take
The string to tie where it will rot
The winter long: on hinge of gate,
Wheelbarrow shaft, or eaves-trough’s fall.

Behind us, where the darkness drains,
A blackbird settles on the roof
And calls back to another that rain
Is coming like an awful proof.
The two denounce the scratching sound
The sexton’s spade makes on the ground
Measuring off the careful square
Of someone else expected there.

From Work, for the Night Is Coming. First published in Sou’wester.  
Copyright © 1979, 1981, 1995 by Jared Carter.




Interlude

Here is the spring I promised we would find
if we came back this waya hollow space
beneath the hillside, waiting all this time

for us to angle through the leaves, and climb
down to the ledge, to where it slows its pace.
Here is the spring I promised we would find,

with elderberry blossoming, and thyme
and saxifrage along the limestone face.
Beneath the hillside, waiting all this time,

the falls, in overflowing steps, combine
to form an unexpected stopping-place.
Here is the spring I promised we would find:

across the pool, the accidental lines
and endless circles mergea constant grace,
beneath the hillside, waiting. All this time

has brought us hereto listen to the pines,
to drink, to watch the water striders race.
Here is the spring I promised we would find
beneath the hillside, waiting all this time.

From Les Barricades Mystérieuses. First published in Free Lunch
Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Jared Carter.




The Believers
Shakertown at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.
Winter solstice.
These are the old dreads whispering to me
through the slant light of the meetinghall
this wintry afternoon. Mother Ann Lee
is here, raising a splintery hand to call
for lines to form between the facing walls
and dance the figures that can bring to pass
a momentary clearing of the darkened glass.

A blaze of dying sun brings out the grain
across the wooden floor. Outside this space
their bodies could not touch, nor long remain
together, else some elder’s wrinkled face
shone down, from its high watching place,
and shamed them. Here, desire slipped its rein,
the better to be harnessed on a higher plane.

To save by giving what one cannot keep
mortal to dance, and by such whirling come
into immortal worldswhile others sleep,
to waken from the body’s dark mysterium
these were the steps she taught. And once begun,
there was no turning back, no way to slake
this thirst for otherness except to shake.

And as a tree in winter fills with crows
convened out of some harsh necessity
till every branch is bent and overflows
into a mirroring of what one sees
in summercreatures become leaves,
all turning, turning, in a dark repose
so did they circle here, and come in close

until they flowered, and it was summer now,
by Shawnee Run, near the stone landing,
where fireflies had filled a sycamore
with single light, and all who say, standing
along the shore, knew a sure commanding
in that pulse, and walked there, bright
and dark by turns, in the summer night.

None of that charmed singing in the air
above their heads has lasted. Nothing remains
of what it meant to dance the hollow square,
to walk the narrow path, the endless chain.
Not even the sun’s slow march explains
here they kept time simply by the swing
of a lead bullet fastened to a string.

The guided tour moves on. I cross the floor
through triangles of light and shade, done
with imagining, yet pausing at the door
to look back on this room, and how the sun
reveals, for just a moment, what will come
when we are finally shaken, and by grace,
no longer darkly see, but face to face.

From After the Rain. First published in Cumberland Poetry Review
Copyright © 1985, 1993 by Jared Carter.




Snow

At every hand there are moments we
cannot quite grasp or understand. Free

to decide, to interpret, we watch rain
streaking down the window, the drain

emptying, leaves blown by a cold wind.
At least we sense a continuity in

such falling away. But not with snow.
It is forgetfulness, what does not know,

has nothing to remember in the first place.
Its purpose is to cover, to leave no trace

of anything. Whatever was there before
the worn broom leaned against the door

and almost buried now, the pile of brick,
the bushel basket filling up with thick,

gathering whiteness, half sunk in a drift
all these things are lost in the slow sift

of the snow’s falling. Now someone asks
if you can remembersuch a simple task

the time before you were born. Of course
you cannot, nor can I. Snow is the horse

that would never dream of running away,
that plods on, pulling the empty sleigh

while the tracks behind it fill, and soon
everything is smooth again. No moon,

no stars, to guide your way. No light.
Climb up, get in. Be drawn into the night.

First published in Poetry. Copyright © 1999 by the Modern Poetry Association.

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