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Jared CarterJared Carter
(1939- )

Hoosier Connection: Jared Carter was born in Elwood, Indiana. He eventually settled in Indianapolis and has worked there as a reporter, publisher, editor, and author.

Works Discussed: "Early Warning," "Mississinewa County Road," "The Undertaker," "Monument City," "Mississinewa Reservoir at Winter Pool," "Bridge over Yellow Cat," "Watching by the Stream," "After the Rain," "The Gleaning"

Jared Carter was born on January 10, 1939, in Elwood, Indiana, to a family of artists and artisans. He studied at Yale University and Goddard College, before serving in the military. Following his service, Carter spent a period traveling, but eventually returned to his native state to settle in Indianapolis, where he lives today. In 1979, Carter married B. Diane Haston.

Carter has worked as a reporter for the Indiana newspapers Huntington Herald-Press, Elwood Advertiser, and Kokomo Morning Times. After a four-year period working as a freelance editor and book designer, Carter worked from 1973 to 1976 as managing editor in the college division of Bobbs-Merrill Co., an Indianapolis-based publishing house.

Work, for the Night Is Coming, published in 1981, was Carter’s first book-length poetry collection. It won the Walt Whitman Award of American Poets, an annual award given to a poet publishing a first book of poetry. Carter followed with a number of poetry chapbooks and publications in various magazines and journals. In 1993, Carter released his second book-length collection, After the Rain, which further explores the themes of Work, for the Night Is Coming.

Carter has received several honors for his poetry, most notably the Walt Whitman Award, but other honors include the Academy of American Poets Prize, Yale University, 1961; National Endowment for the Arts, fellowship awards, 1981 and 1991; Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, 1982; Guggenheim fellowship, 1983; Indiana Governor’s Arts Award, 1985; and Poet’s Prize, 1995.

Much of Carter's work displays a sense of wonder at the natural world. While subjects such as mourning doves, cicadas, and flowers are often addressed in his poetry, his portrayal of small town life in Indiana has brought him the most acclaim. In many poems, Carter utilizes a fictional place called Mississinewa County as the setting. While Mississinewa River and Mississinewa Reservoir are real bodies of water in east central and northeast Indiana, Carter's locations are of his own creation. For example, "Early Warning" discusses the folk myths of Mississinewa County residents. The following passage gives an example of one of these superstitions:

When the weather turned
Crows settled about the house
Cawing daylong among the new leaves.
It would be a hard spring,
Folks said, the crows—
They know (Work 4).

"Mississinewa County Road" is another short poem with a strong sense of place. The piece reflects on a drive through the country at sunset, pointing out details like fences, crows, and the call of dogs:

While the car goes on, you get out
And stand with the chaff blowing
And crickets in the grass at the road’s edge (Work 13).

The construction of a reservoir in Mississinewa County is the subject of a handful of Carter’s poems. In "The Undertaker," an undertaker recruits several men to dig up 300 graves by hand from a churchyard and relocate them before the area floods. The following lines explain that through this labor, the men realize their connection to the people in the graves, the original gravediggers, and most importantly, the land and its rich heritage:

Each man slowly recognized, like a combination of lost numbers,
That men younger than themselves had labored here,
Grown old, and were gone, who had lifted this same earth,
Who had put in what they now took out, trying not to look
Yet seeing all: that these were the old tools in their hands,
That the sod came up in broken strips, and was cold,
That each shaft found its own way into the darkness. . . (Work 14).

"Monument City" gives the account of a woman who hires the same undertaker to photograph her house and her family before the reservoir floods her property. "Mississinewa Reservoir at Winter Pool" tells of older residents who return to the banks of the reservoir when the water is low to see the foundations of the church, the schoolhouse, and their old homes. Like many people, the men and women of the poem have a nostalgic desire to return to the places of their youth, places which, in this case, were flooded by the creation of the reservoir. Carter uses the reservoir as an example of humankind's direct impact on the land. It is a mixed blessing; while it creates a manageable water supply, it alters the landscape, destroying properties and habitats. It also displays nature's capacity to overcome human destruction, because although a reservoir is an artificial body of water, over time it returns to a natural state, providing habitats for various kinds of life.

Other poems, which may or may not be set in Mississinewa County, explore rural and small town life. In "Bridge over Yellow Cat," the speaker recalls cramming into an old truck with coworkers and driving to a worksite to build a bridge. Along the way, the men gossip or point out landmarks like the tree a local boy hit on the way home from the prom. In "Watching by the Stream" a resident talks about the “walleyed people,” neglected elderly folks who spend their days wandering around or sitting on benches telling local tales that no one else remembers. It is poems like these that established Carter as a poet and a storyteller with a distinct Indiana voice and an impeccable sense of place. While his poems are set in fictional places, they depict characters and landscapes that Hoosiers find instantly recognizable. Carter's themes, such as agriculture and small towns, are equally familiar to residents of Indiana and the Midwest.

The speaker in "After the Rain" walks through a freshly plowed field in search of arrowheads. By juxtaposing images of hunting and gathering with images of modern agriculture, Carter shows that humankind's means of survival have progressed, but dependence on the land is a constant. "The Gleaning" is one of Carter’s finest pieces, combining style and voice with his acute knowledge of rural Midwestern sensibilities. It tells of a farmer who is killed by a malfunctioning piece of equipment and is taken to the mortuary, where the town barber must trim the dead man’s hair and shave his face one last time. In a single poem, Carter creates a coherent town, filled with workers and tradespersons, and by showing life and death in an agricultural community, he exhibits the inexorable connection between humanity and the earth.

As pointed out by David Lee Garrison of Wright State University, “All of [Carter’s] work reveals an attitude of awe toward the natural world, especially the capacity of that world to mark the passage of time.” Carter uses topics such as reservoirs and agriculture to show the direct interaction of people and the landscape, thus accentuating this passage of time and affirming humankind's reliance on the natural environment.



Carter, Jared. After the Rain. Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1993.

Carter, Jared. Work, for the Night Is Coming. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

Garrison, David Lee. "An Interview with Jared Carter." The Edge City Review 12 May 2002. 20 Oct. 2002 <http://www.edge-city.com/page3.htm>.

"Carter, Jared." Contemporary Authors. 1995.

Thompson, Donald E. Indiana Authors and Their Books 1967-1980. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash College, 1981.


Umberger, David. Jared Carter. Pincushion's Strawberry. Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1984.

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