Jared Carter was born on January 10, 1939, in
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).
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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
Thompson, Donald E. Indiana Authors
and Their Books 1967-1980. Crawfordsville, IN: Wabash
Umberger, David. Jared Carter. Pincushion's
Strawberry. Cleveland: Cleveland State University Poetry
Jared Carter Poetry
with Jared Carter
Jared Carter Interviewed by Jough Dempsey
The Centrifugal Eye: Featured Poet - Jared Carter