Monday, July 6, 2009

Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, and grew up in California and Scotland. He is a professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of nine books of poetry: North Sea (1978), The Rote Walker (1981), Far and Away (1985), The Black Riviera (1990), Iris (1992), Questions for Ecclesiastes (1997), Unholy Sonnets (2000), To the Green Man (2004), and Epistles (2007). Jarman’s awards include a Joseph Henry Jackson Award for his poetry in 1974; three NEA grants in poetry in 1977, 1983, and 1992; and a fellowship in poetry from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for 1991-1992. His book The Black Riviera won the 1991 Poet’s Prize. Questions for Ecclesiastes was a finalist for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry and won the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets and The Nation magazine.


Is nothing real but when I was fifteen,
Going on sixteen, like a corny song?
I see myself so clearly then, and painfully--
Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform
Behind the candy counter in the theater
After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically
To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,
Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's
Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.
Is that all I have to write about?
You write about the life that's vividest.
And if that is your own, that is your subject.
And if the years before and after sixteen
Are colorless as salt and taste like sand--
Return to those remembered chilly mornings,
The light spreading like a great skin on the water,
And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges,
And--what was it exactly?--that slow waiting
When, to invigorate yourself, you peed
Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth
Crawl all around your hips and thighs,
And the first set rolled in and the water level
Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck
The water surface like a brassy palm,
Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed.
Yes. But that was a summer so removed
In time, so specially peculiar to my life,
Why would I want to write about it again?
There was a day or two when, paddling out,
An older boy who had just graduated
And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus,
Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water,
And said my name. I was so much younger,
To be identified by one like him--
The easy deference of a kind of god
Who also went to church where I did--made me
Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed.
He soon was a small figure crossing waves,
The shawling crest surrounding him with spray,
Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name
Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise
To notice me among those trying the big waves
Of the morning break. His name is carved now
On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave
That grievers cross to find a name or names.
I knew him as I say I knew him, then,
Which wasn't very well. My father preached
His funeral. He came home in a bag
That may have mixed in pieces of his squad.
Yes, I can write about a lot of things
Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.
But that's my ground swell. I must start
Where things began to happen and I knew it.

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

The poem must have started sometime in the late 1980’s, because my records show that it was published in The Indiana Review in 1988. I think the poem was finished in 1987. But I have always believed the poem described its own process of composition. I was writing about Santa Monica Bay where I grew up, yet again, and started asking myself why I kept returning to that subject. The poem tries to answer that question.

How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?

I wrote the poem at a time when I was not saving drafts (I do save them now), but most of the drafts would have been written in a notebook. That notebook is packed away somewhere. As I recall I began writing and stalled at the point I asked myself the question: “Why would I want to write about it again?” In this case “it” was growing up on Santa Monica Bay, in Redondo Beach, California, in the late 1960’s. I’m pretty sure I looked at the few lines I had several times over the next few days before the older boy appeared on his surfboard.

Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was “received” and how much was the result of sweat and tears?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t believe in inspiration, but I honestly don’t wait for it. Once the older boy, who would die in Vietnam, appeared in my memory of surfing one morning, I was able to revise the opening of the poem, and move things through to the poem’s conclusion. That took a lot of work, but all of it was the best kind of toil. Sweat and tears? I had not forgotten the grief and sorrow that settled on the church my father served when this boy, the son of a prominent family, was killed. His death profoundly affected that little community and our own family. My father began to oppose the Vietnam War, for example, and even preach against it – but that’s another story.

How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?

I was listening for a blank verse line, but trying not to do so slavishly. And since I had discovered an answer for my own question, it was simply a matter of intuiting when the answer was sufficient. I realized, too, that I wanted to echo the end of Yeats’s “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” (“down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart”) and the legendary Irish hero Finn McCool’s description of the most beautiful music in the world, “the music of what happens.” But I wanted this layered, highly literary allusion to seem anything but.

How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?

As I said earlier, I think it was about a year before it appeared in a magazine. But it was ten years before it appeared as the first poem in my book Questions for Ecclesiastes.

How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?

My practice varies from poem to poem. Usually once I think a poem’s finished, I let it sit for a few months before I send it anywhere.

Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?

This poem hews pretty closely to the facts as I remember them. I even verified them recently in conversation with my father. I did not know why I knew about the condition of the boy’s body, though. My father reminded me that the body was returned accompanied by a military officer who insisted that the remains not be viewed. But the boy in this poem was not the only older kid I knew who was killed in Vietnam. A boy I admired in my high school, who was a member of the writing club, died in Vietnam. The first time I visited the Vietnam Memorial I found their names.

Is this a narrative poem?

Sure, it’s a narrative poem. It follows a way of recollecting through anecdote and situates an event in history. But simply because it employs narrative in this way doesn’t mean that the poem is not also lyric.

Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?

I already mentioned Yeats, though I got to the quote from Finn McCool via Seamus Heaney. I was reading Robert Frost. And I was reading a lot of a contemporary master of narrative poetry, Larry Levis. Yeats, Heaney, Frost, Levis – all have been important and cherished influences.

Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?

Anyone who wants to read a poem.

Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?

I show my wife my work in early stages, and I have a few friends – fellow poets – whom I trust to give me advice about new poems.

How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

It deals with a subject about which I have written many poems, but its reflexivity, its self-consciousness about being a piece of writing, being a poem, is unusual for my work, I think.

What is American about this poem?

The composer and music critic Virgil Thompson was once asked to describe what distinguished American music. He answered, “It is written by Americans.” This poem is set in a distinctive landscape of the American West and it deals with an important moment in American history, albeit from a little known local perspective. I think these are what is American about the poem, besides the fact that an American wrote it.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?

Once I managed to write the ending of this poem, I knew it was finished.


  1. Thanks for posting this. Mr. Jarman remains an influential source of thought for me as I read, praise, and discard contemporary poets. Check out his Reaper essays, if you haven't yet.

  2. Brian,

    I've so enjoyed reading your blog. I dip back into the archives slowly to savor what's here. I'm struck today by the question the poem poses -- "Is that all I have to write about?" -- and then answers: "You write about the life that's vividest. / And if that is your own, that is your subject."

    It seems to me a useful slice of advice for all writers. And this morning, it speaks to me with particular force.

    Thank you for this ongoing project.


  3. We care about saving student’s good reputation while writing a paper! Become a happy student today! Have a look at best custom writing service to find more information!

  4. Hello, I am Henry Charlie. I have recently completed my master’s in economics. I specialize in writing accounts or my assignment help at the Idealassignmenthelp platform. I joined their writing panel a few years back and eventually started relishing the pleasure of sharing your knowledge with the students struggling with their coursework. To date, I have composed 450+ assignments successfully. Also Visit: Assignment Help

  5. QuickBooks Error Support Number - QuickBooks is vast accounting software that has many new variants. It makes too easy to work for many organizations by handling their financial bank transactions, creating multiple invoices, e-tax payments, bank reconciles, reminding pending payments as automatically & other financial track reports accurately. QuickBooks Accounting Software is the best way to track all business information accurately. It is related to work by reducing & consuming less time. But at times, there is a countable error code occurs while working on QuickBooks software. Even though QuickBooks Software has many perks it is after all just software and as every software QB also faces some technical glitches sometimes. Often many users face certain problems i.e. unrecoverable error code, Unknown Error Codes, Company files Corrupted Errors, Printing Issues etc. in their desktop screen.

    QuickBooks Enterprise Support Number | QuickBooks Payroll Support Number

  6. A very awesome blog post.We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. Hi! We are water treatment company in UAE Great points made up above! And reverse osmosis troubleshooting dubai thanks…

  7. The articles I read are interesting, and the food dishes are tasty, but can we really be healthy if we make or consume them on a regular basis?
    I came to this website after hearing about it from Ngobrol Sehat

  8. I’m Ayesha Kumar from New Delhi India, I was been transformed into a Vampire through the help of Mr. Vincent the vampire lord, it was just as easy as possible, at first I was thinking it going to take a while for my ( D.N.A.) to respond, all I did was just to follow the procedure that I was been told, and I bet you that procedure I took to change my entire life to something I ever desire, freedom, sickness free, pains free, fame, influence, connections and even more that I can. Thanks to Mr. Vincent the vampire lord's vampire lifestyle is the best. You can contact Mr. Vincent the vampire lord if you want to become a vampire. He doesn't like unserious people. or
    WhatsApp him. +14152865884

  9. Thanks for such wonderful blog that looks pretty different, I would suggest you please make a proper plan for your blog and start professional blogging as a career, One day you would be smart enough to earn some money, do my paper for me wishing you a best of luck my friend, Thanks a lot for your nice support and love.

  10. Before Commenting, I wanna say thank you for providing this great information. I feel too good to read it this awesome blog. Keep sharing this type of content.

  11. Thanks for sharing the info. I located the information very useful. That’s a brilliant story you posted. I will come back to read some more. Feel free to visit my website;


  12. It’s always a pleasure to read your magnificent articles on this site. You are among the top writers of this generation, and there’s nothing you can do that will change my opinion on that. My friends will soon realize how good you are. Feel free to visit my website; 일본야동

  13. Hi there, after reading this remarkable paragraph i am too happy to share my experience here with friends. Feel free to visit my website;


  14. So informative things are provided here,I really happy to read this post,I was just imagine about it and you provided me the correct information I really bookmark it,for further . Feel free to visit my website;

  15. I will always let you and your words become part of my day because you never know how much you make my day happier and more complete. There are even times when I feel so down but I will feel better right after
    dissertation writing uk checking your blogs. You have made me feel so good about myself all the time and please know that I do appreciate everything that you have

  16. Stunning site! Do you have any accommodating clues for trying essayists? I’m wanting to begin my own site soon yet I’m somewhat lost on everything. Would you prompt beginning with a free stage like or go for a paid alternative? free custom assignments There are such a large number of alternatives out there that I’m totally overpowered .. Any thoughts? Welcome it!

  17. I like the helpful information you supply to your articles. I'll bookmark your weblog and test again here regularly. I am fairly certain I'll be informed many new stuff proper here!
    Best of luck for the following!

  18. I got this web site from my friend who informed me regarding this website and at the moment this time I am visiting
    this web page and reading very informative content here.

  19. Oh, the data you've shared in this incredible article is just magnificent. I am definitely going to make more use of this data in my future projects. You must continue sharing more data like this with us. 메이저놀이터

  20. The very next time I read a blog, I hope that it won’t fail me as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, however I genuinely believed you would have something helpful to say. All help with assignment writing I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.

  21. thanks for sharing this blog with us. our website is vpn suggetions, we always help for our users if they have any quarry regarding VPN.

  22. I have read your blog post and that is really informative as well. My friend recommended your blog and trust me through reading such amazing updates we able to essay writing help change our perception as well. Keep writing such amazing stuff always.

  23. I found your blog while I was webs writing to find the above information. Your writing has helped me a lot. I'll write a nice post by quoting your post. Feel free to visit my website; 먹튀검증가이드

  24. Your style is really unique compared to other people I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this site. Feel free to visit my website; 배트맨토토프로

  25. The information you have provided is very valuable to us. 토토

  26. Thanks so much for this information. I have to let you know I concur on several of the points you make here and others may require some further review, but I can see your viewpoint. 바카라사이트

  27. Writing a poem is such a creative challange for a poet. a poem consist deep meaning inside it pocket-friendly cloud storage wisah to see more such wonderful article

  28. I think it's a website with a lot of good contents. I think I accumulate a lot of knowledge.
    Please come to my website and give me a lot of advice.
    It's my website.


  29. It is a good post, thanks for sharing this post, it is helpful and informative. We are the best assignment writing service provider, where we provide the best assignment help at an affordable price. Consult with us for more details of our guidance-

  30. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. bitmain antminer L7

  31. Hello! I just wish to supply a enormous thumbs up with the great information you may have here for this post. I am returning to your blog for more soon. Have you ever thought about writing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email. Wow!, this was a top quality post. In concept I’d like to publish like this as well – taking time and real effort to make a nice article… but what can I say… I keep putting it off and never seem to get something done 안전놀이터


  32. I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. 카지노사이트

  33. Download Bijoy Bayanno for Windows now from Softonic: 100% safe and virus free. More than 35824 downloads this month.

    Bijoy Bayanno for Windows is a system utility tool that allow you to directly type Bangla characters with your keyboard.

    Bijoy Bayanno free download for Windows 7 32 bit.