At 4 p.m. on Friday, Professor of English Dutton Kearney will do a reading of a few poems from “Bone Fires,” a collection of poems written over the last thirty years by Jarman, an American modernist poet. Jarman will be giving a talk on campus on Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. in Dow A and B.
Jarman is known for his role as one of the main leaders of the New Formalist movement of poetry, which started in the ’70s and ’80s. This movement was based upon the belief that poetry should not be a wholly abstract entity, but should have the elements of a story.
Jarman was born in Kentucky and grew up in church under the guidance of his father, who served in various churches. His family eventually moved to California, where he would attend the University of California at Santa Cruz and earn his bachelors’ in English literature. Jarman went on to teach creative writing at Indiana State and Murry State University, and then English at Vanderbilt, where he is still today.
Jarman co-authored a literary magazine wherein he explained that poetry should be written, in the words of Kearney, “in a three-pronged approach, where content, rhythm, and form are all used together.”
The strong presence of religion in his early life lead to the spiritual themes in many of Jarman’s poems. Many seem to describe moments in his life in which he introspectively tries to explain his thoughts on faith.
The title “Bone Fires” suggests poems dealing with the natural world, and many of Jarman’s poems use elements of nature to portray his meaning: the crashing waves, the wingbeat of a bird, yellow wasps hiding behind a veil.
Although emotions in Jarman’s poetry may be hard to detect because of this style of writing, the reader can feel moments of turmoil or joy.
Kearney explained why the book is broken into two segments, “Unholy Sonnets” and “The Gift.”
“The ‘Unholy Sonnets’ portion of ‘Bone Fires’ tells a story about Jarman’s faith through each poem in that section, while ‘The Gift’ is a whole story in itself, showing the reader the contrast between Jarman’s poetry,” Kearney said.
“The Word ‘Answer’” begins with a sequence of violent actions, some of which are easier to picture than others: “Atomic skin through dreamy wine/…They spread four fingers like a lizard’s hand,” Jarman writes.
Jarman then transitions into a description of a man getting out of the bath and thinking he may hear someone out the door, something trying to get him, and wondering whether he should go and open the door for it.
After much deliberation, the speaker enters a tumultuous conversation inside his mind about the God he knows and the God he may want.
Some of the poems are direct portraits of his childhood, like “The Gift.” The poem follows a little boy at school, being kidnapped by his father without knowing he is being kidnapped. Here, Jarman reflects on a very precise moment in his life and allows us to relive it with him.
This dichotomy of themes serves a specific purpose, Kearney explained.
“Jarman uses a variety of poetic elements to engage the reader in his journey with faith and to show viewers how poetry can be used in so many different ways to emotionally engage readers, without undermining the purpose of poetry with purely abstract elements,” Kearney said.