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Poet Mark Jarman spoke on Hills­dale’s campus Sept. 23 – 24. Courtesy | Lauren Urquhart

Mark Jarman, a poet from Ten­nessee, visited campus to deliver a lecture and a poetry reading on Sep­tember 23 and 24. Jarman came to campus as a part of the Vis­iting Writers’ Program.

How long have you been teaching at Van­derbilt and what do you teach there?

I have taught there for 37 years. I teach cre­ative writing and classes on modern poetry for under­graduate and grad­uates.

How long have you lived in Nashville?

Since 1983. I moved there to teach at Van­derbilt, and my wife also teaches there. She teaches clas­sical singing in the music school. We settled down in Ten­nessee and raised both our daughters there.

Where did you live before you moved to Nashville?

Before I moved to Nashville, I taught at Murray State Uni­versity in Western Ken­tucky. We lived there for three years and had come from Los Angeles, where we were born.

Do you think that Cal­i­fornia has any influence on your poetry?

A lot of my poetry is about growing up in Cal­i­fornia. My wife and I grew up in dif­ferent parts of Los Angeles, so Southern Cal­i­fornia is what we think of as home, even though we haven’t lived there for 40 years. It has a big influence on my poetry.

Growing up in Southern Cal­i­fornia became a subject for me when I moved away, really. So the poems I started writing about it were poems of home­sickness. But the other place that appears in my poetry and which I returned to often is Scotland, where my father served a church for a number of years when I was a boy. We went as a whole family when I was 6 and returned when I was 9. But I have returned many times. 

So I have these two places that were the places that my poetry sort of hangs on. One is a linoleum factory town on the North Sea, and the other is balmy, palmy, southern Cal­i­fornia. And yet, I’ve spent most of my life living in the south.

And I write about the south, I actually love it — the land­scape, people. There’s a sense in which I think of my poetry as reflecting the land­scape: the natural world of that land­scape and the spir­itual meaning of that land­scape.

How long have you written poetry?

I started writing when I was twelve and have been writing since. There are dif­ferent senses of what the dis­ci­pline of writing was. I was lucky to meet a high school teacher who got me to under­stand that this is an art, like prac­ticing the violin. It needed to be prac­ticed daily, it also needed to be a process of revision. He got me to take it seri­ously. So I’ve been writing since I was twelve, and when I was sixteen I realized this was some­thing to take seri­ously.

I wrote my first poem when I was twelve and I enjoyed it. I wrote a really ter­rible ballad, I still know it. It’s so dreary. But it was a process that engaged me for several days, and I would look forward to going back and working on it. I loved the sound of it as it was emerging.

I was basi­cally writing a poem in what we would call “hymn meter.” I am the son of a min­ister, so I grew up singing hymns and reading hymns, so what I think hap­pened is that the meter and lan­guage of the hymn came into my mind. And I wrote some­thing like that.

Also, my mother’s mother was a writer, and when I’d visit her in San Diego she’d always read to me what she had written. She wrote poems, and stories, and a novel once. And maybe all of these things came together.

Did you study poetry in college?

I went to the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia in Santa Cruz in 1970 because at the time it was a really cool place. But when I got there, I realized it had a really loose aca­demic structure, and I needed more structure. So I had a tra­di­tional English major. But there was a lot of writing going on among stu­dents and faculty, so I fell into the writing scene. So while being a tra­di­tional English major, I was also writing poetry and hanging out with the other poets.

How would you describe your style of poetry?

The first poems I wrote were all in very tra­di­tional meter because I was reading poets who wrote that way, from Robert Frost to the poet W.H. Auden. But as I got older and read more poetry, and learned more about poetry, I dis­covered that I wanted to write in more free verse. As I developed I dis­covered that my original interest in form and tra­dition and meter and rhyme didn’t mean that I had to exclude the kind of sub­jects I was writing, so I moved back to that. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can move easily between free-verse poems and poems in a tra­di­tional form.

When I went to graduate school, my wife and I went to Iowa City, Iowa, where I went to the writer’s workshop in the mid-1970s. From there, I had my first teaching job in Evans­ville, Indiana. And from there, we went to live in Italy for a year. I got a national endowment for the arts grant, and I had a friend who said I could live on that money in Italy, so we went. My wife studied singing and I wrote a book. Then when we came back, I taught for a year at UC Irvine, and from there we came to Murray, Ken­tucky. So that’s basi­cally my travels.

Do you still write and publish poetry?

Yes, some of the poetry I’m sharing tonight I have written recently. And I have a little poem in the Sep­tember issue of “The Atlantic.” Usually, I publish my poems in lit­erary journals, but some­times I’ll have a poem some­place more national or inter­na­tional like The Atlantic.