I am a reader, not a critic. And that's what I thought about Jefferson Carter's latest:
Get Serious, the title of Jefferson Carter’s new poetry collection may as well be Carter’s way of talking to himself under his breath. From Carter’s poetry I get the feeling that he’s hiding his seriousness in what often seem ‘light’ poems, funny to the average reader. Some may be written tongue-in-cheek – because that’s the only way he is often able to express his most serious concerns; sometimes he’s hiding engagement, tremendous love and tenderness in metaphors that make one smile; often there is pure sarcasm expressing despair about the state of the world and all who sail in her.
His poems are sometimes caustic, entertaining and thought provoking, enjoyable and sad, exceedingly well-crafted and often brilliant.
You want another ‘book full of Jefferson’, the one who will not get serious, read Get Serious. It contains some old friends from former editions of his work which I was happy to meet again.
In reviewing Jefferson Carter's "Get Serious: New and Selected Poems," Jarrett Keene commits the critical fallacy of confusing the speaker of a poem with its author--a fallacy which, if we follow its arc to its logical conclusion, compels us to diagnose poets who employ various personae in their work--Norman Dubie springs to mind--as clinically schizophrenic. Such a narrow minded critical aesthetic confines poetry to the realm of autobiography and reduces the role of poet to
documentarian. More absurd is Mr. Keene's implied notion that the mission of poetry should be to turn lemons into lemonade. If Mr. Keene prefers whipped-cream platitudes of reassurance in response to life's frequent disappointments, he would be better served browsing the racks of his local Hallmark shop rather than risking his sense of well-being turning the pages of a book of poetry. I'm not suggesting we limit our endorsement of verse to the dark shadows of existential angst--or any other single creed for that matter--but I have a feeling if you enjoyed the spry wit and lyrical honesty of Carter's previous work you'll find much to like in his new poems as well.
The following was originally sent as a letter to the editor on Dec. 27, 2012.
Get Serious is not only the title of a poetry collection by Jefferson Carter, recently reviewed in Tucson Weekly, but should serve as an admonition to the reviewer, Jarret Keene, as well.
As one who has reviewed poetry collections—and in this case, Carter’s latest book—it is difficult to understand, certainly impossible to accept, Jarret Keene’s dependence on ageism as a primary standard for analyses.
Keene writes (“Moody Metaphors,” Tucson Weekly, Dec. 27, 2012), “[Get] Serious sounds at times like an aging, embittered poet’s final testament or last verses.” These remarks are followed by ageist euphemisms: “When he remembers to pop his literary Viagra,” or suggesting the poet “should consider sneaking Splenda into his moody lemonade,” are condemnations of age-as-disease, and not poetry. They are not cute or coy; they are attempts to denounce a poet’s poems based on stereotypical assumptions about age, assumptions that should trouble us all. (It makes readers wonder if Keene has ever read those notable works produced by older poets.)
To do this, however, Keene must first dismiss the idea that poems may have personae and assume every poem has one speaker who has no other identity as a narrator or poetic character, but is simply the poet himself, which violates one of the basics of Poetry 101. Many voices emerge in Carter’s poetry and assume the first person narrator of ‘I’ just as in Robert Browning’s verse, or those of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, or W. H. Auden. Of course, Keene's approach creates sensationalism, that old cheap ploy to gain the attention of readers.
Keene’s review is an ad hominem attack using ageist rhetoric and caricature. “Tucson Weekly” is not well represented by such ignorance, or viciousness which perpetuates ageist stereotyping to the exclusion of a poetry that is at once otherwise durable and valuable.
Charles: To be fair, Jarret doesn't say that Carter should be like Billy Collins, but that he deserves a similarly-sized audience. A significant difference, I believe.
I'm the director of Chax Press, the publisher of the book, just to clear the air. I think this review of Carter's book is really stupid. First of all, it fails to recognize that many poems are persona poems, a voice speaking that is not the author's. But what bothers me more is that the reviewer wants poetry to perk people up from the darkness, not to figure out what's really going on. He wants Carter to be more like Billy Collins. If he were, Chax wouldn't publish the work at all.
If this guy thinks Carter's work is too dark, he must think Samuel Beckett is abysmal, and he must wish Linh Dinh would go crawl back into a hole somewhere. That's just to name two of my favorite writers.
Everything he says which posited as a kind of negative, I would take as a positive. And the things he would like Carter to do, i.e. "care to please an NPR-listening audience," are things I am so glad he does not try to do.
The reviewer's vision of poetry seems to be a little coffee circle sharing its pleasantries, keeping the darkness at bay by laughing gaily or ignoring it altogether. I'd rather enter, as the masterful poet Gwendolyn Brooks names it, "the noise and the whip of the whirlwind."
Perhaps Carter's metaphors are "Moody" but maybe they should be when they are in response to an imperfect world. Perhaps some poems need to be cruel, to scare the indifferent awake, to remind us that not everything is funny. The collection is entitled "Get Serious" after all. I respect the poet for venturing into new territory. It may be unpopular, difficult territory, but the speakers in these poems are telling the truth
This is another point: Writers don't write solely from their perspective. Poetry collections often utilize multiple points of view. This is what good poetry does, after all. It invites us to see the world through new eyes, to venture into new territory we wouldn't have initially thought about. Kudos to Mr. Carter for doing this well in Get Serious.
--Lisa M. Cole
Perhaps Carter's metaphors are "Moody" but maybe they should be when they are in response to an imperfect world. Perhaps some poems need to be cruel, to scare the indifferent awake, to remind us that not everything is funny. The collection is entitled "Get Serious" after all. I respect the poet for venturing into new territory. It may be unpopular, difficult territory, but the speakers in these poems are telling the truth. Isn't the truth more important than whether something makes us feel good?
This is another point: Take any Poetry 101 course, and the instructor will tell you that not every poem is from the perspective of the poet himself. Poetry is all about stepping into another person's shoes and seeing the world from a new perspective. Bravo, Mr. Carter for doing this well in Get Serious.
--Lisa M. Cole
Good poetry is capable of awakening, not soothing, whether the audience be NPR listeners or undergraduates. Good poetry grabs the readers’ lapels, shakes them awake and leaves them with a reinvigorated view of the world they thought they knew. Jefferson Carter's New and Selected Poems is a terrific collection that both strikes out into new territory and reminds us of older poems that have already staked a claim on our imaginations.
I find it amusing that the Earps are described as "Law and order Repulicans" when their main way of keeping peace was all about gun control.
Tim Hull. Why, he's a journalist! Who'da thunk. - an old friend from home.
Come to the Royale this Sunday, 5pm, and meet the author who wrote what the Tucson Weekly is calling, "the most important book you'll read all year."
Join us at the Bisbee Royale for a night filled with everything Bill Carter. There will be a screening of Miss Sarajevo as well as U2's Missing Sarajevo short documentary.
After the films a discussion will ensue based on Bill's previous books as well as his newest release Boom, Bust, Boom.
This is another great book by Darrell James. Like the first book, Nazareth Child, I was unable to put it down because Del is such an interesting character and Darrell James tells a great story. Im anxiously waiting for the next book!
As someone who just escaped an abusive relationship and knows a little too well what it's like to "enable" her abuser, I am curious to know how the author researched her material? Although it's painful, part of the process of healing (for me) is reading about abuse and I'm looking forward to getting a copy of this!
Matt Marine is a friend of mine, so when his first book was published I had to read it. I'm a pretty avid but slow reader, and am a fan of action thriller mysteries. But Matt absolutely impressed me!!!! The book is not one of those one inch thick books that can bore me - it's only 286 pages but packed full of fast paced action and twists that makes it hard to put down. I think Matt has many more books in his future. Help spread the word to friends to read Devil's Moon.
I just finished Triptciks: the most amazing read for quite some time.
Any of Joe Brown's books are worth finding, buying and reading. He is the real McCoy - he writes about ranching and the borderlands like nobody else. I wish Joe and Rick Padilla the very best in their endeavors.
You da** sure have it right, Leo! I read the entire book at one sitting. I'm not a Dogie, I had parents, but I also had a yearning to make a hand from a very young age. There were times when Joe watched me trying. Art Brooks, Wickenburg, Arizona
It's wonderful that the Plaza de Toros sits empty. Maybe you could arrange to have dog fighting there. Bullfighting is a remnent of a historic time when men weren't very civilized. Apparently, some men still lust for blood and have the desire to kill (or to watch) and it's a sore commentary on those people
Many thanks for this review. I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books with Elmore Leonard at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
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