“The total effect of Carter’s narratives and lyrics is the sense . . . that underlying these two books is a kind of ‘Mississinewa novel,’ a long and continuous story to which the scraps of narrative contribute and give historical depth.”
This possibility was introduced in Timothy J. Deines’s thesis, “The Gleaning: Regionalism, Form, and Theme in the Poetry of Jared Carter,” a study that a few years ago earned him a master of arts degree in English from Cleveland State University.
I’m hardly a neutral observer, of course, but I thought Tim Deines’s master’s thesis was downright brilliant. I learned a great deal from his examination of the contemporary poetry scene. I was additionally grateful for the close readings he gave to my first two books, Work, for the Night Is Coming and After the Rain.
As you may know, a third and a fourth collection of poems have appeared since then, and a fifth, A Dance in the Street, is forthcoming in the fall of 2011. Since the latter could be subtitled “Return to Mississinewa County,” I’m hoping it makes sense now to go back to Tim Deines’s original thesis for whatever light it might shed on all five books taken together. The thesis was too long to post as a weekly entry on this blog, but I have reproduced it in two parts, and clicking here will take you directly to Part 1.
Tim Deines and I stayed in touch after he left Cleveland State and after he enrolled in a doctoral program in English at Michigan State University — where the chairman of the English Department, as it turned out, was Vicator Paananen, whom I had met years earlier when he was an undergraduate at Harvard and I was at Yale.
In 2003 when I set up my web site Jared Carter Poetry, I had wanted to post Tim’s thesis. He generously gave permission, but technical problems intervened, and the study never appeared. Maybe someday, if I manage to get the technical problems with my web site straightened out, his thesis can be posted there, along with other critical studies of my work.
But in the meantime, I’m pleased to be able to make the thesis available here on Rushing the Growler. I think Tim Deines’s study is one of the best things ever written about my work. When I read back over it, I am struck by many of the points Tim makes — about things that I probably barely understood myself, when I was writing the poems.
For example, he suggests that I have been attempting “to approximate traditional forms without fully reproducing them.” He further suggests that I do this, he says, because I want “to generate a new aesthetic that synthesizes the elements of traditional formal verse and ‘modern’ free verse, thus reflecting the tension in his poems between the old and the new, the permanent and the transitory.” If you’re interested in poetic form, his discussion is certainly worth pondering.
I mentioned earlier Tim’s observation about the overall cohesion of the two books (now, one can hope, extended to five). Here’s his summary:
After the Rain extends and deepens what Work, for the Night Is Coming begins. It further develops the idea that underlying the characters and snippets of narrative that abound in both books is a “Mississinewa novel,” a single thread that connects all of the poems together. The central fictional event in both books is the building of a reservoir in Mississinewa County. This becomes a powerful metaphor in Carter’s work . . .
An intriguing notion. But don’t take my word for it. Tim Deines’s Cleveland State thesis itself is only a click away. I hope you’ll give it a try, and I hope you’ll like it.
This would be the appropriate place, finally, to give credit to a wonderful scholar and Cleveland State University professor, Leonard Trawick, who is now emeritus of that university’s English department. Leonard was Tim’s thesis advisor while he was writing the study to which I have referred.
Of equal significance, Leonard Trawick was also the editor of two of my books from Cleveland State, After the Rain and Les Barricades Mysterieuses. In addition, he supervised the reprinting of a third, Work, for the Night Is Coming. A finer gentleman and a keener editorial eye, I have yet to meet.
And now here’s a link to The Gleaning, Part 1.