Ten Questions

for Julie Carter. She’s funny, she’s clever, and she’s got the kind of thing about sound more of us should have.  I still have huge bat-hall lacunae in my understanding of sound, and have only begun to realize how vast they are because of Julie. If you haven’t read her book pseudophakia, you should. If you haven’t listened to her read, you should. Thanks, Julie, for being Part 3 of this series, and for continuing to make me think.  The ten questions and list of upcoming contributors here, past contributors in the sidebar on this page. 

1. In this 2003 interview, Canadian poet George Bowering quotes Shelley: “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” Do you think the poet has a specific role to play in human affairs in this century? If so, what is it?

No. I think, honestly, that a lot of poets want to feel better about their chosen art form, so they artificially elevate it. But it is what it is, a fairly insignificant diversion.

But, then, I think fairly insignificant diversions are what make us human and not woodchucks. We get to do things that have no other purpose but to make our lives more beautiful.

2. Talk about the importance of poetry workshops to you as a poet – now and in your earlier development. Do you differentiate between in-person and on-line workshops?

I’ve never been to an in-person workshop, so I can’t address that. Online workshops were very important to me a few years ago, but much of my current attitude toward poetry and poets is actually a repudiation of workshopping. I think that workshops foster a tendency toward deliberate conformity and toward a sort of art through the lowest common denominator. They’re dangerous and useful at the same time, like a prescription painkiller. I recommend them to people at the very beginnings of their artistic careers, when they need to hear as many voices as possible. After a point, I think many poets need to break away from workshops, to listen to their own inner critic. Then, after that while, I think many can find something useful in workshops again, a confirmation of what they thought they knew.

It’s easy to become complacent. It’s easy to workshop for the ego, not the craft.

3. Comment on this passage by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall in his 1983 essay Poetry and Ambition: “Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years; don’t let them go, don’t publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you; by that time, you ought to have them right. […] When Pope wrote An Essay on Criticism seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. […] By this time, I would be grateful – and published poetry would be better – if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Imagine you are having a telephone conversation and you say, “How are you?” And then the person you’re trying to talk to says, “I’ll call you back in a week when I have the perfect answer for that.”

Writing a poem is like entering into a giant conversation. There’s more benefit in getting involved than in making sure every T is crossed. Just saying it out loud, just putting the poem out there, doesn’t mean the poem has to be finished. It can still be changed. Or, you may find that the poem as it is says just the right thing at the right time, asks just the right question to draw the whole room together. If you know it’s wrong, fix it first. But if you think it’s close, say it out loud and listen to the echoes.

4. Comment on this passage from Why Poetry Criticism Sucks, an article by Kristin Prevallet in the April 2000 issue of Jacket magazine: “It is very difficult to write poetry criticism and not have poets feel personally maimed […]. For some reason poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry. It always gets confused with the personal.”

For as much as people like to say that they don’t fall prey to the magical “poem as heart” thinking, I think we all do it. Yes, an evisceration of a poem is more personal than an evisceration of a novel, because most of us believe that poetry is more personal. It’s all about that attitude, and it isn’t going to change.

5. Do you have an internet presence? If so, describe it and comment on the state of the poetry blogsphere. If not, why not?

I have a blog where I natter on about all sorts of things, including poetry. I’ve met some absolutely lovely people through my blog and wouldn’t exchange it for rubies. The state of the poetry blogosphere? I don’t know. There are some nice people, some sensible people, and some absolute raving egomaniacs who should be smothered with their own chapbooks. Poetry seems to bring out the inner idiot in so many of us. I don’t exclude myself.

6. To what degree have you been published and to what degree has that helped or hindered your development as a poet?

Little, and I think that my aversion to being published has helped my poems and hurt my ability to write them. It’s hard to be dedicated when you feel that you aren’t being dedicated to anything. But when I do write a poem, I think it’s better than it would have been if I had been writing for a different audience. Some people are inspired by artistic pressure. I just deflate.

7. Comment on today’s huge numbers of on-line poetry publications.

Mixed emotions. I love that there are so many venues. I hate that the vast majority will only take unpublished poems, turning poems into disposable items that have no value once put in pixels. New new new new new more more more more more. Great poems are being pushed aside just as quickly as slight ones.

8. Self-publishing has become inexpensive and relatively painless. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?

I did it for my book. I wanted to put together a collection for my mother, and once I had done that, I was okay with anyone else having a copy who wanted one. But I’m unwilling to pay someone for the privilege of entering the conversation, and I’m completely unwilling to work that hard for the sake of a book that will mean nothing to anyone but me.

9. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing a poet today, as compared to 50 years ago?

The internet, by a huge margin.

10. What do you see as the biggest challenge to a poet today, as compared to 50 years ago?

The internet, by a huge margin.


Julie Carter lives in Ohio with her husband and their strange array of cats. Her work has appeared in The Adroitly Placed Word, Autumn Sky, Snakeskin, OCHO, and in her recent book: pseudophakia. She is one of the readers for popular internet radio programs by miPOradio.

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

2 thoughts on “Ten Questions”

  1. Great answers, Julie!

    I return to the occasional workshop now and then, mostly to contribute through critique. I don’t publish (can’t see why I would or should), and think it important that a non site-conforming participant give feedback. Now and then I switch to email, so as not to interrupt the workshop’s social drone. Sure, I post poems while I’m there (it’s only fair to give the others something to respond to–even if only to avenge a wounded ego or arrive at some sense of “peer-ness”), but I find that I have to select or design what I post so as to keep it within the range of what the workshop chooses to be able to handle (that standardizing/conforming thing).

    Anyway, I stumbled on this place after receiving a “404,” and happened to find this thread. Glad I did.

    Bill Moss (It’s been years, since we posted in the same place, and, I see it’s been 18 months since the last post here, so…)

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