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[Audio] Acclaimed Poet Mark Jarman Kicks Off MFA Reading Series

Mark Jarman

The Murray State University Creative Writing MFA program kicks off with acclaimed poet Mark Jarman reading from his forthcoming book, The Heronry, Saturday at the Clara M. Eagle Gallery. Jarman taught at Murray State from 1980 to 1983 and is presently Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. His honors include a Guggenheim fellowship in poetry as well as numerous awards. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Jarman about his thoughts on writing and teaching poetry, 'New Formative' and 'New Narrative' style and how and how fresh forms of poetry emerge.

Extended Conversation

A career of writing and teaching

Jarman says he enjoys coming back to Murray. He worked at Murray State from 1980 to 1983 and has fond memories of the town. In 2011, he published Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems and has a new book coming out in 2017, titled The Heronry (both published by Sarabande Books). He says he'll primarily read from this work, Saturday.

His honors include the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Poets’ Prize, the Balcones Poetry Prize and a Guggenheim fellowship in poetry. Also a professor, aspiring writers might say he's living the dream. Jarman says he spent much of his early career in writing teaching in many places and was willing to go anywhere he could to get a job, crediting the willingness to be mobile as an important factor in his early success. 

Advice for aspiring writers and teachers

To those looking to become writers or teachers, he says to make sure if you want to go into teaching it's something you're called to, otherwise find something else to make a living because most poets and fiction writers won't make a living doing solely that. Also, find time every day to write and set that aside, he says, make a life for you where you can write.

Jarman says he sets his writing schedule to revision in the morning and composition late at night. Early in his teaching career, he struggled with separating writing and teaching and would sometimes be working on a poem in his office and forget to go to class on time. 

Poetry Influences

In high school, Jarman says he discovered the work of Theodore Roethke, who himself discovered a career in poetry by observing things around him - namely his father and uncle's greenhouses. Other influences were Dylan Thomas, e. e. cummings and  Edna St. Vincent Millay. 

New Narrative & New Formalism

Two styles closely associated with Jarman, he describes 'New Narrative' as a recognition that a poem is the story of a feeling. Laying out the poem using storytelling techniques can be effective, he says, and can be seen in works from Robert Frost to Theodore Roethke to James Dickey. 

New Formalism is a critical argument that traditional verse forms, or recede form, using meter and rhyme and the forms associated with them are available and should not be excluded as they had become in the 60s and 70s when Jarman began writing. Young poets beginning to find their way, he says, should be able to write a sonnet or blank verse if the form inspires them.

How new forms emerge

'Newness' is whenever a young poet discovers what he or she really has to write about, he says. And though the style may be technically traditional, it seems original because the work originated with the poet.

For example, he cites the work of A E. Stallings and her roots in A. E. Housman, her love of classics and Greek mythology. Also, his student Nate Marshall, who recently won a prize for his work combining spoken word, hip hop and a traditional approach to English verse.

Creating new forms simply takes someone with an aptitude of the craft recognizing within themselves that which is fresh and unique about their writing. Jarman says he teaches the craft of art, giving talented students the tools to write and practicing the habit of writing, but the art has to come from within. 


The Murray State University MFA Program presents a reading by poet Mark Jarman this Saturday night at 7:30 in the Clara Eagle Gallery, located on the sixth floor of the Price Doyle Fine Arts Building. 

More about Murray State's Creative Writing MFA program

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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