Jared Carter's Cross this Bridge at a Walk

Over 2000 years ago the Roman poet Horace was one of the earliest literary critics to suggest that the purpose of poetry was to teach and to delight. For the discerning reader a literary theory does not cease to have merit simply because it is no longer fashionable. In the same way poems which do teach and delight will continue to be read by discerning readers despite attempts to redirect them toward poetry written in line with more post-modern aesthetics. It is to these discerning readers I recommend Jared Carter's latest book Cross this Bridge at a Walk.

The book contains sixteen long narrative poems, many of which are set in the fictional Midwestern territory of Mississinewa County first introduced in Mr. Carter's prizewinning first book Work, for the Night Is Coming. The poems span the time period from early colonization to the present day and are written in a variety of voices, rich with characters and resonant with the natural beauty of the land they personify.

In the introductory poem, "Raccoon Grove," Mr. Carter stakes out the book's philosophical territory: "To go, if there is time, to look at what/ the land holds—", and then he shows us the stories the land does hold, some factual, some handed down by word of mouth, others mythic.

"Covered Bridge" is a compelling story from the American Civil War in which human decency prevails over politics. "Catalpa" shows us how a sensitive man finds himself in tune with nature in a way which brings to mind the mystic transcendentalism of Orson Scott Card's Tales of Alvin Maker. "Mussel Shell with Three Blanks Sawed Out" is a vivid evocation of a vanished way of life. "Glass Negatives," one of several poems in an admirably natural blank verse, challenges the reader to make sense of small town morality.

Music is a surprising recurrent theme, appearing first in "Reminiscence," where bars from Scott Joplin's ragtime compositions are interspersed with recollections from an acquaintance of his last years. It also features in the poignant "Beiderbecke Sequence" with each sonnet named after a piano composition by the poem's subject, jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke, and in "The Bones," which reads like a paean to that forgotten musical instrument.

The sonnet sequence "Visit" is a profound portrait of Emily Dickinson, observing "A poet's life is simply told: the task/ of waiting, and of writing down." The reader senses Mr. Carter shares her awareness of the value of this "writing down."

Cross this Bridge at a Walk will delight you with its words and characters, and show you things you either never knew, or had forgotten, about this land we call home and the people who made it so. It may also remind you of something important about being a reader or writer of poetry: literary theories come and go; good poetry stays good forever.

Anna Evans is a British citizen but permanent resident of NJ, where she is raising two daughters. She has had over 100 poems published in journals including The Formalist, The Evansville Review, Light Quarterly, Measure and many others. She has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist in the 2005 Howard Nemerov sonnet award. She is editor of the formal poetry e-zine The Barefoot Muse and is currently enrolled in the Bennington College MFA Program. Her first chapbook Swimming was published in March 2006 by Maverick Duck Press.

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