His early collections, in particular, portray his own childhood, as well as those of his parents and grandparents. North Sea (1978), The Rote Walker (1981), and the book-length collection Iris (1992) all include poems inspired by Jarman’s family—including his grandmother, Nora, a formative influence—and recount his experiences as the son of a minister. Frequently set in California or Scotland, both places Jarman spent time as a youth, Jarman’s poetry focuses on formal, narrative storytelling, and he frequently cites Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, and Robinson Jeffers as his influences. Dedicated to his friend and collaborator, Robert McDowell, Jarman’s fourth collection The Black Riveria (1990) was awarded the Poets’ Prize in 1991. In the Georgia Review, critic Fred Chappell noted that "Mark Jarman is good, one of the most thoughtful and adroit poets writing these days, a man with handsome ambitions."
Jarman was born in 1952 in Mount Sterling, Kentucky. The son of a minister, Jarman’s work has increasingly turned from autobiography to religious faith and doubt. Although steeped in religion as a child, Jarman had become ambivalent about faith. But when his wife suggested that their family begin attending church, Jarman experienced a renewal of his belief in God. His later writings reflect his newfound spirituality. Questions for Ecclesiastes (1997), which was awarded the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, responds to its Biblical source text, as Jarman rediscovers his sense of the spiritual. Jarman wrote in an essay for Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series that his wife's decision to attend church was not a religious one, but a family issue. "But for me it was a religious decision. It required admitting to myself that I still had a faith… As an epigraph to The Rote Walker I quoted two lines from John Logan's poem 'The Spring of the Thief': 'When we speak of God, / Is it God we speak of?' I used to say flippantly that the answer to that profound question was 'Yes and no.' I no longer think the answer is flippant. It is just as profound as the question."
In later books like Unholy Sonnets (2000) and Epistles (2007), Jarman uses forms such as the sonnet and prose poem to interrogate and affirm his belief in God, the concepts of salvation and miracles, and the pitfalls of faith. Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems (2011) includes poems from his previous nine books of poetry. Describing the difficulty in returning to poems written 30 years ago, Jarman said, “It’s a little like looking at photographs of yourself when you were thirty years younger, and thinking a couple of things—both God he was better looking then, and God what a callow youth. Why did he wear that? It’s more or less like that. But there are some good aspects to it, too. You go back and look at a poem from thirty years ago and you realize you still like it, and you also have the question, How did I manage to write that? I couldn’t do it now.”
Jarman has also written two collections of essays, The Secret of Poetry (2001) and Body and Soul (2002), which further distill his thoughts on narrative, craft, and from. Married to the soprano Amy Jarman, he lives in Nashville, Tennessee where he is Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Jarman’s many awards include the Robert Frost Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.
- Tonight Is the Night of the Prom (chapbook), Three Rivers Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1974.
- North Sea, Cleveland State University Poetry Center (Cleveland, OH), 1978.
- The Rote Walker, Carnegie-Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1981.
- Far and Away, Carnegie-Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1985.
- The Black Riviera, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1990.
- Iris, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1992.Questions for Ecclesiastes, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1997.
- Unholy Sonnets: Poems, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 2000.
- To the Green Man, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2004.
- Epistles, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2007.
- Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems, Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2011.
- (Editor, with David Mason) Rebel Angels: Twenty-five Poets of the New Formalism, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1996.
- (With Robert McDowell) The Reaper Essays, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 1996.
- The Secret of Poetry: Essays, Story Line Press (Brownsville, OR), 2001.
- Body and Soul: Essays on Poetry, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2002.
- Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 22, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
- Contemporary Poets, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
- Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
- Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
- American Book Review, January, 1999, review of Questions for Ecclesiastes, p. 27.
- Book, March, 2001, Stephen Whited, review of Unholy Sonnets, p. 84.
- Booklist, May 15, 1982, p. 1220; July, 1985, p. 1504; March 1, 1990, p. 1258; May 1, 1992, pp. 1578-1579; October 15, 1996, p. 399; January 1, 1997, p. 809; April 15, 2000, Ray Olson, review of Unholy Sonnets, p. 1517; April 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review of The Secret of Poetry, p. 1443.
- Books in Canada, November, 1997, p. 36.
- Georgia Review, summer, 1992, p. 366.
- Hudson Review, autumn, 1982; spring, 1986, p. 154; autumn, 1992, p. 518; spring, 1997, p. 147; autumn, 1997, p. 505.
- Kliatt, winter, 1986, p. 26.
- Library Journal, May 1, 1992, p. 86; July, 1996, p. 116; October 1, 1996, pp. 82-83; January, 1997, p. 103; May 1, 2001, David Kirby, review of The Secret of Poetry, p. 84.
- North American Review, spring, 1980, p. 72.
- Parnassus, number 2, 1993, p. 166.
- Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1996, p. 82; December 30, 1996, p. 62; April 24, 2000, review of Unholy Sonnets, p. 84.
- Reference & Research Book News, December, 1992, p. 34.
- Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1992, p. 210.
- School Library Journal, July, 1996, p. 116.
- Sewanee Review, spring, 1993, p. R65.
- Shenandoah, summer, 1992, p. 107.
- Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1990, p. 137.
Poems By Mark Jarman
Articles by Mark Jarman
Articles about Mark Jarman
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Considered a key figure in both New Narrative and New Formalism, Mark Jarman has exerted a significant influence on contemporary American poetry. In the 1980s, with Robert McDowell, Jarman founded and edited the Reaper, a magazine devoted to reclaiming and promoting poetry that emphasized story and image. Controversially warning "Navel gazers and mannerists” that “their time is running out,” the magazine sought to reestablish narrative poetry within the American poetry scene. Although the Reaper ceased publication in 1989, the press Jarman and McDowell founded, Story Line, continues to publish the works of emerging and established poets. Jarman’s own poetry reflects his commitment to narrative and received forms. Over ten collections, Jarman has explored his family history, geography, and faith while formulating a poetics that emphasizes narrative and traditional forms or, as Jarman has put it, poems that are interested in “telling the stories of their subjects clearly.”