Lenny Emmanuel: There’s been a lot of discussion recently about free verse and traditional verse, and the difference between them. Some people get very argumentative about this. Do you have an opinion?
Jared Carter: No, I’ve tried to steer clear of that particular controversy. When Keith Jarrett improvises jazz on one CD and does Bach fugues on the next, I’m impressed. When Wynton Marsalis performs some seventeenth-century trumpet concerto with the London Symphony, and then flies back the next day to play Morton-style jazz at the Lincoln Center, I’m knocked out. Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Jesse Owens — no matter what the event or the game, they were the great athletes of their day, and that’s why we remember them.
Emmanuel: It’s a false dichotomy, then? This war of the schools?
Carter: It’s just not a very useful way of looking at poetry, especially if you’re a working writer. I try to write in as many styles and forms as possible, using every poetic resource available. The schools don’t concern me. I’m interested in bringing different kinds of poems together, and finding out what they have in common. You can get carried away with all this ideological warfare, this bickering about which poem or which poet goes in which pigeonhole.
Emmanuel: Your remark about bringing poems together is interesting. In what sense? Physically? Intellectually? Thematically?
Carter: Well, in a book, of course, or during a reading. Putting them in a sequence, enabling them to talk to one another, to provide context, to reinforce each other’s tone, or meaning, or theme. Allowing them to rub shoulders. To breathe.
Emmanuel: What do you think is the best way to do this?
Carter: I don’t think there is any best way. You keep experimenting with context, with setting, with sequence, the same way you keep experimenting with form and content, technique and expression.
Emmanuel: As with traditional form? Rhyme? Pararhyme? Consonant variations? Spatials?
Carter: Yeah, sure, all that stuff. But even the terminology can get overbearing at times. The important thing to remember is that you’ve got readers out there. Or at least you’d like to think you have some readers out there. If not, what’s the point?
Emmanuel: On the subject of attracting readers, there’s also been a lot of talk about narrative poetry. Could you comment on this? You’ve published some long narrative poems. One I particularly like is “Covered Bridge,” which appeared recently in TriQuarterly. And in both of your books there’s an ongoing narrative — this business about the construction of a reservoir.
Carter: First of all, I don’t consider narrative a genre, though some people seem to think it is. I see it as an essential element of poetry. It’s not a question of spicing up your work by adding a bit of narrative, like a pinch of salt or a dash of pepper. It’s a matter of understanding that narrative is always present in good poetry.
Emmanuel: Even in a lyric poem?
Carter: Especially in a lyric poem. What is narrative but another word for continuity — backbone — that binds the whole thing together so that the reader can get from A to Z without getting lost or confused? Or worse — insulted? Without a narrative thread, it’s too easy for the poet to veer off into narcissism, self-pity, self-indulgence. But in a lot of instances making claims for narrative poetry is like talking about the Jewish rabbi. The adjective is redundant.
Emmanuel: Yes, you’re probably correct, but surely some of your poems are more narrative than others.
Carter: Some are more lyrical, too. And a good thing. I’d hate for all of them to be alike. But let’s get back to that reservoir you mentioned. The poems dealing with the reservoir are primarily narrative. In style and technique, they’re very different, yet they’re all part of an extended story — a recognizable color of thread running through the tapestries of both books.
Emmanuel: What are the titles of these poems?
Carter: There are two in the first book — “The Undertaker” and “Monument City” — and four in the second — “The Purpose of Poetry,” “Mississinewa Reservoir at Winter Pool,” “Isinglass,” and “Foundling.”
Emmanuel: Many readers have been deeply impressed by “The Purpose of Poetry.” It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that when some people get to the end, they’re overwhelmed. They’re shaken by the last two lines.
Carter: Well, it’s an unexpected ending — or a harsh ending, or even a trick ending, depending on how you look at it. But I think a poem like “Foundling” is as gentle and hopeful as “Purpose” is unsettling and stark.
Emmanuel: Anyone who reads these two books understands that you have created an imaginary place — Mississinewa County — that is located somewhere in the Midwest. Critics have compared your world to other well-known literary landscapes — Faulkner’s, for example, or Hardy’s. But the poems about the reservoir tell a particular story. What led you to begin writing about that sequence of events?
Carter: That will take us back a long way — back to a job I had during my college days, almost forty years ago. I had dropped out of school in April of my junior year and had hitchhiked back to my home town. I spent the summer working at the can factory. That fall a friend got me a job on a daily newspaper in a small town in northern Indiana. It was called the Herald-Press, and it was in Huntington, the county seat of Huntington County, maybe twenty-five miles southwest of Fort Wayne. There were about fifteen thousand people in the town, and maybe twice that many in the entire county. It’s a classic small town in Indiana — a branch of the Wabash River runs through it, right alongside the newspaper building.
Emmanuel: Had you majored in journalism in college?
Carter: No, not at all. I had edited the school newspaper when I was in high school, and I had spent five weeks at a high-school journalism institute at Northwestern University during the summer of 1955. That was my only formal training, but it was enough.
Emmanuel: So you started at a newspaper, as did Twain, Hemingway, and so on? As a cub reporter?
Carter: Right. Except they had a special phrase at this particular newspaper. They called it being “low man on the totem pole.”
Emmanuel: That doesn’t sound very rewarding. What exactly did it mean, though?
Carter: Well, on the typical totem pole there are all these grotesque masks and animal faces running from top to bottom. I was the new man, so my face was at the bottom. That’s the way it is on any newspaper. The new person always has to work his or her way up.
Emmanuel: That’s what I thought. You got all the unwanted assignments, right?
Carter: No, not really, and as a matter of fact the other reporters helped me and taught me a great deal — about writing, about life. To tell the truth it was one of the best jobs I ever had. Legally, I wasn’t even old enough to buy a drink, and there I was, hanging out with reporters, cops, press operators, typesetters, photographers, store-front preachers, courthouse pols, railroaders, saloonkeepers, and all sorts of petty crooks and colorful characters and con-men. It was an education straight out of H.L. Mencken. Or Sherwood Anderson.
Emmanuel: Have you written about those days? I mean about your newspaper experiences?
Carter: I thought about it, but someone had already beaten me to it. Back in the 1940s and 50s there was an American humorist named H. Allen Smith. He was one of a long line of Midwestern humorists that included people like Will Cuppy and Irwin Cobb, Kin Hubbard and George Ade, and writers back in the last century like Artemus Ward, Bill Nye, Petroleum V. Nasby, and of course Mark Twain.
Will Rogers was an offshoot of that school, as was Jean Shepherd in the 1950s. It’s the perennial humor of the small town and the old home place — a dash of cracker barrel, a dab of Farmer’s Almanac, and a lot of self-mockery about sick cows and bad roads and playing checkers around the stove at the general store. In each new generation somebody like Garrison Keillor comes along and spins out the same kind of gentle, homespun humor, and we can’t get enough of it.
Anyway, H. Allen Smith was part of that tradition. And after I showed up in Huntington I learned that he had gotten his start working for the Huntington Herald-Press during the Depression. He had coined the phrase “low man on the totem pole,” and later made it the title of his first book. Which was a best-seller, by the way. It established his reputation as a humorist.
Emmanuel: Were you influenced by H. Allen Smith?
Carter: Not particularly. But it was nice knowing that somebody had already sat in my chair there in the newsroom, and had gone on to become a published writer.
Emmanuel: What about your co-workers at the time? What were they like?
Carter: Well, you have to realize there were only six full-time people in the news-room — five reporters and a photographer — four guys and two gals. One older woman wrote society, and the other had the courthouse beat. She was a tough old bird named Marie Heiney, and she didn’t like me at first. When I was gone from the news-room she would reach over and stub out her cigarette in my coffee cup. But we became friends after a while. I realized she was really a pussycat — in fact she played viola with the Fort Wayne Symphony. I learned a lot from her about local politics.
The chief sportswriter was a young man named Bob Hammel, who had grown up in the town. He was a couple of years older, and already he was getting attention around the state as an unusually perceptive sportswriter. He moved up quickly and eventually landed with the venerable Herald-Telephone in Bloomington, where he covered Indiana University’s basketball games for many years, and became a nationally-known commentator on the Bob Knight era.
Emmanuel: Was Hammel your boss?
Carter: More like an older brother. Bob was the chief sportswriter, and the managing editor also covered certain games. And I was the assistant sportswriter. There were a lot of basketball teams in that county. This was Indiana, after all, back in the good old days of Milan High School and Crispus Attucks and Muncie Central. During basketball season I drove out to three or four games a week, and I was always taking calls from stringers who phoned in box scores for games I couldn’t attend.
Emmanuel: Was it fun?
Carter: If you liked basketball, it was paradise. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Hoosier. I had a wonderful time.
Emmanuel: Was this the beginning of your writing career?
Carter: In those days I wasn’t thinking about a career. I was just trying to make a living and have a good time. I had no idea what the future would bring — except I knew that sooner or later I’d probably get drafted.
Emmanuel: Were you interested in writing — I mean, the kind of writing you do now? Of course, you were working as a journalist, but did you think of that leading to a writing career?
Carter: From an early age I had this ambition to become a writer. The problem is, when you’re young, you don’t know much about it, and you really don’t know how to begin. So you try a little of everything. Working for a newspaper was a logical place to start.
Emmanuel: It’s a fine tradition.
Carter: Yes, of course — and I had read Hemingway, Twain, Bierce, Crane, Willa Cather — all those folks. I knew that as soon as Sherwood Anderson made a name for himself with his stories, the first thing he did was buy a newspaper, so he could be a small-town editor, and have some fun. I knew it was a great American tradition — that a lot of the old codgers had started out by getting some ink on their fingers, all the way back to Bryant and Poe and Whitman.
Emmanuel: And did it live up to your expectations?
Carter: Absolutely. There’s nothing like it, chasing around after car wrecks and house fires and stick-ups and anything else that comes along. Punching out stories on an old Underwood, having to meet deadlines, learning to write under pressure. Going around to read the police blotter every morning, drinking coffee with the fire chief. I still think it’s the best training a young writer can have.
Emmanuel: Is this when you started writing about the reservoir — the poems we mentioned earlier — for your two books?
Carter: No, no, that was years later, decades later. I wasn’t writing poetry in those days. I was fooling around trying to write short stories. My friends at college — actually I met several of them during that summer at Northwestern — we all thought we were going to be novelists. Those were the people we admired most — Hemingway and Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Dos Passos, Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor. And Salinger. Those were our heroes.
Emmanuel: No poets?
Carter: Well, we read poetry in those days, we knew about it, we got excited about this or that poet — Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Wyatt — and we wrote a poem now and then, but it was just for fun. Or practice. And we memorized poems that we liked, so we could lean out of the window and shout them out to the stars while we roared along those country roads at night. But I had never met anyone who wrote poetry seriously, or who had a reputation as a poet. It was just something we learned to do, in high school, while we were trying to find out what writing was all about.
Emmanuel: How do the reservoirs figure in this story?
Carter: They were important for the last big story I covered while I was working in Huntington. I had to work my way up to it, as part of being low man. I had to write my share of obituaries, and cover the YMCA fund-raisers and the Easter sunrise services, and that sort of thing. But one assignment they gave me right away — the one beat I dearly loved — was being the farm editor.
Emmanuel: Because you were raised on a farm?
Carter: No, I liked it precisely because I wasn’t a farm boy. I was a lad from a small town. A few of my relatives were farmers, but my father was a general contractor. I grew up working summers on construction sites, not milking cows. I really didn’t know much about farming, so I jumped at the chance to write about it.
Emmanuel: What did that involve?
Carter: One afternoon a week I would meet with the County Agricultural Agent, an older gentleman named Walter U. Rusk, who had been helping and advising farmers in that county for twenty-five years. He’d give me a sheaf of press releases and canned filler put out by the Purdue Extension Service, and then we’d drive out to cover a story somewhere. Maybe we’d stop and talk with a bunch of Amish folk who had come to help a farmer whose barn had been destroyed by lightning. Maybe the John Deere Company was holding a barbecue in order to show off their new line of cultivators. Maybe some home-canning expert from Purdue was giving a demonstration in some farmwife’s kitchen.
You’ve got to remember that in those days a reporter on a small-town daily was expected to shoot the photos for his own stories. When I first went to work they handed me this old Speed Graphic and showed me how to use it. It was a huge camera that exposed a three-by-four-inch negative, and carrying it was like lugging around a Browning Automatic Rifle. But it took amazing photographs. I went everywhere with my coat pockets crammed with flashbulbs and film magazines, and I pointed this monster at everything that moved, and of course people always like that — the idea of getting their picture in the paper. It opened a lot of doors.
So Walter and I would be out there every week, in the boondocks, standing on the front porch, or out in the barnyard, talking to the farmers and their wives and their kids, looking at flocks of sheep, 4-H heifers, prize-winning pigs, pet turkeys, new varieties of sunflowers, and I would take pictures of everything, and all the dogs would bark and prance, and everybody was overjoyed that we had come to visit them and pay attention to what they were doing.
Emmanuel: You were obviously curious about things. Was this part of your apprenticeship as a writer?
Carter: Absolutely. One of the things journalism teaches you is to pay attention. That’s your job — to spell the names right and get the dates straight, to tell what happened and filter out all the nonsense. There was an awful lot to see, back in those days, and out on those country roads. History, local color, folklore, old-timers who liked to loaf and swap stories. And I had the good fortune to be introduced by Walter, who knew practically every road, every farmhouse, every rural person in that county.
Emmanuel: Was this the background for Mississinewa County? Is Huntington County the model?
Carter: Mississinewa County is a composite, an imaginary place with elements from many different towns and locales I’ve known, all the way from northern Michigan to southwestern Ohio and points between. With chunks of Illinois and Missouri and Kansas thrown in for good measure. But Huntington County was a model, certainly — and so was Madison County, where I grew up, and Henry County and Tipton County, where my people came from.
Emmanuel: So, this was where the reservoirs were built? In Huntington County and adjoining counties?
Carter: Yes, but it took a while. One day the editor of the newspaper, Judge Houghton, called me in, and he was sitting there with the managing editor, and the two of them explained that the federal and state and local governments had all gotten together and decided to build these three big reservoirs to control the flooding downstream on the Wabash River. There wasn’t any public referendum on the matter. No vote had been taken. It had been decided by the bigwigs. The Army Corps of Engineers had conducted the surveys, and they would supervise the work. It was a big project, one that would take a good ten years to complete. And it was going to be my story, my beat, since I was the farm editor. I was thrilled, of course, but I was only twenty years old, and I really didn’t understand what was going on.
Emmanuel: What do you mean?
Carter: There were to be three reservoirs altogether — one in Huntington County, one halfway in that county and half in the next, and one in Miami County. They proposed to dam three different rivers that fed into the Wabash River — the Mississinewa, the Salamonie, and a branch of the Wabash.
Emmanuel: The Mississinewa is a real river? Not a made-up one?
Carter: Yes, it’s an actual river, and a pretty one, too. Anyway, this big project, when completed, would inundate thousands of acres of farmland along the banks of these three rivers. There were huge earthworks to be built, and all sorts of spillways and giant sluice gates to be constructed. Entire villages would be relocated, cemeteries moved, roads re-routed, bridges and landmarks submerged, and so on. It was a major undertaking, and most of all it meant that over a thousand people — country people, whose ancestors had originally settled and cleared that land — these people were going to be bought out by the government, and moved off their land.
Emmanuel: This must have caused a bit of commotion?
Carter: That’s putting it mildly. I spent a couple of months covering this story, before I went back to school, and I was in the front lines. At least one evening a week Walter Rusk would show up at the newspaper office along with a full-bird colonel from the Corps of Engineers, and the three of us would drive out to some little cross-roads town that was going to be utterly obliterated by this reservoir project.
We would show up at some brick schoolhouse or one-room church, and everybody in town would be there waiting for us, with their pitchforks and their coils of rope. The colonel would get up on the stage with his fold-down maps and his pointer, and he would conduct his dog-and-pony show about the facts and figures, and then Walter would stand up and explain what a good thing it was going to be for all the folks down in Evansville, a good two hundred miles away — and there were several times when I thought we weren’t going to get out of those places alive. That was about the closest I ever came to getting lynched. Or at least being tarred and feathered.
Emmanuel: They saw you as part of the system that was oppressing them.
Carter: Hell yes, the newspaper was the voice of the establishment in that county, and they knew it. We hadn’t gone out there to discuss anything with them. We had come to deliver the bad news. And they were mad as hell about being treated this way, on top of the terrible thing that was happening to them. I managed to write some human-interest stories about their anguish and their sorrow, but it didn’t make any difference. Nothing did. The reservoirs rolled through those lovely valleys and little towns like a juggernaut.
Emmanuel: How about the original inhabitants? The Native Americans? Hadn’t they been pushed off this land by the ancestors of the people with whom you were dealing?
Carter: There had been a lot of different Native Americans living along those rivers during the previous two thousand years. The last tribe to settle there in significant numbers was the Miami, and some of them were still around. Several of them had intermarried with early French traders. I met some of the younger people of that tribe and talked with them. This was almost forty years ago, and the Miami weren’t too militant back then. Because most of them lived in town, they weren’t getting shoved off the land this time around, like the old farmers of English and German descent who lived along the rivers. But several of their ancestral burial grounds were being uprooted and relocated, and they weren’t too happy about that.
Emmanuel: Did you see the flooding take place?
Carter: No, by the time actual construction began I had gone back to college, and then been drafted, and it was twenty years before I got back to Huntington County for a good look around. But I heard about what happened, and I came to see the building of those reservoirs in a different light.
Emmanuel: You began to have second thoughts?
Carter: It was not the overt rightness or wrongness that concerned me — whether or not those dams really controlled the flooding, or made life easier for the people downstream. There are strong arguments that such projects damage the environment and cause more harm than good. Those issues were raised, certainly, during those schoolhouse meetings. But in a free society there are hard choices to make sometimes, and there’s no way you can be absolutely sure of their outcomes. Public policy involves taking risks.
I was far more upset by the way the reservoirs were simply rammed down the throats of the people who lived there. It had nothing to do with democracy or fair play. And it certainly wasn’t humane. I began to see that a project carried out in this way could cast an enormous shadow — that it could be so vast and pervasive that we might not notice what it was really doing to us, or to our own humanity.
Emmanuel: Were you disillusioned? And did that attitude eventually work its way into your reservoir poems?
Carter: I wasn’t disillusioned. I was disgusted. It was the beginning of my waking up to the consequences of the various large-scale political crusades and big-time social-engineering projects of the last fifty years — everything from the New Deal to the Savings and Loan bailout, from the Vietnam War to the Interstate Highway System, from McCarthyism to the shoot-out at Waco.
Some of these things seemed to be good, some bad. But I began to see that the larger the scale, the greater the likelihood that somebody was getting squeezed. There was invariably pain and grief in store for somebody on the bottom, whether they were coal-miners in West Virginia, farm workers in southern California, grad-student instructors at Harvard, or welfare mothers in Chicago. And this was seldom talked about, and usually drowned out by all the ballyhoo.
Emmanuel: How many reservoir poems are there?
Carter: There are the six I’ve mentioned, and two more that have been published but not collected. One of them, “Mussel Shell with Three Blanks Sawed Out,” describes the valley of the Mississinewa as I remembered it, a kind of Eden I had known since childhood. My mother’s family had been camping along those banks since the 1920s, and as a small boy I had been taken up there on many an idyllic summer afternoon. There is a second long poem – 248 lines – called “Lost Bridge,” that gives the most detailed account of the reservoir that gets built in Mississinewa County. Of course, this is an imaginary reservoir, in an imaginary place. The parallels aren’t exact. But if you read that poem you begin to get a sense of what went on.
Emmanuel: What did go on in all of these different poems?
Carter: Something big, something huge and impersonal, some vast force of government and bureaucracy, came into these people’s lives and changed them forever. It was like an earthquake, or a famine. They reacted in different ways. One old farmer blew his brains out. A retired schoolteacher asked a friend to take some photographs of her house. A few middle-aged laborers hired on to help move some of the graves, and they found some strange artifacts at the bottom of those shafts. In different ways they all did what they could, so they would go on remembering and not forget.
Emmanuel: Is that “The Purpose of Poetry”? Not to forget?
Carter: Well, it helps. I’m a firm believer in something pointed out a few years ago by Utah Phillips, the old Wobbly folksinger – that “the most dangerous force in America today is a long memory.”
Emmanuel: What should be remembered? The injustice of progress? Of big government? Big business? It does seem that the bigger something gets, the more it loses the human dimension. Is this what interests you as a writer?
Carter: Wilfred Owen said that “all a poet can do today is warn.” But that would be a good start: to set truth and individual witness against the bureaucratic indifference and material waste of all large-scale operations, from corporations to universities, from big governments to big publishing houses.
Emmanuel: Can poetry make a difference in this respect?
Carter: Let me read you a quote I happened to bring along this afternoon. It’s from Philip Larkin:
I write poems to preserve things … both for myself and others, though I feel that my prime responsibility is to the experience itself, which I am trying to keep from oblivion for its own sake. Why I should do this I have no idea, but I think the impulse to preserve lies at the bottom of all art. Generally my poems are related, therefore, to my own personal life, but by no means always.
Emmanuel: In your quest to preserve things, in the way Larkin describes, do you ever go back to the actual reservoirs, the ones up there in the real Huntington County?
Carter: I drive up there every year or so, when I get the chance, usually in the fall. I get out and tramp around by myself, and look out at all that water. I know my way around those sites. I could take you on a tour sometime. It’s a bleak, desolate world, a haunted landscape. A lot of scars remain, even now. I’ve been going up there for the last fifteen years. I talk with those folks in those little relocated towns, and those crossroads stores, and I hear a lot of tales.
Emmanuel: And that sort of material goes into your poems?
Carter: You never know. I have a few reservoir poems in manuscript that don’t seem finished. They’re elements of the saga, like the part of the iceberg below the waterline. I certainly hope I’ll publish more poems on the subject. But – to change the metaphor – maybe that vein is played out.
Emmanuel: Are there any other messages in these reservoir poems?
Carter: Not any more than what we’ve talked about already – the importance of having a long memory, of not forgetting. But all good poetry helps you do that.
Emmanuel: All poetry?
Carter: No, just all good poetry – from Homer to Hardy, Sappho to Rilke. I’ll tell you one thing. I’ve read a couple of those poems all across the country. I’ve read “The Purpose of Poetry” in a lot of places, and also “Mississinewa Reservoir at Winter Pool.” And it doesn’t matter what part of the country I’m in, if I stand up and read those two poems, then after the reading, some stranger will always come up and want to shake my hand. This person will have tears in his eyes, or her eyes. He’ll say, “They did that to my grandfather. They took his farm, and he had to move into town, and they covered everything up, everything he ever cared about, and it like to broke his heart.”
If they’re not talking about a reservoir, then it’s about the time the Interstate came through their neighborhood, or the shopping mall, or the downtown development. It was the big razzle-dazzle tax-supported project to make room for the new sports stadium, the one that cleared out entire neighborhoods of red-brick buildings left over from the last century.
Civic boosters particularly like to tear down those lovely three-story apartment buildings with limestone coping and art-nouveau flourishes around the windows, and a keystone over the main entrance, that tells the year when it was built, and a fanlight in the lobby, and tile floors with handset mosaic patterns. A lot of people have stories about that sort of wanton destruction, that kind of loss. Sometimes those reservoir poems strike a chord.
Emmanuel: Is that why you write? Is that what you’re trying to do?
Carter: To try to touch people, yes. To try to move them in their hearts. But not necessarily to get them riled up. Leave that to the politicians and the demagogues. Poetry works in its own mysterious way. “Poetry makes nothing happen,” the man said. But if it’s done well, it can make you think about what happened, or what might happen, down the line, if you don’t watch your step.
Emmanuel: We’re almost out of tape. Maybe we’ll have other such meetings later, but now the inevitable question. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Carter: Other than read — read a lot, keep reading, never stop reading, and read the best books you can find, in different languages and from different cultures — other than that, I have no advice. The art of poetry is far too idiosyncratic for generalization. The best poets are always exceptions to the rule. As Harold Bloom says, great poetry is inherently strange.
Emmanuel: Your sixtieth birthday is coming up in a few years. Can you summarize what you think you’ve learned? About yourself?
Carter: What I’ve learned is summed up in another clipping I brought along, in case you asked that sort of question. This is from an interview in the New York Times, a month ago, with a celebrated Irish actor named Donal McCann, who isn’t well known outside his own country. McCann’s about my age. The interviewer asked why he had stayed in Ireland, and never sought the limelight or tried to push his way onto the stages of London and New York. This is what he said:
I don’t belong anywhere where celebrity equals merit or money means talent or wealth proves achievement.… The accomplishment is more important than the reception. Endeavor is what matters. Using your talent is what matters. And since what finally matters is being with God, shouldn’t you try to live your life in the light of the ultimate?
Emmanuel: That’s quite a statement. I’m glad you brought it along. Now for a final question. You’ve written some good books, and had an interesting life, and seen a lot of the world in the process. Any regrets?
Carter: Well, that changes, of course, from day to day. We’re all human, and we all experience regret now and then, but we get over it. I’ve had a pleasant time this afternoon, being back in this charming restaurant. In past years I’ve enjoyed many good meals here, with a variety of dear friends, and as you and I have talked, I’ve been reminded of those days. And that has made me happy.
So at the moment I suppose my only regret is that to Donal McCann’s first sentence he didn’t add the phrase “or where privilege denotes class, or arrogance is taken for superiority.”
The preceding interview was conducted in February of 1997 in a back room at Papa Joe’s, a popular Italian restaurant on the far west side of Indianapolis. Both Lenny Emmanuel and Jared Carter lived in Indiana at the time, although Emmanuel was shortly to remove to New Orleans. The interview was first published in 1998 in the New Laurel Review, a literary magazine based in New Orleans and edited by Lee Meitzen Grue. The interview text is reproduced here, with a few minor corrections, by permission of the interviewer. Bios of both Lenny Emmanual and Jared Carter are provided in the Notes.