poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

February 1, 2008AWP Conference, Hilton Hotel, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Mark Jarman was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, on June 5, 1952. He earned a BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1974 and an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1976. He has published numerous collections of poetry, including Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems (Sarabande Books, 2011); Epistles (Sarabande Books, 2007); To the Green Man (Sarabande Books, 2004); Unholy Sonnets (Story Line Press, 2000); Questions for Ecclesiastes (Story Line Press, 1997), which won the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Iris (Story Line Press, 1992); The Black Riviera (Wesleyan University Press, 1990), which won the 1991 Poets' Prize; Far and Away (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1985); The Rote Walker (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1981); and North Sea (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1978).

Jarman served as Elector for the American Poets’ Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine form 2009-2012. During the 1980s, he and Robert McDowell founded, edited, and published the Reaper, a magazine that helped established the movements of New Narrative and New Formalism. Selections from the magazine were published in book form as the Reaper Essays (Story Line Press, 1996). Jarman has published two collections of essays: Body and Soul (University of Michigan Press, 2002) and the Secret of Poetry (Story Line Press, 2001). He is also coeditor with David Mason of Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism (Story Line Press, 1996).

The poet Edward Hirsch described Jarman's poetry as "God-haunted. [Jarman] writes as an unorthodox but essentially Christian poet who embraces paradox and treats contradiction, to use Simone Weil's phrase, as a lever for transcendence."

Jarman's awards include a Joseph Henry Jackson Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In 2011, he received the Balcones Poetry Prize for Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems. He is Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife, the soprano Amy Jarman.



Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems (Sarabande Books, 2011)
Epistles (Sarabande Books, 2007)
To the Green Man (Sarabande Books, 2004)
Unholy Sonnets (Story Line Press, 2000)
Questions for Ecclesiastes (Story Line Press, 1997)
Iris (Story Line Press, 1992)
The Black Riviera (Story Line Press, 1990)
Far and Away (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1985)
The Rote Walker (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1981)
North Sea (Cleveland State University Press, 1978)


Body and Soul (University of Michigan Press, 2002)
The Secret of Poetry (Story Line Press, 2001)
Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism, coedited with David Mason (Story Line Press, 1996)
The Reaper Essays, coedited with Robert McDowell (Story Line Press, 1996)

Transfiguration (audio only)

And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses and they were talking to Jesus. Mark 9:2


They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
      about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
      who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
      the crowd
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
      from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
      And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
      make himself
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
      and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
      as they talked.


When we brought our mother to him, we said "Lord,
      she falls down the stairs.
She cannot hold her water. In the afternoon she forgets
      the morning."
And he said, "All things are possible to those who believe.
      Shave her head,
Insert a silicone tube inside her skull, and run it under
      her scalp,
Down her neck, and over her collarbone, and lead it into
      her stomach."
And we did and saw that she no longer stumbled or wet
She could remember the morning until the evening came.
      And we went our way,
Rejoicing as much as we could, for we had worried many


They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms
      there were luciform,
How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice
      coursing the skin
And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection,
      the vibrance of light.
And they were talking about the complexities of blood
      and lymph,
Each component crowding the vessels, the body and
      the antibody,
And they were talking about the lamp burning in
      the skull's niche,
The eyes drinking light from within and light from
And how simple it is to see the future, if you looked at it
      like the past,
And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density
      and darkness
And was hard to talk about. Before and after were easier.
      They talked about light.


A man came to him who said he had been blind since
      his wedding day
And had never seen his wife under the veil or the children
      she had given him.
And the Lord said, "Tell me about your parents."
      And the man talked
A long time, remembering how his mother cut his father's
      meat at dinner,
And how at night their voices crept along his bedroom
      ceiling, like--
But he could not say what they were like. And in
      the morning, everything began to tick
And ticked all day as if. . . . Now, he remembered!
And suddenly his sight came back and blinded him, like
      a flashbulb.


They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving
      should be
Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing
      with dew--
A rain the passes through the spiderweb and penetrates
      the dirt clod
Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking
Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink, and finding every
      hair's root on the scalp.
And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd
      and watched them
Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster,
And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be
Including the best. And no one was exempt, as they
      explained it,
Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who
      loved him.


Take anyone and plant a change inside them that they feel
And send them to an authority to assess that feeling.
      When they are told
That for them alone there waits a suffering in accordance
      with the laws
Of their condition, from which they may recover or may not,
Then they know the vortex on the mountaintop, the inside
      of the unspeakable,
The speechlessness before the voices begin talking to them,
Talking to prepare them, arm them and disarm them, until
      the end.
And if anybody's looking, they will seem transfigured.


I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant
And I want to believe he said too much was being asked
      and too much promised.
I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes
      of his friends,
The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them,
      because he loved them
And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were
      going to suffer.
I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he 
      appeared glorified,
Because he could not reconcile the contradictions
      and suspected
That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort
      of the lost.
I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want
      to believe
He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,
      and they talked.

From Questions for Ecclesiastes published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From Questions for Ecclesiastes published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman

Poet Mark Jarman won the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and has authored many collections of poetry.

by this poet

In Ball's Market after surfing till noon,
We stand in wet trunks, shivering,
As icing dissolves off our sweet rolls
Inside the heat-blued counter oven,
When they appear on his portable TV,
Riding a float of chiffon as frothy
As the peeling curl of a wave.
The parade m. c. talks up their hits
And their new houses
Tall blades of tufted grasses, keep on flowing.
Towhees like good ideas, keep on flowing.		

Pooled water, black in shadow, green in sunshine,	
With wild olives bending down to drink,

Those figures coming daily to the bridge
To look at their two shadows on your surface,

Keep them returning, keep them coming

Sick as it approaches, sick as it departs.
In fall the hulks of burned out houses stand unrazed.
In winter bearded with fire truck ice they stand unrazed.
The ice cream maker, the piano tuner, the ceramist and tile engraver,—
The belovèd craftsmen turn up killed at their work places.