A recently published chapbook of poetry titled “Marks of the Witch” by Catherine Carter, associate professor of English at Western Carolina University, explores topics ranging from time and feeling inadequate to getting gnawed on by crickets.
The 20-page book of poems won the 2014 Jacar Press Chapbook Contest and is now available from Jacar Press, an independent publisher of full-length collections, chapbooks, anthologies and limited edition collectible book art.
Kathryn Stripling Byer, a former poet-in-residence at WCU and former N.C. poet laureate said Carter’s poems come close to English author Stephen Spender’s description of poetry as “enchanted utterance.”
“Call it enchantment or call it witchery, the poetry in Carter’s ‘Marks of the Witch’ creates through its incantatory rhythms and startling imagery a voice that reveals nothing less than the mystery residing in even the most ordinary detail of our daily lives,” said Byer in praise for the book shared by Jacar Press.
Carter said that although some of the poems in the chapbook were inspired by a rough time in her life, she hopes readers will find the overall arc hopeful.
She traces her interest in the literary craft to childhood when she heard poetry on a regular basis as a result of “rare opportunities” and “rare parents.”
Among the rich experiences that further fueled her love of poetry, she said, was meeting a man called the “Pit Bull” when she was a doctoral student at the University of Delaware. Carter was working in a temporary secretarial position in which there was little to do but wait for the phone to ring, and one of her co-workers was the Pit Bull, a small middle-aged man in a technical or managerial role who seemed a little lonely and bleak, she said.
He stopped to chat with her after a manager quashed Carter’s study of Victorian literature during office lulls – citing complaints that she was “reading books on duty.”
“Once I wasn’t allowed to read, of course, all the staring and waiting was enough to drive me pretty crazy, and that was when the Pit Bull – maybe sensing a certain rising preoccupation with rifles and bell towers – wandered out to talk,” said Carter.
When he realized Carter taught English, he told her he remembered taking English in high school and asked if she wanted to hear a poem he had been required to memorize. Carter braced herself to hear something simple or trite, but instead he recited, deadpan, some of the darkest lines in literature – the “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth.”
The Pit Bull said he did not grasp the full meaning of the poem when he was in high school but that had come to understand.
“This guy, this Pit Bull, knew something almost unspeakable about despair, about years in which one day is like all the rest, and that was appalling,” said Carter. “But he also had those lines to tell him that someone else had felt like that. They hadn’t saved him from whatever his life was, but they’d helped him understand it. They’d given him something, and they’d given me something too: justification and absolution for the next several decades of reading books on duty.”
“The Pit Bull had reminded me that in the best case, poetry can help us read and find meaning in our own lives, and not just literary geeks’ lives,” she said. “It can show us the truth that when we’re most alone, we’re not totally alone. And that’s pretty amazing stuff for less than a dozen lines.”
Carter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-227-3931.