Saturday, March 06, 2004

Mark Jarman - Nashville, TN

Winnie Cooper strains in most neighborhoods as I bend her to my evil will, bouncing over curbs, taking down power lines and tree limbs, scaring outdoor pets, and pinning car pool moms and soccer dads to 1/8th of the normal avenue, boulevard, or lane.

But south of Nashville, off one of the main north/south highways, I steer recklessly through the spacious neighborhood where I'll find Mark Jarman. As I drive, I pour back a Diet Coke, dial a pal on the cellie, and look back at my wife who is wondering who ate the last of the chocolate. I throw my head back and howl; the streets are this wide and flat and smooth.

(Who's been on the road too long? But some of the above is true.)

At the end of one pretty and long road, I find Jarman's house. It's the house that Mike and Carol Brady would have built if they wanted some real room. It's right out of the 60s, bi-level facing, slanted roof, set way back on a large lot, surrounded by a wide variety of hardwood trees, a giant Y-shaped Cherry number right in front.

Jarman meets me at a big glass door and takes me in on the main floor. Light pours in from the back of the house where I can see through to the back yard. It used to be horse pasture, he tells me. There are some houses back down there in the valley now, but you can just see their roofs. Jarman's back yard is heavily wooded, filled with birds and bird feeders, a few stray limbs from the giants that were here on this wonderful spot long before the house.

And the house does come from the 60s, built by the Speer family, a long-living gospel singing group - still going, run by a grandson now as the New Speer Revival. But the Speers sold the house to someone after many years, and then Jarman and his wife and family bought it. They've been here a dozen years and what I see of the house is homey - and (seemingly) run by a large and lazy cat who sees me, but doesn't even bothering raising an eyebrow as I come in, visit, or leave.

Jarman sits with his back to a four sided fireplace and I sit opposite him at a big wooden dining table. I set up the gear and we get to the questions. I do my best in all of these interviews to simply ask the questions, record the answers, but today is a little different. Regardless of my desire to stay out of the way of answers, Jarman's ideas about place are so like my own that I find myself jumping in, having more of a real conversation than I normally do. He talks a little and then I tell him some of my own answer, sometimes as it comes from my own work, other times as it is drawn from earlier interviews.

I have a real sincere love for Jarman's beautiful, nostalgic, and haunting poems. In person, he's quiet, serene, getting over a cold, but focused and alert at my questions. I ask about one of my favorite pieces of his in context of an earlier question and I get just what I really want, an explanation of how that poem came to be, what the trigger was, some of the inner workings. Good inside stuff, and for a fan of poetry, it's one of those little 5 minute chunks of time that has made this trip worth it, just for the stories.

I've got other poems of Jarman's I'd like to ask about, but I've taken the time I've already asked for and I've got the answers for the book. We go outside to the big tree in the front yard and I maneuver around Jarman for a few shots. He tells me to drive safe, checks to make sure I've got the right highway to take me toward Kentucky, and we say goodbye. The book of his I wanted him to sign is still in my big bag. I'm paging through it now.