Poet Emily Carr doesn't usually write about the places where she's currently living. By the time she's absorbed the feeling of a place enough to write about it, she says she's often onto the next adventure. But having now spent four-plus years in Bend as the Program Director for OSU-Cascades' MFA in Creative Writing program, Carr says this place has stuck with her enough to warrant the crafting of a poem.
As it happens, that poem goes live in the digital poetry journal, "Under a Warm Green Linden," the day this paper hits stands, June 21. Carr says the poem, titled, "It's Not Your Fault," was inspired by spending time at Bend's Crux Fermentation Project, known for its dazzling sunsets over the Cascades. The poem's opening lines speak (for me) to the lightness and innocence of summer:
this is how the world wants to be children run with halfeaten popsicles water the trashcan with their pistols shooting blanks shooting blanks shooting
"I am staying put here," Carr tells me. "So this is new for me, this relationship to place, this idea of staying put and not writing about it after I've moved on."
Carr says she tends to "think of a place as a character—to have animacy and agency and emotions and feelings and things like that—so I need to feel like all of that is happening before a place will come into my work."
It's not all that strange to see a Bend-based poet finding inspiration from a site serving the golden beverage so loved in "Beer Town, USA." Though when it comes to beer-related inspiration, Carr seems to give as well as she gets. Her chapbook titled, "Whosoever Has Let a Minotaur Enter Them, Or a Sonnet," published by McSweeney's in 2016, inspired Paul Arney at Bend's Ale Apothecary to name the "Minotaur" brew after her work.
Carr continues to collaborate with Ale Apothecary, saying she'll soon be the company's tasting room "poet in residence," giving people what she calls a "fun, casual, personalized experience of poetry." She can also be found at some First Fridays in downtown Bend, doing "poetry fortune tellings" that give people bite-sized, personalized poems.
Having moved around throughout her life, Carr has been able to draw inspiration from a number of locales. She earned her BA from the University of Missouri, then moved onto medical school before realizing that poetry was her true calling.
"My parents always wanted me to be a doctor, and then mid-career, like in my 40s, move to being a doctor half time and a poet half time. So... when I was in medical school that was the trajectory I was on, but after the first year it became really clear that, A., being 40 is a long time to wait and then B., doing it half time wasn't going to be satisfying for me. I wanted to be a poet full time," Carr says.
That led her to earning an MFA from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and a Ph.D. from the University of Calgary. Her written works have earned her a number of accolades, including winning the New Measures Poetry Prize in 2009 for her second work of poetry, "13 Ways of Happily: Books 1 & 2," and being a finalist in the National Poetry Series in 2011.
While continuing to write works of her own, her time in Bend has been largely occupied with the duties of administrator; shaping students' minds to believe that poetry is still a valuable skill in the modern world.
"We do actually as poets have all these skills that are very, very useful. And rather than complaining that people don't care about poetry or they think it's difficult or they're scared or underappreciated or whatever, is just to be like, OK, it's part of my job as a poet to show the world how I am useful."
Poets may be known to be creative people—but they have to use that creativity not just in the work, but in learning to share their value with the world, Carr says. For instance, participating in workshops and critiques is an integral part of a creative writer's education—but something that can come with a lot of painful feedback. That skill of giving and receiving constructive feedback is one that can be translated into many facets of life—especially in a political world mired by so much vitriol.
"Use value' is defined by an exchange of money. So if you choose to do something that is not valued in terms of money, then I think you really have to develop your own internalized notions of what is successful, so you can keep doing it and thrive," Carr says.
As for her work with the indie publishing titan, McSweeney's—started by author Dave Eggers—Carr says she loves that the publishers put the same "care and intention and beauty" into the physical book as she does into the words.
Speaking about "Minotaur," she says, "the cover is just so beautiful, the interior is gorgeous, and they allowed me to be involved, to be difficult—my publication was delayed by like about a year and a half because I wasn't satisfied with how the book was turning out. And they were cool with that."
Even more unique is that McSweeney's fact-checks the works—even the poems. Carr describes how the publishers fact-checked a line in one of her poems about "the sheep of snow lying down amongst the curbs."
"They didn't care about the sheep of snow," Carr says. "They were worried about whether you could be 'amongst curbs.'"
No alternative facts here, apparently. "This is factual poetry," Carr says, laughing.