The search for the poetry of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
North Dakota Quarterly is one of the few literary journals my grandmother knows about. Not because she’s from North Dakota or attended the University of North Dakota, but because NDQ holds the distinction of being one of the few journals in the world to have published poetry by everyone’s favorite peanut farmer President, Jimmy Carter.
My grandmother loves Jimmy Carter. She’s been obsessed with him since the 70s. I can also distinctly recall the first time I incurred Grandma’s wrath by describing her favorite Commander in Chief as “a one-term goober pea goober” when I was nine years old, an insult which I am proud of to this day, not because I dislike Jimmy Carter or any of his policies (I wasn’t even alive when he was in office, after all), but because I’ll never not find the phrase “goober pea” funny.
So, in honor of my grandmother, I decided to track down the issue of NDQ in which Carter’s poetry appeared. Fortunately, the fine folks at NDQ have a wonderful archive in which you can read and download every issue of NDQ from 1910 to 2007. You can find four of Carter’s poems in NDQ 60:1.
Now, a lot of people describe Carter’s poetry in…not so nice terms. I’ve heard people call it paltry, insipid, milquetoast, etc. But based on the poems I’ve read here, his work doesn’t seem that terrible. Yeah, the one about his father’s cancer is a little Chicken Soup for my taste, but simple narrative poetry like this can be memorable when it’s written with a strong voice. And a strong voice is certainly something Carter has in spades. The word choice and syntax in “The Pasture Gate” reads exactly the way Carter sounds in all of his speeches to the point where it’s uncanny.
So is Jimmy Carter a good poet? I’ve only read four of his poems, so I can’t really say. I’ve read entire books and haven’t been able to decide if someone is a good poet or not. However, Carter’s poems certainly left an impression on me, even if that’s only because they were written by my grandmother’s favorite President.