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Jimmy Carter (President of the United States, 1977-1981)

Carter as Poet

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter, half-length portrait, facing right, in denim shirt with sleeves rolled up
Photographic print.

Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
Library of Congress.

Eight years before Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. president to write a novel (The Hornet's Nest, Simon & Schuster, 2003) he'd become the first U.S. president to write a book of poetry. Always a Reckoning, and Other Poems (New York: Times Books, 1995), a collection of 44 poems illustrated by his granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko, met with mixed reviews upon its publication. New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani called Carter a "mediocre poet" who writes "well-meaning, dutifully wrought poems that plod from Point A to Point B without ever making a leap into emotional hyperspace, poems that lack not only a distinctive authorial voice, but also anything resembling a psychological or historical subtext."1

Speaking of the genesis of Always a Reckoning in a 2003 interview, Carter said that "ten years ago, I wanted to write a book of poems. I approached with some temerity a couple of distinguished poets (Miller Williams and James Whitehead) at the University of Arkansas who took me under their wing, and I received the equivalent of a postgraduate course in poetry."2

Carter's education and interest in poetry began much earlier, however. As an eighth grader attending the Plains school in Georgia, Carter and his classmates were required by their English teacher Julia Coleman to memorize famous poems and write poetry of their own. It was "Miss Julia," as Coleman was known by students, who provided Carter with his first true exposure to poetry. This exposure would lead Carter to take up poetry writing later in life. Carter has noted that "when I was in the submarine force (1948-1952), I wrote a good bit of poetry underwater for days at a time, you know, with not much to do. I was newly married. I would write love poems to Rosalynn and write poems just about things that went on on the submarine."3 Indeed, while the poems in Always a Reckoning explore subjects as diverse as "Peanuts," "A Motorcycling Sister," and "My First Try for Votes," they also include meditations on Rosalynn ("Rosalynn") and submarine life ("Life on a Killer Submarine").

Although Carter's poems are still under copyright, a video of Carter reading "Considering the Void" is available on the United States of Poetry web site.


1. Michiko Kakutani, "A Politician's Poetry: From Life, With No Leaps," New York Times, 24 January 1995, C17.

2. David Kronke, "Carter Goes To War: Former President Pens Novel About South During American Revolution." Daily News, 7 December 2003, U.8., Valley edition.

3. Lori Moody, "Georgia On His Mind: Jimmy Carter's Poetry Encompasses Home, Family, Presidency." Daily News,9 February 1995, L.1., Valley edition.


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  November 7, 2008
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