John Carter is a 2018 graduate of Ball State University, where he earned his Master of Arts in Creative Writing and where he also holds a B.A. in English—Creative Writing with a Professional Writing Minor. He’s interested in using description and lyricism to bring a love of nature, farming, and the rural American Midwest to what is (hopefully) an accessible space. More information about him and his work can be found on his website.
How would you describe your perspective on teaching?
Practice and revision-oriented. I grew up working on my family’s farm, where the only way to learn how to do something was often through practice, and the skills or tools required for one job were typically also applicable to another. When I started studying creative writing in college (and later in graduate school), I was surprised by the similarities between farm work and the work of a writing workshop—collaboration, self-evaluation, out-of-the-box thinking, problem-solving, recognizing the dis/connections between objects or ideas, etc.
In my classroom, this translates to a pedagogy centered on regular writing practice paired with revision and reflection, so that it can be learned from. In my mind, feeling the weight of a bale of hay and finding the best way to move your body to load a hay wagon involves the same kind of practice, revision, and reflection as moving a piece of writing from an early draft to a published piece.
My goal, whether it’s in the composition classroom or creative writing classroom, is for my students to leave with not only a better sense of their individual writing processes, but a realization that this process of practice, revision, and reflection is useful beyond the writing classroom.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
I’m continuing to work on a collection of midwestern gothic poems that began as the creative project for my master’s degree. The collection focuses on using the midwestern gothic traits of the grotesque, the macabre, and the supernatural to create a space of tilted reality and transformation, blurring the line between human and nature in ways that resist expected images of the rural American Midwest as static, wholesome “flyover country.”
My interest in the subject grew out of my experiences growing up on a farm and having a perspective of nature and “rurality” that was often different than that of many people I’d meet. As fewer and fewer people live and work on small farms, images and ideas of what rural, farming life is or looks like often become flattened and generalized in a way that obscures hard realities and ecstatic beauties. My goal for the collection is to—as with everything I do—use my love of the rural Midwest to disrupt these generalizations.
What are you currently reading, if anything?
What are some of your hobbies or interests?
Aside from writing and reading, I don’t have a ton of hobbies or interests. In the warm months, I spend a lot of time working in my garden, where I grow a chaotic mess of tomatoes, field corn, pole beans, sunflowers, sage, lavender, and a few other random herbs.
I live and work on my family’s farm, so I’m often also busy with farm work. In fact, we’re getting ready to have lambs from our small flock of Horned Dorset ewes, so check me out on Twitter for some pictures of baby sheep over the next few weeks.
Who are your biggest role models?
Role models are a little difficult, because some of them are pretty personal. I can definitely say, however, that the writers Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon were essential to my development, not just as a writer, but as someone interested in thinking critically about rural life in general. Through their writing, both offer distinct, unbending perspectives of farming and nature that go against and are critical of mainstream thought.
As I’ve grown as a writer over the last few years, the poetry of Ross Gay has also become important to me. Until I read his book, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, I didn’t realize how long I’d been looking for poetry where the human body interacts with and becomes part of nature the way it does in his poems. If you haven’t yet, you need to read his poem, “Burial.”
What is a piece of advice you would offer students?
Visit and talk to your professors. I didn’t learn how useful it was until the last year or so of my undergraduate degree, and I didn’t realize how rarely people actually do it until I became an instructor myself. All of us are professionals in our fields, and all of us want to see you succeed.
Also, if you can, read something unrelated to school every day. After I finished my second degree, one of the most surprising things was how strange it felt to read something I wasn’t reading for a class. When I recognized that little joy, I was sad that I had lost it or forgotten it for 6-ish years.