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Behind ‘Muted Hosannas’

Its author reveals his creative process

By Jeff Carter, Major – 

If I mentally review my life, poke through the assorted memories, go over my accomplishments, I should say that I have always been a writer. I wrote my first poems in elementary school, and was awarded first prize for my age group in a citywide poetry contest. In high school I wrote and was an editor for my school newspaper. Odd guy that I am, I actually enjoyed essay questions on tests. I started college thinking that I would pursue a degree in journalism, but didn’t follow that path very far. I became a Salvation Army officer, a pastor, instead.

At The Salvation Army training college I learned the art of homiletics, the art of writing and preaching sermons. Even though writing those sermons was one of my favorite parts of the job, I still didn’t think of myself as a writer, as an author.

It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I began to consciously and purposefully apply that label to myself. Before that time I thought of writing as something that I did, rather than something that I am. Asking me the question, “Why do you write?” felt like asking a trout, “Why do you swim?” The trout doesn’t know how to answer that question, except that a fish is what he is and swim is what fishes do.

I write because I am a writer. I write because the words are there and because they insist upon being written. I’ve always been a writer, even if I didn’t think of myself that way. But it wasn’t until I actually decided to be a writer—to write deliberately, to hone my skills, to write something every day—that I felt really fulfilled in my writing, that I really felt like a writer.

I carry a cheap composition book with me nearly everywhere I go, the kind used by students everywhere. I like the immediacy of it. When an idea comes into my mind, I can put it into words right away. And if I don’t do it immediately, I’m likely to forget. Not everything that goes into the notebook comes out later as a polished piece of writing, of course, but it’s where they all start.

The poems in the first section of “muted hosannas” were written during a recent trip to Israel and Palestine. My my cheap little composition notebook went with me to the Holy Land, stuffed into the oversized front pocket of my travel vest. As I stood in the dark and incense filled hush of the Holy Sepulchre or in the bright sunlight atop the Golan Heights, I pulled out my notebook and recorded my thoughts. There I put down the Scripture verses that came to mind, a description of something I wanted to remember, a historical reference that I found interesting. Later, when I came to write, these various notes became the poems that are reproduced in my book.

Photography is something that I’ve come to relatively recently. I have always enjoyed drawing and painting, and pursue those artistic endeavors as well, but the camera seems to work for me. I carry it with me almost as often as I carry my notebook. I took it with me the other evening as my wife and I were going to the grocery store. She looked at me as if I were odd, but there are interesting photographs waiting to be taken almost everywhere you look—in the arrangement of vegetables, in the clouds above the parking lot.

Art, whether in written or visual form, is a matter of both being prepared to find startling images and words in everyday places and in the diligent, daily practice of forming and crafting them into things of beauty and power. This is why I carry my notebook and my camera. This is why I try to write something, photograph something every day.  I can’t just sit around waiting to be inspired; it is work, but work that I find rewarding.

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