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Poetry book inspired by people, places encountered in travel

Oxford professor publishes book of poetry inspired by travels abroad

Oxford College professor Lucas Carpenter recently published, “The Way Things Go and Other Poems.” (Special Photo)

Oxford College professor Lucas Carpenter recently published, “The Way Things Go and Other Poems.” (Special Photo)

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“The Way Things Go”

Oxford College English professor Lucas Carpenter has written in many forms, from short story to biography, but poetry is unique in that it forces him to process the human condition through both his imagination and reality.

“I really find poetry to be the most challenging genre to work with. I started writing poetry while I was in college and I’ve been publishing poetry steadily through,” Carpenter, 66, said from his Newton County home. “I just really feel that is the appropriate means by which I can address those things of genuine concern to me.”

In April, Carpenter published “The Way Things Go and Other Poems,” through Anaphora Literary Press, a set of 56 poems that he’s written over the last decade.

A third of the book, titled “Unholy Land,” is devoted to poems inspired by a recent trip he took to Israel. Carpenter said that section is the “centerpiece” of the book.

One of his favorite poems in that section is the “Jerusalem Syndrome,” named after a psychosis developed by some people who visit the Holy Land. They wrap themselves in sheets from their hotel and walk through the streets as they imagine themselves as a biblical character, like John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and even Jesus.

“Both the Israeli and the Palestinian police know about it and know how to respond to it,” said Carpenter, who added that the disturbed people are sent to a hospital, provided with medication and typically calm down.

Poems such as “Checkpoint” and “At the Assassination Spot” highlight the violence can erupt in the Holy Land and commentaries on the commercialization of the Holy Land come through in poems like, “Stations of the Cross.”

“The poems are very ambivalent about the whole nature of Israel but they are also reflections on the places that figure so prominently in Western history and Judaism and Christianity and Islam,” Carpenter said.

Another favorite of Carpenter’s is “The Way Things Go,” a portrait of a man who plans to shoot his neighbor’s dog for killing his cat. The poem won an honorable mention from the W.B. Yeats Society of New York in its 2011 poetry competition.

Other poems include observations of trips he took to the Ukraine, presenting visions of stark poverty, violence and Communist rule.

The poem “Babi Yar” discusses the slaughter of men, women and children gunned down and thrown into a pit by Nazi soldiers during WWII. About 34,000 died over a period of two days, shot in groups of 10, the poem says. Carpenter said they kept the soldiers drunk to do the job, but that only worked for so long.

“They could spend about 30 minutes shooting the machine guns, before they cracked up,” Carpenter said.

Another poem references Amsterdam, where he stayed in a hotel room in which Adolf Hitler had stayed, inspiring the poem, “Rooming with Adolf.”

“As soon as I’m in the room, I’m thinking ‘Good God, I’m sharing the same space as Hitler did during the war,’” said Carpenter, whose poem talks about the nightmare he has while sleeping in the room.

Other poems touch on the Vietnam War, in which he fought from 1969 to 1970, and the Holocaust.

“It still frightens me … that it doesn’t take much to get people to do this,” Carpenter said of the Holocaust.

A native of Elberton and a professor at Oxford since 1985, Carpenter holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston, a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

He is the author of “John Gould Fletcher and Southern Modernism,” and general editor of a seven-volume series devoted to Fletcher. He’s also written books of poetry, “A Year for the Spider,” about his experiences in Vietnam, and “Perils of the Affect.”

Carpenter, who has lived in Newton County for 29 years, teaches English and creative writing at Oxford College of Emory University. He plans on donating the proceeds from “The Way Things Go” to a scholarship fund for students at the college. The book sells for $15 and can be purchased through Amazon.

He said poetry is a distillation of all of his experiences in life and he is enlightened by the process and the final product every time.

“Each time you create a work of art, you learn something about yourself,” Carpenter said.