Politics and Poetry

Politics & Poetry Episode 3: President Jimmy Carter

May 21, 2021 Lisa Campbell, Ron Campbell and Lexi Hunter Season 1 Episode 3
Politics and Poetry
Politics & Poetry Episode 3: President Jimmy Carter
Show Notes Transcript

We're excited to launch our third episode of Politics & Poetry, a new podcast about the power of poetry to engage us in political conversations.  Join three generations of political activists and poetry lovers as we read and share a curated collection of ideas written by critics, reporters, authors, poets, historians and politicians to spur thoughtful discussion about the ways that poetry and politics intersect.  In this month's episode, we're featuring President Jimmy Carter, beloved leader of our nation, naval officer, global human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and American poet.  In his book, Always a Reckoning we are introduced to President Carter as a poet, storyteller, and artist.  Join us as we explore the profound poetry and enduring politics of President Jimmy Carter.

To learn more about President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter's work visit:

The Carter Center ~ https://www.cartercenter.org

The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Care Givers ~ https://www.rosalynncarter.org

Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail ~ https://rosalynncarterbutterflytrail.org

Jimmy Carter National Historic Park ~ https://www.nps.gov/jica/index.htm


Academy of Achievement. (n.d.). Jimmy Carter. https://achievement.org/achiever/jimmy-carter/

Alter, J. (2020). Climate change was on the ballot with Jimmy Carter in 1980—though no one knew it at the time. TIME. https://time.com/5894179/jimmy-carter-climate-change/

Botehlo, G. (2015). Jimmy Carter: Women’s rights the fight of my life. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2015/02/13/world/carter-women-rights

Carter, J. (1995). Always a reckoning. Times Books. Poems used with the permission of Penguin Random House LLC (US), on behalf of President Jimmy Carter.

Carter, J. (2015). Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse. TEDWomen. https://www.ted.com/talks/jimmy_carter_why_i_believe_the_mistreatment_of_women_is_the_number_one_human_rights_abuse?language=en#t-69298

Hendrickson, P. (1980). For poets, a turn for the verse. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1980/01/04/for-poets-a-turn-for-the-verse/1305eed2-008a-4b6d-bca6-7ea1c665300a/ 

Kaufman, M. (1995). Jimmy Carter, it turns out, is a poet, too. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1995/01/18/books/jimmy-carter-it-turns-out-is-a-poet-too.html

Lamb, B. (Host). (1995, February 19). Always a reckoning & other poems. [Video]. C-SPAN Booknotes. https://www.c-span.org/video/?62763-1/always-reckoning-poems

Lozada, C. (2015). The paintings and love poems of Jimmy Carter. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/07/07/the-paintings-and-love-poems-of-jimmy-carter/

National Park Service. (n.d.). Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. https://www.nps.gov/locations/alaska/anilca.htm

Planas, Oriol. (2010). Nuclear accident in Chalk River - Ontario, Canada. Nuclear Energy. https://nuclear-energy.net/nuclear-accidents/chalk-river

Strong, R. (n.d.). Jimmy Carter: Life before the presidency. UVA Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/president/carter/life-before-the-presidency

The Library of Congress. (n.d.). Carter as poet. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/prespoetry/jc.html

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. (2021). Laws, regulations, and guidance. US Department of the Interior. https://www.osmre.gov/LRG.shtm

Williams, M. (n.d.). Some words on the lives and lines of Jimmy Carter. New Orleans Review. https://www.neworleansreview.org/some-words-on-the-lives-and-lines-of-jimmy-carter/


“Some Things I Love” by President Jimmy Carter

Your enchantment in a lonely wood,

The fight and color of a rainbow trout,

My in-basket empty and a new good book,

Binoculars fixed on a strange new bird,

Sadie’s point, and a covey of quail,

The end of a six-mile run in the rain,

Blue slope, soft snow, fast run, no fall,

A dovetail joint without a gap,

Grandchildren coming in our front door,

The same ones leaving in a day or two,

And life, till what rhymes with breath

Takes me from all things I share with you.


A timeless poem shared by President Jimmy Carter, written about his appreciation of the simple things, satisfaction in time spent outdoors, favorite pastimes, the joy of family, and the love and partnership with First Lady, Rosalynn Carter.  



Even as he presents as a worldwide leader, his poem resonates with each of us individually as he describes the daily moments of a lifetime of intimate experiences.  It reminds me of your 56-year marriage Dad--together with Mom, filled with simple things that make life extraordinary; the sometimes seemingly small, day to day moments that make life worth living.   

According to poet Miller Williams when asked about President Carter’s poetry he replied, “Some might not see these lines, in their plainness, as poetry, but poetry is the art of making the memorable out of the ordinary.”  

These plain-spoken, intimate words may be surprising for some, because we are used to thinking of President Carter as the leader of our nation, naval officer, global human rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner but, perhaps not as a poet.  But in his book, Always a Reckoning, we are introduced to President Carter as a poet, storyteller, and artist in his own right.  Welcome to Episode Three of Politics & Poetry, as we explore the enduring poetry and politics of President Jimmy Carter.


Today we want to highlight the timeless connections, the nexus if you will, between President Carter’s lifetime of political service and his poetry in four key areas: 

  • The importance of honesty and integrity in politics 
  • The urgency of protecting our environment
  • The critical need to end racial discrimination
  • and his rallying call to action for full equality of women.



Let’s start off with a high-level overview of his political service

 Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States, from 1977-1981.  His outstanding accomplishments include:

  • serving as the 76th Governor of Georgia and former Georgia State Senator
  • receiving a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
  • being a global human rights activist
  • and becoming the longest living United States President at 96 years old. 

Born James Earl Carter Jr. on October 1, 1924 in Plains, Georgia to James Earl Carter Sr. and Lillian Gordy Carter, he resides in Plains with his wife of 74 years, First Lady Rosalynn Carter and together they have three sons, one daughter, 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren!

 Among many lifelong contributions, President Carter has been recognized the world over for his progressive economic and social policies in which he emphasized ecology, efficiency in government, and the removal of racial and gender barriers. This past year, President Carter was honored by the Georgia General Assembly for his leadership at home and worldwide as a reflective, compassionate and humble leader.



Jimmy Carter is ALSO the first U.S. president to write a collection of poems, Always a Reckoning, and other Poems, a collection of 44 poems illustrated by his granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko.  In this moving, wide-ranging and intensely personal collection, President Carter opens up to us his private and thoughtful world.  Sparked with wry and sometimes sardonic humor, glowing with an intense and passionate caring that is born of an awareness of both societal issues and warm personal stories--his work is a true example of the nexus of politics and poetry--literally and metaphorically.  



We have been lifelong supporters and admirers of President Carter’s legislative service and humanitarian work so we were eager to feature his poetry on our podcast!  My appreciation for the Carter family began in 1977 when we moved back to Georgia.  I was nine years old at the time and seeing Amy, President and Rosalynn’s youngest child, a little girl from Georgia in the White House, was such a thrill!  Over the years, I have been drawn to his work through The Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.  In addition to President Carter’s service, we are fans of his books and poetry.  

One of our favorite things about President Carter as a leader, that shines through in his poetry, is his willingness to share his whole person, his ambitions for our country socially, legislatively, environmentally and economically. But he is also willing to share his creative endeavors as an artist on the world stage…his love of music, painting, woodworking, gardening, farming, storytelling, and his poetry. 



Let’s look at some of President Carter’s poems that are directly related to Politics…  

Here is, “Progress Does Not Always Come Easy”

As a legislator in my state

I drew up my first vote to say

that citizens could never vote again

after they had passed away.


My fellow members faced the troubling issue

bravely, locked in hard debate

on whether, after someone’s death had come,

three years should be adequate


to let the family, recollecting him,

determine how a loved one may

have cast a vote if he had only lived

to see the later voting day.


My own neighbors warned me I had gone

too far in changing what we’d always done.

I lost the net campaign, and failed to carry

a single precinct with a cemetery.


Amusing with a bitter humor! And it resonates strangely with our recent presidential election and claims of fraud, doesn’t it?  Just this month, Georgia passed a horrible bill into law that diminishes the rights of voters, rooted in baseless claims of dead people voting!  As we listened to the recent hearings, President Carter’s prescient words about the reluctance of those in power to change, his words reverberate and still ring true when he says, “My own neighbors warned me I had gone too far in changing what we’d always done.”  

 With a sharp wit, he uses the idea of fighting with one another to control, to halt our united will to move forward with progress and democracy. Perhaps we can even think of the cemetery in the poem as a metaphor for democracy, where suppression of the people results in the death of our democratic process.  As he advocates in his work through The Carter Center to help other countries host free and fair democratic elections, this poem is a chilling reminder that our work to expand and protect voting access, right here in our own backyard, may be in jeopardy; that it is a current and ongoing challenge that needs our concern and activism.



He shares a similar sentiment in his political poem, “Hollow Eyes, Bellies, Hearts”:


We chosen people, rich and blessed, 

rarely come to ask ourselves 

if we should share our voice or power, 

or a portion of our wealth. 


We deal with problems of our own, 

and claim we have no prejudice 

against the people, different, strange, 

whose images we would dismiss: 


Hollow eyes in tiny faces, 

hollow bellies, gaunt limbs, there 

so far away. Why grieve here 

for such vague, remote despair? 


Human debris tries to reach

a friendly port, however far. 

We can’t pay them mind forever, 

wretched dregs from an ugly war. 


With apartheid’s constant shame 

Black mines slave for gems and gold. 

The wealth and freedom are not theirs, 

white masters always keep control. 


Bulldozed houses, olive trees axed; 

terrorist bombs, funeral wails; 

no courts or trials, prison still. 

The land is holy, hate prevails. 


One alone in a Chinese square 

confronted tanks, while others fled. 

He stood for freedom for us all, 

but few care now if he’s jailed or dead. 


Visits in the dark of night 

by lawful thugs—indrawn breaths 

of fear, and then the last farewells. 

The death squads won’t admit the deaths. 


Torture, murder, bitter loss 

of liberty and life. But they 

are friendly tyrants! What would all 

our cautious questioning convey? 


Why think of slaves, nameless deaths? 

Best be still, as in other days. 

Response was bland to Hitler’s deeds—

should we condemn our father’s ways? 


We chosen few are truly blessed. 

It’s clear God does not want us pained 

by those who suffer far away. 

Are we to doubt what He ordained?


In this poem, President Carter clearly challenges us to see the danger in our carelessness, the impact of our collective and individual fear and generational callousness to systemic racism.  He asks us to see how the atrocities we think are worlds away are instead right in front of us, if we will dare to look.  

 His words, “We claim we have no prejudice” can be heard today in retorts such as “All lives matter” and “I don’t see color.”  President Carter’s questions in this poem echo the words that many today are urging to get “back to normal” instead of tackling the difficult challenges such as protecting lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic or holding those in office accountable for abuse and corruption.

 In this way we see that great poets AND politicians can choose to use words that may motivate us. Some move us for good, encourage us to care for others all around us.  Others use words to intimidate, create fear and foster hateful division. 

 Will the reader understand the title of this poem to be about others or about ourselves?  Are the victims of war the ones with hollow eyes, hungry bellies and empty hearts, or are WE the ones who look away when others ask for help, cry out to breath freely?



Reading this now, twenty years later, it feels like we haven’t progressed far at all, does it? We are still divided as a nation on how to address poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, immigration, racism and global suffering.  Some are more aware, we might say “woke” and work to continue “bending the arc towards justice” more poetic words that move us, from Martin Luther King, Jr.   But still, far too many of us may be scared as in President Carter’s poem to “think of slaves, nameless deaths” and unable to “condemn our father’s ways?”  

 During our campaign last year, President Carter’s political poems especially resonated with us as we made calls, participated in town halls and listened to our neighbors’ stories of despair, grief, and inequities.  Carter was interviewed about politics and shared, “...politics is hard. It is a brutal environment, but also gratifying."  We too felt this sweet tenderness in meeting new people, understood his driving desire for social justice, shared in his raw despair at human suffering, laughed as he did with humor at our own flaws, and were motivated by his example of perseverance and joy in the midst of immense struggle.  

 I really got a kick out of this political poem, “My First Try for Votes”


Uneasy in my first campaign,

I feared the likely ridicule,

but got up nerve and neared 

some loafers I saw shooting pool.


I caught the eye of an older man

who seemed to know who I might be.

When I went up to him to speak

he cocked a bleary eye at me.


“Now, wait, don’t tell me who you are,”

he shouted out.  I stood in dread.

Bystanders paused. I blabbed my name.

He frowned. “Naw, that ain’t it,”he said.

And the poem’s simple illustration of a politician reaching out to meet people and to connect captured the feeling completely!  Whether working on as a City Councilperson, School Board Member, County Commissioner, State Representative or other elected official, we think President Carter’s example of a lifetime of service permeates his many speeches, writings and especially his poetry.



Finding the right words is a challenge for most of us, especially our poets and politicians seeking to find language to adequately celebrate the complexities of the human condition. President Carter sums up this struggle in his political poem, “On Using Words”:


I first heard jumbled sounds

before they framed my infant thoughts

and didn’t know beliefs and dreams

would ride on random consonants

and vowels in the air.


Now when I seek efficient words

to say what I believe is true

or have a dream I want to share

the vagueness is still there.


Words--the root of all shared human communication. Legislative leaders and poets use words, speeches and slogans to motivate, to inspire and to move us to participate in our democracy.  Some current political words come to mind:

  • Only Righteous Fights
  • Build Back Better
  • Get into Good Trouble
  • She Persisted
  • I Can’t Breath
  • The Hill We Climb 

Our poets and activists use words to communicate and convey the beauty of the natural world, the kindness of strangers and even the horrors taking place right in front of us like the police brutality we are witnessing.  President Carter’s policies and poetry consistently show us his own personal desire to speak up, and just like Elie Wiesel’s Against Silence, to speak out against complicity.  



President Carter’s intellectual knowledge of root words is also evident in his poetic language.  He chooses words carefully with precision and nuance.  He voices “agape” in several poems to describe sacrificial love, a word that may also be used to describe his lifetime of service with Rosalynn.

 President Carter was a lifelong student and inquisitive learner, so once he set out to write poetry, he did so with the intensity and gusto that he seemed to apply to all areas of his life.  He set out to learn with some of the living poets of his day such as Miller Williams and Jim Whitehead, both poets and professors at the University of Arkansas, and both friends of his brother, Billy Carter.  He began by studying Miller Williams’ textbook about writing poetry, How Does a Poem Mean?

 In addition to the history of words, President Carter studied the language and stylistic art of poetry--learning about meter, alliteration, open verse, ballads, sonnet, and rhyme.  He uses all of these techniques to transport us to his world and spur us to consider new meanings. He talked about his writing during a New York Times interview, "I had always written as an engineer, as briefly and concisely and clearly as possible," he said, "and I never was interested in anything but the most simple words. With poetry I experienced kind of a mind expander as I search for the most appropriate word, study the derivation of words and learn what their original meanings might have been."

 President Carter searches and finds just the right words to link people, places and political ideas. He invites us into his humble story of courage, ambition and adoration for our shared humanity. His words are sometimes stark in their brevity but also warm with the possibility of change and growth.  Like Emily Dickinson, President Carter shares hard truths with poetical slant; often with subtle humor, always with human respect and self-awareness.



President Carter was a public supporter of the spoken word in the arts as well. In the third year of his presidency, President Carter began the year with an unusual event held on January 3, 1980, where he invited 75 poets to the Whitehouse!  Twenty-one of those poets were invited to read, simultaneously to different audiences, in three different rooms.  Can you imagine being a part of that gathering!  



President Carter’s impact can also be seen in his poems related to environmental issues:


In his poem, “Trout,” President Carter speaks poignantly about his relationships with the natural world:


Those who fish for trout

go where beauty is,

where air is incense, where

no poison stains.

Congenial friends may share

these lonely streams,

but they must stay past bend

or waterfall.

Testing oneself is best

when done alone.


We try to learn the secrets 

of the stream,

how currents run, what drifts

in quiet depths

or sweeps around the stones

to tempt a fish;

what artifice can stir

the same desire

with feathers and some fur, 

a barb within.

A trout is never trusting.


We learn by using

simple, ancient ear, 

the history of an art--

and we learn patience, too,

sometimes the hardest part.


The solitude,

relief from care, 

frustrating doubts

about our anglin skills--

these stay with those who fish for trout.


An avid angler, President Carter has been fly fishing for many years and is arguably the only U.S. president to enter the realm of “fishing mastery.” In this poem, he shares the joy of slowing down, being in nature and the human quest to know about the world, about each other and about ourselves.

 Though there are many ways in which Jimmy Carter has expressed his passion and commitment for environmental protection, there are a unique few pieces of legislation that really defined his impact.  Let’s highlight a few of these major political accomplishments in the area of the environment and conservation.



First, President Carter lived much of his life as a farmer, so he understood, in a profound way, the inextricable links between humanity and the natural realm. He began working on his parent’s peanut farm in his younger years, allowing him to form a lifelong foundation for environmental ethics.  In his poem, “Peanuts,” President Carter describes his keen awareness of the value of our shared land when he writes, 


“To me, a miracle: the blossoms send

A peg to penetrate the earth, to swell,

To make a seed, a hundred to the vine.”


Later, in 1952, when Carter was in the Navy, he experienced a near environmental disaster due to a shutdown failure in a nuclear reactor. This experience certainly impacted his thinking and allowed him to question how we might utilize these practices in more secure ways, as well as the importance of environmental conservation. 

Both through President Carter’s time in office and after the fact, he has contributed to; 

·       The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, which managed some of the ruins of strip mining, 

·       The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act which was a response to the dangerous hazardous waste practices of its time,

·       and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which, “stipulates the designation of wilderness, subsistence management, transportation in and across parklands, use of cabins, mining, archaeological sites, scientific research studies and more.” 



In his poem “Flying into Japan and Seeing Mount Fuji Above the Clouds,” President Carter shares more about his love of our planet and emphasizes our role in protecting our most valuable resource:


“We’ve climbed some peaks

that dwarf this flawless cone

seeming to float above Japan,

the whitest clouds turned drab

against its lustrous side.

Its calm,

its solitude and strength

all say

some things will able,

if not

the fruitless, transient labors

of our lives.”


The awe and solemnity that President Carter portrays in this poem seems to speak to the enduring world in stark contrast to the common human desire to labor, to climb, to outdo each other and ourselves.  He also hints at the enduring nature of our impact on the environment and the critical work that is imminent as we seek to protect it for future generations.

President Carter once told the press. "I'm more at ease, more happy, more relaxed when I'm out in my fields and woods than at any other time of my life. And I don't have any doubt that those kinds of feelings came through in a number of poems."



They sure did! President Carter has not only expressed his profound interest in protecting our world through his words but he has also demonstrated this as a lifelong priority by consistently working to champion climate protections in his legislation and political projects.

 During his Presidency, Jimmy Carter signed 14 major pieces of environmental legislation, including the first funding of alternative energy, the first federal toxic waste cleanup (the Super Fund), the first fuel economy standards and important new laws to fight air, water and other forms of pollution. He also protected California’s redwood forest and 100 million acres in the Alaska Lands bill, which doubled the size of the National Park Service.

 According to a Time article written by Jonathan Alter, “...In 1979, Carter placed solar panels on the roof of the West Wing of the White House...now, (42 years later), solar is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the United States.” 

 His poem, “A reflection of beauty in Washington” is another forthright song praising the unparalleled splendidness of nature:


I recall one winter night 

going to the White House roof 

to study the Orion nebulae, 

but we could barely see the stars, 

their images so paled by city lights. 


Suddenly we heard a sound 

primeval in its tone and rhythm 

coming from the northern sky. 

We turned to watch in silence 

long wavering V's, 

breasts transformed to brilliance 

by the lights we would have dimmed. 

The geese passed overhead, 

and then without a word 

we went down to a peaceful sleep, 

marveling at what we'd seen and heard.


President Jimmy Carter’s poetry and activism suggests that looking over the horizon might light our path to a better future—but also that, without leadership working consistently in our politics and government he says, “the chance to realize that future can easily slip away.” 



In addition to a call to action to save our environment, President Jimmy Carter has also rallied the cause to end, “the abuse of women and girls.” President Carter and Rosalynn Carter have seen this abuse firsthand not just in the United States but globally. He says that a lot of this comes from years of misinterpretation of scripture, in most cases where men regard women as “lesser-than” and created for secondary positions. President Carter wants to put an end to this way of thinking, and he called the trudge to women’s equality the “fight of his life.” 

 His poetry collection also emphasizes equality for women with his inclusion of several poems paying specific tribute to the women who shaped his life.

 Throughout his life, President Carter looked up to many strong women including his wife, mother, sisters, and his good friend, Rachel Clark. His marriage to Rosalynn has been described as one that developed into a partnership of equality and mutual respect. 

 In the poem, “Miss Lillian,” he describes the love and loss of his mother and highlights the enduring contributions of women:


She would nurse

and when they couldn’t pay

she would still be there.


She loved to laugh 

and often laughed alone, 

but didn’t seem to care.


When she wept

not many tears would fall.

She never had learned how.


She died

and left us all behind.

What will we do now?


This poem evokes our collective love of our mothers and the loss we feel when they die. President Carter writes about the selfless contributions of his own mother, and in doing so, praises motherhood as a valuable role in our collective wellbeing.  He describes how she nurses us with her care, lifts us with laughter, is steadfast in her work and yet faces much of her work and struggle in solitude. Carter draws upon his own experiences in this poem, and in his work, to demonstrate that women around the world are worthy of equality and continue to be denied equal rights. He writes passionately about how this contribution and lack of equality affects us all. In his work, President Carter consistently calls world leaders to include women in decision making, leadership positions and peace negotiation tables.  This poem ends with the question and call to action for all times, “What will we do now?”



In his poem, “Rosalynn,” President Carter shares about his love of his lifelong partner and the importance and value of her contributions.  He writes, 


“She’d smile, and birds would feel that they no longer

had to sing, or it may be I failed

to hear their song.

Within a crowd, I’d hope her glance might be

for me, but knew that she was shy, and wished

to be alone. I’d pay to sit behind her, blind to what

was on the screen, and watch the image flicker

on her hair.

I’d glow when her diminished voice would clear

my muddled thoughts, like lightning flashing in a gloomy sky.

The nothing in my soul with her aloof

was changed to foolish fullness when she came

to be with me. With shyness gone and hair caressed with gray,

her smile still makes the birds forget to sing

and me to hear their song.”


In this poem, President Carter describes his own transformation in the union and the joy of a long life of togetherness.  He describes his love in the early days and compares her “diminished voice” to “lightning flashing in the gloomy sky.”  For President Carter, the love they have cultivated is awesome, and profound.  Using alliteration and repetition, he compares the seasons of nature to the season of a marriage, noting his own changing awareness of the joys, fears and vulnerabilities.



Ending discrimination and promoting anti-racism is another lifelong cause for President Carter and Rosalynn Carter. In their writings they share much about their experience in southern Georgia, as well as their experiences later in adulthood as they travelled around the world.

 Throughout President Carter’s collection of poetry, his awareness of racism is woven into many lines and references.  He also includes several poems that explicitly share stories about the racial division in our communities and our country.  In his poem, “The Pasture Gate,” he relays a childhood experience and ends the story with these lines:


“We only saw it vaguely then,

but we were transformed at that place.

A silent line was drawn between 

friend and friend, and race and race.”


In another poem, “Plains,” President Carter shares more about the history of racially segregated towns:


“...There were only half a thousand souls,

White and black, the master and the slave.

Neither side forgot, nor ever gave

Each other ways to reach their common goals.


But the poem ends with President Carter’s enduring optimism in the ongoing need to unite for equality and his call to action to end systems of discrimination, extending beyond his small hometown to the entire globe.  He writes, 


“But now, equals, free to rise or fall

Together, we have learned we must depend

On one another.”


In another poem that may be viewed as one about human rights, “The More Things Change” President Carter closes the poem with the words, 


“I am well but not satisfied.”  


A bittersweet reminder--still about the ongoing work to create greater opportunities for all.


Finally, in the collection’s title poem, Always a Reckoning, President Carter shares his father’s philosophy that everything on the farm had to balance out--to be in accord and benefit the larger effort. He challenges us to see this as reflective in our lives too. When we invest in something we get back a dividend. When we invest in our community, our democracy, we get much in return. 

 When running for President, candidate Jimmy Carter promised “a government as good and as competent and as compassionate as are the American people.” With his serene optimism, commitment to service and enduring desire for peace among people, President Carter captures the public’s imagination with his words and poetic vision about politics, our environment, and equal rights--people, politics, places and private lives.



We are buoyed and inspired by the themes President Carter offers us in his poetry. His warmth, tenderness, intellect and compassion invite us to keep leaning in to the artist.  He encourages us to “look and maybe laugh” to find the reasons why we should “care” and “dare” to look within, to reflect and to have the courage to speak out.  We think this is truly the nexus of politics and poetry.  Here is “Itinerant Songsters Visit Our Village”


When some poets came to Plains

one night,

two with guitars, their poems taught

us how to look and maybe laugh

at what we were and felt and thought.


After that, I rushed to write

in fumbling lines why we should care

about a distant starving child.

I asked how we can love the fear

and death of war, rejecting peace

as weakness; how a poet can dare

to bring forth out of memory

the troubling visions buried there,

and why we barely comprehend

what happens out in space.


I found

my words would seldom flow, and then

I turned to closer simpler themes:

a pony, Mama as a nurse,

the sight of geese, the songs of whales,

a pasture gate, a racist curse,

a possum hunt, a battle prayer.


I learned from poetry that art

is best derived from artless things,

that mysteries might be explored

and understood from that which springs

most freely from my mind and heart.



President Carter was interviewed in 1995 and he closed the discussion by saying, "I’m amazed at how much of a self-revelation comes from a poem...exploring the inner depth of my soul of my consciousness and my memory and revealing things that otherwise I would never have told anyone." He also shared he was working on seven or eight other poems at that time, and we hope he will consider sharing a second volume still.  

 President Carter and Rosalynn Carter, please accept our gratitude and thanks for all that you have done, and continue to do to share your words of love, joy, hard work and agape.  Thank you for your life linking us together with the shared experiences of the small but meaningful things in life and helping make sure that others around us have equitable opportunities to do the same.