Unlimited Possibilities: Award-winning Poet Jan Beatty Inspires Carlow Students

Alison Juram D'Addieco -

Jan Beatty is passionate about poetry. 

In a recent interview, she described what it's like to teach poetry.

"I believe there are open doors in everybody," she said in her recent Prairie Schooner interview. "If the teacher, if the class, if the student next to them finds a way to tap on that door and that door opens, everything's possible. I really believe that. People have unlimited possibilities."

Jan Beatty, Poet, Host of Prosody, Director of Carlow University's Creative Writing Program (photo by Mark Ludak)
Jan Beatty (photo by Mark Ludak)

Director of Carlow's creative writing program, Beatty's poetry has garnered her many awards-including the $15,000 Creative Achievement Award in Literature from the Heinz Foundation and the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She was also a finalist for the Discovery/The Nation Prize and recipient of two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Beatty runs the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops, teaches in Carlow's MFA program, and is the managing editor of MadBooks, a small press that publishes books and chapbooks by women writers. And, for the last 20 years, she has hosted and produced Prosody, a public radio show on NPR affiliate WESA-FM, featuring the work of national writers.

Jan Beatty, WYEP, WESA, Madwomen in the Attic
Jan Beatty is editor of the Voices from the Attic anthology printed by Carlow University Press, left; Jan Beatty (Director of Creative Writing) with Tess Barry, right

Fellow award-winning poet D.A. Powell describes Beatty as "a poet who speaks with courage and experience," describing her poems as "electrifyingly candid." Beatty's candid work fills four full-length books of poetry, including, most recently, The Switching/Yard, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in February, 2013. The Switching/Yard was named one of “30 New Books That Will Help You Rediscover Poetry” by Library Journal. Beatty’s poem, “Youngest Known Savior,” from The Switching/Yard, was chosen for Best American Poetry 2013. 

Another of her poems, “Shooter,” was featured in a paper by the scholar Mary Kate Azcuy: Jan Beatty’s “Shooter,” A Controversy for Feminist & Gender Politics. This paper, which also includes the work of gender theorists Judith Butler and Judith/Jack Halberstam, was presented at the FAAAM: Femmes Auteurs Anglo-Américaines Conference at the Université of Paris, Ouest Nanterre on June 14, 2013.

Jan's Beatty's newest book, The Switching YardHer other books include Red Sugar, finalist for the 2009 Paterson Poetry Prize; Boneshaker, finalist for the Milton Kessler Award; and Mad River, recipient of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. A limited edition chapbook, Ravage, was published by Lefty Blondie Press in 2012. Another chapbook, Ravenous, won the 1995 State Street Prize.

Western Pennsylvania-raised poet Lori Wilson said she couldn't have published her first book, House Where a Woman had it not been for Beatty.

"I don't know how long I would've waited to put it together if it hadn't been for Jan," she said, "who believed and convinced me that somewhere in my pile of poems were the seeds of a book."

Find out more about Carlow University's Creative Writing Program
Find out more about Jan Beatty


Company Car

To make sure, they took out the back seat,
left a dirty hole for hauling supplies.
My father worked for American Tobacco, when
smoking was glamorous & profits fatter.
We set up little red & white folding chairs
in the back hole of the Ford Fairlane sedan,
1960 black with red vinyl interior, me & my
sister, 7 years before Woodstock, we
rock/n rolled crazy down the street.
I was 10 & didn’t know the history
of the company store. Laughing & falling over
/my father’s eyes in the rear-view/my
mother scowling, I didn’t know the shame of it.
Our screams of stupid joy reminded them
of what we were: working-class, afraid of
being seen riding around, afraid my father
would lose his job. He couldn’t take us
to school or church, but he did.
He was the builder of our lives, carving
a way through the lies around us.
Is that why he yelled so much at our silliness?
Where did he put his rage, as he pulled the black
car into the garage & turned the key?
I saw him late one night under the side-house light:
he took it & put it stone by stone in the
driveway wall, heaving & radiant. I saw him
give rage a body, breathe it alive.

—Jan Beatty, The Switching/Yard,
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013


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