There are 44 poems in Jeannie Carlson’s new book Landmarks in the Sand, each one accompanied by a corresponding color photograph. Each combo refers, in one way or another, to life and experiences in St. Petersburg, where the author has lived for three decades.
“There was no set process,” Carlson explains. “Sometimes the picture came first, sometimes the poem. And the rest of it just would materialize. It felt as if it was already there, and I was just finding it.”
Carlson’s poetic observations were first published in the Northeast Journal, two per issue, starting in 2017. “And it wasn’t long afterwards that I said to myself ‘Y’know, if I keep doing this I’m going to have a bunch of these things,” she recalls. “And they’re all going to be connected, to the neighborhood.”
In the book’s introduction, Carlson writes:
The city was my muse, consistently at the heart of my inspiration. Place and space regularly stir my imagination. It is where a story starts for me.
Reflecting the soul of a poet, the titles in Landmarks in the Sand range from the obvious (“Moon Over North Shore Park,” “Sunken Gardens Grotto”) to the obtuse (“Intermittent,” “Violin,” “Moth Light”) to the beautifully interpretive. It is a literary adventure.
A longtime professional writer and journalist with an impressive resume, Carlson hopes her unique approach to Landmarks in the Sand will help make poetry “more accessible. I felt that the combination of the picture with the poem would help people who might not think that they were poetry aficionados. That they might like the book because of the pictures of the area. And that they might get more out of the picture by reading the poem.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in the Scandinavian neighborhood Bay Ridge, Carlson’s literary career began at an early age. “I don’t think that I consciously thought about it,” she says. “I remember that when I was 14 I wrote a poem about the Vietnam War. I was working on it and brought it with me when we were visiting family in Pennsylvania. My uncle read the poem; he took it to the local newspaper, and they published it.
“I always remember that the title they put on it was A Little Girl Writes a Poem.”
She earned a B.A. in Theater from Virginia’s Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and has performed (as a lyric soprano) with Opera Tampa, Tampa Bay Opera, Amato Opera and the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.
The written word, however, has always been nearest and dearest to her professional heart. For 12 years she owned and operated Viking Communications, at St. Pete-based writing service, specializing in manuscript editing, copywriting and proofreading.
“That’s something that translated very well when I was teaching at St. Petersburg College, and at Hillsborough Community College,” Carlson explains. “Something that was said to me in graduate school really stuck: When you’re reading someone else’s work, it’s not to criticize, it’s to help them make it the best that it can be, from their perspective.”
Ten years ago, she went back to school, bring home an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
Since then, she’s had poems published in numerous journals and magazines, and worked as a reporter for Tampa Bay Newspapers and the Northeast Journal.
Carlson has written two full-length plays, and is working on an “investigative poetics project” she describes as a hybrid book of poetry and prose that explores her Swedish ancestry.
“I found it a challenge to take different genres of writing and just give them a go,” Carlson explains. “I don’t think it’s self-confidence as much as curiosity. I like trying different things, and different ways of expression verbally.”
Landmarks in the Sand is available from St. Petersburg Press.