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Wolfpack Writers: Jane Craven

cover of "My Bright Last Country"

Jane Craven graduated from NC State’s Department of English with an MFA in creative writing in 2018. She is the winner of the Vern Rutsala Poetry Prize for her first poetry collection, My Bright Last Country. We caught up with Craven to learn more about her poetry inspiration, writing and reading habits, and time at NC State.

What kind of poems are featured in My Bright Last Country?

I write lyric poems which explore objects, concepts and emotions through the musicality of language. Like most poets, I am always trying to refine the act of looking, to see the inner and outer world in new, surprising and even startling ways. Some recurring subjects for me are visual art, human relationships, aging and nature.  

Where do you find inspiration for your poems?

Much of my inspiration comes from nature and the incredible way we can use the natural world to access and describe human thoughts and emotions. Other poets inspire me immensely. I’ve found it of great value to study the techniques and the ‘heart,’ or intention, of writers I admire. Memories of my parents are always with me, and they’ve been the inspirational root and at times the subject of my poems.

headshot of Jane Craven
Jane Craven

How has your NC State degree impacted your career?

Tremendously! I took some writing classes when I was an undergrad and fell in love with poetry. But life intervened, and it wasn’t until I was nearly 60 that I began writing again. I took some community classes with Chris Tonelli (another NC State grad) and applied to State’s MFA in Creative Writing program. I graduated in 2018. I would fill too many pages to recount all the ways my degree, and actually the process of earning my degree, has impacted my writing career. To sum it up, my MFA has given me the tools and discipline to consistently develop my craft. The poems I wrote during my two years in the program formed the core of my book, and my teachers (Eduardo C. Corral, Dorianne Laux and Joe Millar) continue to be a constant inspiration as I pursue my work. Oh, and whenever I mention to other poets who my writing teachers were at NC State, they are amazed and often just a little envious. 

What was your favorite class at NC State?

In addition to my writing workshops, my favorite class was Professor Michael Grimwood’s Metaphor and Metamorphosis. It was a challenging examination of the roots of metaphor in ancient literature, and the resulting definition and use of metaphor in modern times. He would probably have something to say about that sentence structure!

Do you have a favorite poem?

Not sure it’s my favorite, but when I was an undergrad, I was required to memorize a Shakespearean sonnet. I picked “Sonnet 73” which begins, “That time of year thou mayst in me behold.” All these years I’ve loved that poem, and sometimes I think I detect Elizabethan cadences in my work.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Sappho, Phillis Wheatley and Muriel Rukeyser.

When do you read?

Before I go to bed. Sometimes late afternoon. 

When do you write? 

After lunch, when my body has fuel!

What’s next for you?

I’m finishing up a second poetry manuscript.