Home > Research > Interviews > Jim Carroll: Interview for Flagpole - Part 1 (1996)

Jim Carroll: Past & Present Poetry

Jim Carroll is a poet and performer whose credits include Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries, Living At The Movies, The Book of Nods and Fear of Dreaming. In addition to his writing, he has also released three albums with The Jim Carroll Band, and his bestseller The Basketball Diaries, chronicling his heroin addiction, was made into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This is part one of a two-part talk. Go to part two >>

Flagpole: This is my first interview.

Jim Carroll: Really?

FP: Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

Carroll: The first thing I ever wrote creatively was I got this assignment in like the fourth grade. It was a lay teacher. I think she died or something. But at any rate, she said we could write either some kind of creative thing like a short story or a poem. And I thought, you know, piece of cake, man. So I wrote this poem, and it just totally came out. It was about a church bell. And then it was kind of running down, you know -- I could ring when people go to church, I could ring when people are married, I could ring when people have their first communion. And then at the end it was and then I could ring when people die. And they thought I plagiarized it.

FP: Really?

Carroll: Yeah, cause they thought the thought in it was too much above...

FP: Fourth grade level?

Carroll: My mother even thought I plagiarized it. So that was interesting to me. I was about 8 then. I didn't write another poem until I was like about 14 or 15. 'Cause, I thought, you know, writing poems was wimpy.

FP: When did you start writing a diary?

Carroll: The end of when I was 12, actually. 'Cause I was still in Catholic grade school.

FP: I guess I read at one time that you were working on two novels. Are you still?

Carroll: These two ideas came to me at about the same time. It's kind of a blessing and a curse. One is much more linear and straight novel and much more commercial, definitely. And the agent is like...

FP: "Go with this."

Carroll: But that's not the one I'm working on first.

FP: Do you have any plans in the future to reform The Jim Carroll Band?

Carroll:During The Basketball Diaries, they asked me for some new songs. I did a couple of rockers that I wrote that were fun to write, the kind of lyrics like a 15-year-old kid again. But they didn't use any of them in the movie because they had too many songs anyway.

FP: Right.

Carroll: About two weeks ago, they're doing this Kerouac album where like people read his work or unpublished stuff. It bugs me because before I could just say no I don't want to do music, but now I've got these songs and stuff and it draws me into that. I did put out Praying Mantis on Giant/Reprise, but I didn't want to do any music on it. I hate music with poetry. If I was gonna do that, I'd just do rock and roll.

FP: People come to poetry readings and to get them to listen, it's like I've got to have somebody up here playing while I read.

Carroll: Yeah, that ecstatic youth energy that poets rely on. I'm kind of at the point where I'm in between that and the slower period of writing you have to move into at a certain point.

FP: Right, right.

Carroll: These shards of that electrical energy just keep pulling at you. I've been real blessed to get these novels, because I've never had prose or stories before in third person fiction. I'm sick about writing about my own life. At any rate, I have to just stick with that, but these projects come up, I start doing music, and there is something very exciting about it. I can't deny the fact that Patti [Smith] getting out there and doing it and really doing it well, you know, again...

FP: And being received amazingly.

Carroll: Yeah, that's what I mean. Going around and reading at colleges, man, or being on a college radio station, I mention Patti Smith. The people where I read, in like the question and answer thing, they think like I'm talking about Patti Smyth.

FP: Of course.

Carroll: I'm sure that will change when her album comes out. There's just something about her image and the frailty and the strength. She can never be out of touch with what's happening because she's so completely spaced out. I think I am happy that she is into it.

FP: I was ripping through Morrisroe's Mapplethorpe biography...

Carroll: Robert designated her... at a certain point, she made it a Robert Mapplethorpe and semi-Patti Smith biography. And when I spoke to her again, and she had made the change, I said, listen, when I was speaking to you about Patti openly before, I really thought that was off the record. I didn't say anything that was bad, but...

FP: In a biographer's hands, someone with an agenda, it's so easily misconstrued.

Carroll: I mean, if you see Robert from the outside, you didn't know the certain joy that radiated. He had a really dark side. Obviously, a lot of people met that dark side.

FP: She says Patti thought you the archetypal Rimbaud figure.

Carroll: You know, the drugs and things like that. But stylistically, we're different. Sometimes I think Rimbaud was the end of modern poetry, and everybody else is sweeping up.

FP: Sorting through the debris. There's a passage in Forced Entries about going to poetry readings and how uninspiring they are to sit through.

Carroll: I mean, in the old days, it wasn't spoken word. It was just poetry. There are a lot of poets who I really like on the page but who are boring reading. There are some poets I can't stand on the page but who are damn good when they read. Like the poetry slam, I mean.

FP: Rhyme is very big on the slam scene.

Carroll: Is it?

FP: Yeah. What kind of stuff are you gonna do at the 40 Watt?

Carroll: That depends a lot on the energy of the audience. Like if I just do something off the top of my head, just a germ of an idea and expand on it. It's hard for me to read anything from these novels, because taken out of context it's not easy to read like a block. There's a new poem section in Fear Of Dreaming, and I'm sure I'll read some poems from that. I guess I'll read a lot of new things.

Douglas A. Martin

Jim Carroll will speak at the 40 Watt Friday, April 12.

Go to part two >>

This interview was originally found at


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