Home > Research > Interviews > Jim Carroll: Interview for Flagpole - Part 2 (1996)

Jim Carroll: Poet with a Past

This is the second half of a two-part talk with poet/ performer/ writer/ singer Jim Carroll, author of The Basketball Diaries and the recently-published Fear of Dreaming, a collection of early and recent poetry. If you missed part one, check it out on our website at
<< Go to part one

Flagpole: When you began writing The Basketball Diaries, was there a catalyst?

Jim Carroll: I was interested in being a writer. The poetry I thought was, you know... this Irish Catholic neighborhood I grew up in, poetry was wimpy. And if you were a poet, you were a fag, you know. Which when I got on the poetry scene, I found out was totally true.... No, no. Not really. But, I liked writing, and the teacher made me sports editor of the school newspaper.

FP: Uh huh.

Carroll: He made me do it because he thought he saw something in my writing, and he thought I could do it, so... he liked what I wrote the first time. Then he had me read The New York Times every morning and read the sports column and underline similes and metaphors and teach me basic tools of writing. I wanted to write. But I started to use a lot of metaphors and a lot of similes and a lot of....

FP: He's like, "This is way too much."

Carroll: Talent you can't learn. Judgment you have to learn. So it takes a while. The thing is, I wanted to write a novel. But I didn't have any idea of how to sustain plot and character. Writing a diary, not the perfect diary, but it changed in my life so fast. I had so many changes that it became interesting, the shape of my life.

FP: When you published The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries, did you work with an editor who said, "This is good. This should be in there," or was that left to your judgment?

Carroll: The Basketball Diaries weren't edited at all. After I published them first in magazines, a few here and a few there, and then The Paris Review published about 35 pages when I was 18 or 19. Then everyone wanted a book. I didn't want to publish a book then. I did have a book of poems out then, but it was just from city college. It wasn't like a Fifth Avenue publisher.

FP: I know the feeling.

Carroll: Some woman, like a professor at some college, she found in these little magazines from like the late '60s entries from the diary that are not in the book. I must have just left them out. Or maybe I didn't want to put them in or thought they weren't worth putting in. But when they finally got it, they weren't going to edit it. I mean, that was what I had to avoid, actually. The temptation by reading diaries was to change it and make me wise beyond my years. So that would like totally...

FP: Ruin the document quality?

Carroll: I did write 10 pages after it was in The Paris Review. They were not the interesting ones to me. Different people have tried to pick out which ones they are. One guy got one or two right. They're basically just for transition. You know, like seasons to the next. My attitude is about poems. Not changing the poems, you know. Maybe not including the poems.

FP: Right.

Carroll: Like the new book, Fear Of Dreaming, which has most of The Book Of Nods in it, I tried to take out this one section which I thought I probably should have never published. In the short story that's in Fear Of Dreaming, it's a collection of short stories but it starts with a short story, "Curtis's Charm."

FP: Which has been made into a movie?

Carroll: It's playing in Canada. It won one of the big Canadian film things. It's an art film, though, definitely -- black and white.

FP: Right.

Carroll: But it's really great. Very literary and it's a short story and it's a feature-length film.

FP: Are there any poets working today who really move you?

Carroll: Basically, I read prose. When I read poetry I go to the tried and true. I get labeled by people who only know me for the diaries as a beat poet. I always liked their poems, but they never influenced my work. I wanted to escape my day-to-day life in poetry.

FP: You've got a surreal thing going on.

Carroll: You can't really make a movie of something like On The Road, because so much of it is about language.

FP: Well, they'll try, and it will make a lot of money, so it will never end. What did you think of Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of you in The Basketball Diaries?

Carroll: Well, I hated the direction, but I loved his acting.

FP: Have you seen him as Rimbaud in the Total Eclipse movie?

Carroll: Yeah, I went to the premiere. It was weird. The woman who played Verlaine's wife spoke with a French accent. Verlaine had a British accent, and Rimbaud had an American accent, you know? I told Leonardo to do it. It was either that or this James Dean biography. The movie was disappointing, although it was better than most Hollywood films.

FP: At least there is some substance.

Carroll: I think it could have been done better.

Douglas A. Martin

<< Go to part one

This interview was originally found at


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