Welcome, Rob Carney!

During the month of June, we are celebrating the authors that came to us during our last open reading period. Today we bring you Rob Carney, author of the poetry collection The Book of Sharks, which is due out in July of 2018.

robcarneyliteraryartsphotoThe Author

Rob Carney is originally from Washington state. He is the author of four previous books, including 88 Maps (Lost Horse Press 2015), which was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and Weather Report (Somondoco Press 2006), which won the Utah Book Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Poecology, Sugar House Review, Terrain: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments, and dozens of other journals, as well as the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward (2006). In 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers/Tor House Foundation Award for seven of the poems included here. He is a Professor of English and Literature at Utah Valley University and lives in Salt Lake City.

On writing The Book of Sharks

Everything about a mako shark looks perfect—its shape, lines, balance—except the teeth. They’re razoring miracles, yes, but they look beyond crooked. That’s what I’m about to sound like—undirectional—when I tell you how I wrote The Book of Sharks.
Its origin starts earlier, with a section in my third book (Story Problems) called “from The Book of the Elements.” There aren’t four. I like working in sevens, so that’s how many there are; meaning, not just Air, Fire, Earth, and Water, but also Death, Emptiness, and Sex. Narrowing down to those extra three wasn’t easy, but I figured that some day I could go back again and add others, that I’d built in that possibility by using the word “from” in the section title.
Then I didn’t go back. I thought about it off and on but instead wrote the poems that became my fourth book, 88 Maps. It wasn’t until Terrain: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments was having a contest with the theme “Elemental” that things aligned. A call for more elements, a call for a group of seven—I took it as a sign.
The first new element I thought of was Sharks, and out came seven pages. I called the sequence “Seven Pages from The Book of Sharks” and sent it in.
I won, and John Daniel’s comments as the contest judge were great to hear and generous but a provocation, too, because he’d taken my title more literally than I’d anticipated. He said, “Many poets refer to myth or incorporate myth, one way or another, as part of their work. The author of The Book of Sharks takes a different approach. He writes of elemental things in an elemental way—he aims to create myth, and from the evidence of this excerpt he is off to a fine start.” Of course, this wasn’t an excerpt. There wasn’t an actual “book,” not even a plan for one, and suddenly I felt like I owed him one.
And owed myself.
And owed it to sharks.
I already had the dorsal fin rising from the water, so I set to work on the body: from tail to teeth, from origins to ongoing, from coastline to ocean to skies and back again.


Before mountains rose from the water
and waves ground cliffs into sand,
before rocks rolled down to the shore
and became the first seals,
before that long-ago morning when a cloud
gave birth to seagulls—
white and gray like their mother,
riding the wind—
before storms taught Thunder to waterfalls
and the moon taught Quiet to the snow,
before people and questions
and the names of constellations
there were sharks,
a gliding answer orbiting below . . .
their eyes like pieces of the night brought nearer,
their teeth indifferent as the stars,
their purpose the same as the ocean’s purpose:
to move, to arrive, to be full.

The oldest carving, though it’s yet to be discovered,
is a shark.
Their teeth could be spear points.
Their teeth could be tools.
After bringing back salmon from the river mouth,
after cutting the hide from a seal—
that hide meaning boots through the winter,
a blanket—
somebody stopped to give thanks,
or hoped to turn stone into luck,
or saw lightning carving the sky,
or fashioned an image of the ocean out of love,
out of wanting to please someone.
With a shark’s tooth, he shaped the unknowable
into something she could hold, some proof
as sleepless as sharks, abundant as rocks.
And death came fast enough then
that such love probably lasted
at least as long as gratitude lasted,
and longer than good luck.

Some say sharks are the ocean’s anger at the sun
for keeping it caught on a line, on a hook
it can’t remember biting,
so all its swimming is an endless
circling back.
In their story, the sun is a fisherman,
and the center of the sky is a boat,
and sharks shot forth
from all sudden directions to attack;
they’ll take anything close enough.
Most who hold to this version are collectors,
combing the shoreline for teeth
or finding them in tide pools
by turning over crabs.
You’ll know them in town by their necklaces
and the jagged bracelets they wear,
by the way they won’t enter the ocean.
None of them think their measured streets are nets.