Jack McCarthy 1939 – 2013


(Seattle, WA)  Jack McCarthy, one of America’s celebrated slam poets, died in Seattle on Thursday, January 17, 2013 at the age of 73 following a brief illness.

The author of thousands of poems, numerous audio recordings, and eight books of published poetry, including Almost A Remembrance, Good Night Grace Notes and What I Saw had recently completed his latest book, Drunks and Other Poems of Recovery, which will be published in the spring of 2013 by WriteBloody Publishing. Recovery has been an integral part of his life, having been a grateful and loving member of Alcoholics Anonymous for the past fifty years.

McCarthy is a legend in the slam poetry community. In the 1990’s he was named ‘Best Standup Poet in Boston.’ In 1996 he was a member of the Boston poetry slam team that went on to the National Poetry Slam Championship.  He was named ‘Best Standup Poet’ by the Boston Phoenix in the 1990s.  In 2000 he was a semi finalist in the individual category of the National Poetry Slam. And in 2007 he was the winner of the Haiku category at the World Poetry Slam. Jack was also featured in the documentary SlamNation, produced by five-time Emmy filmmaker Paul Devlin. SlamNation premiered at the 1998 SXSW Film Festival and was awarded best documentary at the 1998 Northampton Independent Film Festival. It was broadcast on Cinemax/HBO and Starz/Encore.

Jack and his wife Carol relocated to Seattle, Washington in 2003 and he has been active in the local poetry community throughout Washington. His last public appearance was at South Seattle Community College (SBCC), as the featured poet at the 18th Annual Poetry Reading. Mike Hickey, Seattle’s Poet Populist and an instructor at SBCC, praised Jack’s contribution to the poetry community, “He was not only one of the best slam poets this country has ever produced, but also one of the kindest, gentlest, and most compassionate. To those who loved him, from Boston to Seattle and countless points in-between, he was a legend on the page, on the stage, and in life.”

Taylor Mali, one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the national poetry slam movement and one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam praised his countless contributions. “Because of the way Jack McCarthy bridged the divide between academic poetry and the poetry slam, it’s possible for poets like me to actually make a living in spoken word. I’m not sure I could do what I do if it weren’t for Jack.”

“Jack McCarthy’s poems tap you on the shoulder, buy you a cup of coffee and start telling you a story,” said poet Hope Jordan. “Before you realize it, you’ve laughed, you’ve cried, and you have understood the perfectly visible relationships between things you never before dreamed were connected. Things like longing and lawn chairs, cars and Catholicism, navigation and newfound love.”

“Jack hopes to be remembered as an integral member of the movement to restore poetry to its rightful place in everyday American life,” said his wife Carol. “He believed that when Americans think of poetry, they don’t think of school and homework, but of laughter and tears; a shortcut to the heart.”

Born in South Boston on May 23, 1939 to John and Hannah McCarthy, Jack is survived by his loving wife Carol McCarthy, his children Megan McDermott, Kathleen Chardavoyne, Ann McCarthy, stepson Seth Roback, his six loving grandchildren, and sisters Hannah McCarthy and Judy Winship. His brother Leo preceded him in death.

There will be two memorial services to celebrate the life, the love and the words of Jack McCarthy. On Saturday, February 9, 2013 friends will gather at Follen Unitarian Church in Lexington, Massachusetts at 2PM. It will be followed by a reception at the church and an ‘open mike’ at Chelmsord Library.  In addition, there will be a memorial service on Saturday, February 16, 2013 in Marysville, Washington at the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 2PM, followed by a reception.

Additional information about the memorials, as well as some of Jack’s more popular works of poetry can be found at www.standupoet.com

In lieu of flowers Jack has requested that donations be made to the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1607 Fourth St., Marysville, WA 98270.

An article about Jack in the Worcester Telegram.
Tributes for Jack McCarthy on his
Facebook Page.

Jack McCarthy on The Far Field.


Jack McCarthy

What Odysseus Might Have Said to Kalypso
If She Had Actually Offered Him Immortality
(As It Seemed for a Few Pages that She Might)



O mistress goddess nymph
you who dwell beyond what we call beauty
men and women live and die
in hundreds of our generations
without one glimpse of splendor
while you, your every breath is splendor
fabrics that grace your body
glow where they have touched you
like altarcloths in candlelight.

We come from nowhere
make our little rounds
wither and die and go back into nothing
while you go on
resplendent and unchanging….

Mistress goddess immortal
you have called out love
from depths in me I never knew I had
I have worshiped and cherished you.
Lover, who have lavished on me the gift
of sharing your bed of coming to know
the slick and ever slicker
inner surfaces of your body
the smell of your sex in my beard
your cadences the rhythm of
your moans when passion takes you
till they are more familiar than the beating
of this heart I used to think was mine
the far-inward look in your eyes
when our faces close together
but the point of things is elsewhere

the dream-state that overtakes you
sometimes when it pleases you
to pleasure me—

yours is a love that does not need to be
forever thinking ahead to the next thing
because there is after all

You are the island, we are grains of sand.
The tide rolls us in
deposits us awhile upon your strand
then at the wine-dark whim of the sea
or worse, its vast disinterest
we are swept away again to rest
forever unaccounted and unmissed
upon the ocean floor
no one ever to tell our story.

You offer me what all men dream about.
We sweat and strive, endure, connive
train our bodies school our minds
on the dream of the offchance
that now and again we might win this—
the boudoir prepared for our coming
the hero’s welcome the lover’s kiss.

You are the moon
that night by night is different
and month by month the same.
You show us only what you’d have us see.
We are wisps of cloud that drift
across your face by night
we cannot hold one shape
for even the brief moment
we are visible only by your light.

Maybe, in a thousand years or so
men or gods more wise and eloquent
will have devised a graceful way of saying
what you know is coming—

there is another, and I belong to her
in ways I never understood
until I learned from you
the wisdom of the heart.
Penelope: is she as beautiful as you,
as skilled at sacred arts of love?
Does she have as much to teach,
as much to offer me as you?

I will not disparage her to you
but no, on all counts.
You are a goddess
if this were a competition
like that other one
she and I would be humiliated forever
glimpsing the depths of our unworthiness.

But what it has taken
all my adventures to teach me is that
if there is a point in being human
it isn’t being first or best or winning
it has not to do with competition.
My choice is not which one of you is better
my choice is simply which of you is mine.

I once told someone that my name was No-man.
Today I know that I am one man—
not less than one, nor more than man.

Maybe there is no meaning to human life
but if there is it has to do
with things begun in earnest.
It’s with Penelope that I shall find it.

The life that we began was flawed,
a fragile, mortal, human thing.
Already it is dreadfully curtailed
maybe maimed beyond recovery.
I need I need to go back
for what little may be left.

Mistress, goddess, I am at your mercy.
Do with me what you will.
Snuff out the guttering candle that I am.
Or, exalting me in legend sentence me
to some eternal torment like Prometheus.
Or humor me, and smile me back to bed
making me forget all this
like a dream that flickered dimly in the light of dawn
that I never tried to apprehend
that left behind it no more than
a child’s footprint in wet sand
between wave’s retreat
and wave’s advance.

Or grant my wish
and send me with your blessing on my road
a road not given to anyone but me
and seal forever in the hearts of gods and men
that this is how a human being should act
and this, a god.

Jack McCarthy of Lake Stevens calls himself a “standup poetry guy.” Others have called him a “legend.” Poet Stephen Dobyns calls him, “one of the wonders of contemporary poetry.” The Boston Globe said, “In the poetry world, he’s a rock star.” He’s an engaging minor character in the film “Slamnation,” He has been heard on NPR, won poetry slams from Seattle to San Antonio to Portland, Maine, and been featured as far away as Germany and Spain. High school students nationally perform his work competitively.