Mark Jarman was born while his father, Donald R. Jarman, was in seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. His parents, both Californians, moved back to California in 1954 and settled in Santa Maria, where his father served First Christian Church. In 1958, responding to a call from his denomination, Mark’s father moved his wife Bo Dee, his son, and daughter Katie, to Scotland to serve a small church in Kirkcaldy, Fife, a linoleum factory town on the Firth of Forth across from Edinburgh. The three years he spent there were formative ones for the poet. The family returned to California in 1961, where his father served South Bay Christian Church in Redondo Beach and his sister Luanne was born. In 1970, Jarman entered the University of California at Santa Cruz and earned a B.A. with highest honors in English literature in 1974. There he met his wife, soprano Amy Kane Jarman  and his friend and long-time collaborator, Robert McDowell. While at U.C.S.C., he studied with the poet and editor George Hitchcock (poet) and the short story writer and poet Raymond Carver. In 1974, Jarman entered the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and earned an M.F.A. in poetry in 1976. At Iowa he studied with Donald Justice, Charles Wright, Stanley Plumly, and Sandra McPherson. His classmates included poets Chase Twichell, Brenda Hillman, James Galvin, and Rita Dove. In 1976, he was hired to teach creative writing at Indiana State University in Evansville. In 1978, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts allowed him to quit his job and live in Italy where Amy studied singing at the University of Perugia. Returning to California in 1979, he was hired as a visiting writer at the University of California at Irvine. Mark and Amy’s daughter Claire was born in Mission Viejo in 1980. That same year, Jarman took a position teaching creative writing at Murray State University in Kentucky. Two years later the couple’s second child, Zoë, was born in Murray. In 1983, he left Murray State to teach at Vanderbilt University, where he has been since. Amy joined the voice faculty at the Blair School of Music in 1986. Since 2007, Jarman has been Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt and was Director of Creative Writing until 2013.
Jarman's early poetry reflects the influence of living by the Pacific and the North Sea at important times in his life, along with growing up in a strongly religious family. As he has matured, his poetry has remained invested in family experience, a sense of place, and the presence of God in everyday life. Though he is associated with the New Formalism, his poetry has always ranged widely in form and style, from narrative to lyric, free to metrical verse, verse to prose poetry.