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Carruth, Hayden

CARRUTH, Hayden


Nationality: American. Born: Waterbury, Connecticut, 3 August 1921. Education: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, B.A. 1943; University of Chicago, M.A. 1947. Military Service: U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Family: Married 1) Sara Anderson in 1943, one daughter; 2) Eleanore Ray in 1952; 3) Rose Marie Dorn in 1961, one son; 4) Joe-Anne McLaughlin in 1989. Career: Editor, Poetry, Chicago, 1949–50; associate editor, University of Chicago Press, 1950–51, and Intercultural Publications Inc., New York, 1952–53. Visiting professor, Johnson State College, Vermont, 1972–74, University of Vermont, Burlington, 1975–78, and St. Michael's College, Winooski, Vermont, 1978–79; professor of English, Syracuse University, New York, 1979–84 and 1986–91, and Bucknell University, 1985–86. Poetry editor, Harper's, New York, 1977–82. Member of the editorial board, Hudson Review, New York, 1971—. Awards: Vachel Lindsay prize, 1954, Bess Hopkin prize, 1956, Levinson prize, 1958, Eunice Tietjens memorial prize, and Morton Dauwen Zabel prize, 1968 (Poetry, Chicago); Harriet Monroe award, 1960; Bollingen fellowship, 1962; Carl Sandburg prize, 1963; Emily Clark Balch prize (Virginia Quarterly Review), 1964; Guggenheim fellowship, 1965, 1979; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1984, fellowship, 1988; Shelley memorial award, 1978; Lenore Marshall prize, 1979; Whiting Foundation award, 1986; Ruth Lily prize, 1990; National Book Critics' Circle award for poetry, 1993; Poetry Center prize, Passaic County Community College, 1995; Lannan Foundation award, 1995; National Book award for poetry, 1996. Address: RD 1, Box 128, Munnsville, New York 13409, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

The Crow and the Heart, 1946–1959. New York, Macmillan, 1959.

In Memoriam: G.V.C. Privately printed, 1960.

Journey to a Known Place. New York, New Directions, 1961.

The Norfolk Poems, 1 June to 1 September 1961. Iowa City, Prairie Press, 1962.

North Winter. Iowa City, Prairie Press, 1964.

Nothing for Tigers: Poems 1959–64. New York, Macmillan, 1965.

Contra Mortem. Johnson, Vermont, Crow's Mark Press, 1967.

For You. New York, New Directions, 1970; London, Chatto and Windus, 1972.

The Clay Hill Anthology. Iowa City, Prairie Press, 1970.

From Snow and Rock, From Chaos: Poems 1965–1972. New York, New Directions, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1973.

Dark World. Santa Cruz, California, Kayak, 1974.

The Bloomingdale Papers. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1974.

Loneliness: An Outburst of Hexasyllables. West Burke, Vermont, Janus Press, 1976.

Aura. West Burke, Vermont, Janus Press, 1977.

Brothers, I Loved You All. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1978.

Almanach du Printemps Vivarois. New York, Nadja, 1979.

The Sleeping Beauty. New York, Harper, 1982; revised edition, Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1990.

The Mythology of Dark and Light. Syracuse, New York, Tamarack, 1982.

If You Call This Cry a Song. Woodstock, Vermont, Countryman Press, 1983.

Asphalt Georgics. New York, New Directions, 1985.

Mother. Syracuse, New York, Tamarack Press, 1985.

The Oldest Killed Lake in North America: Poems 1979–1981. Grenada, Mississippi, Salt-Works Press, 1985.

Lighter than Aircraft. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell University, 1985.

The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth. New York, Macmillan, and London, Macmillan, 1985.

Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies across the Nacreous River at Twilight toward the Distant Islands. New York, New Directions, 1989.

Sonnets. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Press of Appletree Alley, 1989.

Collected Shorter Poems. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1992.

Collected Longer Poems. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1994.

A Summer with Tu Fu. N.p., Brooding Heron Press, 1996.

Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey, Poems 1991–1995. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1996.

Recording: Eternity Blues, Watershed, 1987. Novel Appendix A. New York, Macmillan, 1963. Other After "The Stranger": Imaginary Dialogues with Camus. New York, Macmillan, 1965.

Working Papers: Selected Essays and Reviews, edited by Judith Weissman. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1982.

Effluences from the Sacred Caves: More Selected Essays and Reviews. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1983.

Sitting In: Selected Writings of Jazz, Blues, and Related Topics. Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1986; revised edition, 1994.

Suicides and Jazzers. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1992.

Selected Essays & Reviews. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1996.

Reluctantly, Autobiographical Essays. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1998.

Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon, 1999.

Editor, with James Laughlin, A New Directions Reader. New York, New Directions, 1964.

Editor, The Voice That Is Great within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century. New York, Bantam, 1970.

Editor, The Bird/Poem Book: Poems on the Wild Birds of North America. New York, McCall, 1970.

*

Manuscript Collection: Guy W. Bailey Library, University of Vermont, Burlington.

Critical Studies: "The Real and Only Sanity" by Geoffrey Gardner, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), January-February 1981; "The Odyssey of Hayden Carruth" by R.W. Flint, in Parnassus (New York), summer 1984; Hayden Carruth issue of Seneca Review (Geneva, New York), 19(1), spring 1990; Existentialism and New England: The Poetry and Criticism of Hayden Carruth (dissertation) by Anthony Jerome Robbins, Louisiana State University, 1991; interview with Anthony Robbins, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 22(5), September-October 1993; "Carruth against the Grain" by Marshall Rand, in Minnesota Review (Greenville, North Carolina), 43–44, fall 1994-spring 1995; "Beautiful Dreamers: Helen in Egypt and the Sleeping Beauty" by Charlotte Mandel, in Clockwatch Review (Bloomington, Illinois), 9(1–2), 1994–95; "Propositions in the Margins of Hayden Carruth's 'Collected Shorter Poems'" by Mark Rudman, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 24(2), March-April 1995; "Hayden Carruth: The Gift of Self" by Roy Scheele, in Poets & Writers, 24(3), 1 May 1996; "A Love Supreme: Jazz and the Poetry of Hayden Carruth" by M. Miller, in Midwest Quarterly, 39(3), 1998.

*  *  *

At the center of Hayden Carruth's first book, The Crow and the Heart, is the important long poem "The Asylum," which establishes one of the central themes and concerns of his poetry: the interplay between so-called madness and sanity. Like most of his early work, "The Asylum" is tightly controlled verse dominated by iambic lines and consistent rhyme schemes. He describes a long winter spent in a mental institution, where he struggles through nightmare and chaos: "how hard the search here for the self at last!" He comes to the painful conclusion that, if nothing else is possible, what is important is to "Save thou thyself." The poem slowly enlarges to encompass America in its own illness. "This land once was asylum when we came &," but madness and decay now grow throughout the country. Leaving the asylum, he rebuilds his life "on a windy knoll" and is held in check by labor and the land. He discovers that in this "house of pain" called life we each have "our particular hells" to endure. On this foundation of pain and understanding he rebuilds: "we lie all nailed and living, love's long gain." The poem is central to the reader's engagement with Carruth's later work, for it establishes his crucial and complex interplay between chaos and order, between the nightmare of the asylum and the relative control that comes from farm labor and the cycle of the seasons.

In From Snow and Rock, From Chaos we learn a landscape of Vermont place-names and farm laborers and meet more than one "tough minded Yankee." His poems here are like fragments wrested, torn from tree, rock, and earth and forced into verse, like a leaf torn in two, "one leaf/torn to give you half/showing & love's complexity in an act &." In many of these poems we witness pain beingendured through suffering and waiting until a release brings wider vision and moments of intense love.

Brothers, I Loved You All contains some of Carruth's finest work. He captures here, as in many earlier poems, sharply etched images of momentary events. Some of these, notably the long poem "Vermont" and several that follow it, are Frostian in theme. The volume ends with "Paragraphs," a twenty-eight-part poem in improvisational style that honors Carruth's favorite musicians. But his subject is best expressed by the line "RAVAGE, DEVASTATE, SACK." It is with shock and rage that he sees even the pastoral hills of Vermont ravaged and devastated by the greedy and shortsighted. He reproaches his neighbors by name for selling their farms to make way for stores and trailer parks and "for a hot pocketful of dollars." Through them he accuses all America: "your best is what you gave them/o my friends— /your lives, your farms." With this poem a much more direct and forceful public voice emerges, crying forcefully against the environmental destructiveness of American culture. Thus, we see Carruth not only as a survivor of chaos but also as a revolutionary poet who sees "all dark ahead and behind, his fate/a need without hope: the will to resist."

Carruth's move to Syracuse, New York, in 1979 resulted in a shift of idiom and locale first apparent in Asphalt Georgics (1985), a group of poems written in syllabic ballad stanzas employing frequently hyphenated enjambments, and later in the Whitmanesquelined and loopingly discursive poems from Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies across the Nacreous River at Twilight toward the Distant Islands (1989). The first of these volumes laments the passing of the agrarian lifestyle that provided the basis for traditional georgics while celebrating the persistence of human life amid the suburban sprawl that threatens this spirit. The poems are lengthy and build through strategies of apparent tangent and indirection. "Names," the first poem of what might be read as a loose sequence, introduces the form and a sense of the intermingling of lives and histories as one speaker flows into another, the shift signaled by the changing names of what seems to be a single speaker over the poem's sixteen pages. The strict form allows Carruth considerable flexibility in presenting conversational speech. In the second collection such strategies evolve into structures that accumulate like jazz riffs and motifs, the poems seeming to diverge wildly from the "point" only to swoop around at the end to enlarge the idea. Many of the poems consider the poetic process from the vantage point of an aging poet who wonders what his life has meant for himself as well as for aging or dead friends, James Wright, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, and Galway Kinnell among them.

In 1994 Carruth gathered all of his longer poems composed between 1957 and 1983 in Collected Longer Poems. Three are written in Carruth's trademark "para-graphs," rhymed, variably metered fifteen-line stanzas. These include The Sleeping Beauty, the heart of Carruth's oeuvre. Others are written in sprawling Whitmanesque lines, tercets, free verse lyrics, and loosened blank verse, the chosen form answering the demands of the subject matter. Carruth's use of the paragraph evolves from the period academic treatment of "The Asylum" to incorporate elements reminiscent of the other school of American poetry, particularly the work of such post-Poundians as Denise Levertov and Robert Creeley. Finally, in The Sleeping Beauty he achieves even greater flexibility of line, including caesura and enjambment, emphasis and phrasing, in both their poetic and musical senses. His fundamental concern with the tough issues remains steadfast, however. Yet they are issues in plural, a life's work to ponder and puzzle, to grapple with again and again: madness, the riddle of being, the paradoxically ennobling and damaging romantic myth. Certainly for Carruth "the poem keeps moving," fluid, flexible, bearing witness.

The fruits of Carruth's forty-five years of labor as a critic and literary journalist have been gathered in Selected Essays & Reviews(1996). Carruth's essays, taken either individually or as a whole, betray the pervasive influence of a variety of thinkers, including Nikolay Berdyayev, Max Stirner, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Albert Camus. Existence precedes essence; life comes before form, and the poet has multiple considerations, as Carruth writes in his remarkable "A Meaning of Robert Lowell," "prior to poetry." Precise definition is crucial for Carruth, and he is both ruthless and exhaustive in rendering meaning clear. He demonstrates a near encyclopedic memory for literature and philosophy (notably Western), but the essays never seem cerebral set pieces; his knowledge operates as an instrument for ethical discrimination. In this regard he is a disciple, as well, of William James, not in the sloppy application of relativism but in the clear regard of context and applicability. Special note should be made of "The Nature of Art," which provides a representative taste of Carruth's pragmatism. Of the relationship between nature and art, he notes,

no relationship pertains between nature and art at all&.

Relationships can exist only among things in nature, and art is one of them. Nature is everything, ok? It is all material reality, and material reality includes absolutely everything, all there is, not merely stones and oceans, butterflies and flowers, but ideas, poems, dreams, spiritual intimations. I neither know nor need a supernatural, an other-than-natural. The supernatural is by definition inconceivable, and the inconceivable is of no use to poetry—shy; or to anything.

This insight leads to awareness of the ultimate devastation—death. And such awareness leads to "lucidity" and "authenticity," terms borrowed from Camus and Sartre, respectively: "the two ideal virtues toward which conscious humanity, personally and collectively, must strain, coming even before honesty and ordinary decency, immensely important though these are." Such is the spirit that animates all of the pieces gathered in this overdue compilation as completely as his collected poems.

Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey, which won the National Book award, extends Carruth's already considerable accomplishment and reveals a heretofore underdeveloped aspect—the depth and breadth of his sense of humor. While many of his Vermont poems display characteristic Yankee wryness and dryness, Carruth's humorous repertoire includes the epigrammatic, as in "The Last Poem in the World":

   Would I write it if I could?
   Bet your glitzy ass I would.

Sly humor also runs through the moving sequence "A Summer with Tu Fu," in which Carruth conducts a dialogue across the centuries and an ocean with the Chinese poet, a chat between friends over chilled white wine as they look out over their respective vistas:

   A swallow here
   zooms across the pond, becoming
   a winter jay on the farther shore.
   Snow whirls in the pass, torrential
   rain drenches the cabbage fields,
   the palace grounds are enshrouded
   with mist. Old age and final illness
   come with the swiftness of the Yangtze
   flooding in springtime, or like
   the quick unreeling cinematograph.

Note the compression of time and space, the seamless movement through seasons and eras, and the adept cross-cultural figures for rapid, ineluctable change. Even the doubling of the final figure reinforces the distance between the two cultures, the displacement of a natural metaphor by a mechanical one. In addition, the specific technological reference is not just mechanical but a mechanism for producing artificial imagery that itself displaces immediate experience. More than mere difference, more than impoverishment, is implied.

Many of the poems are clearly autobiographical, yet rarely does the book seem self-indulgent and never merely "confessional." These poems from late in the author's life show vigor, rigor, experimental suppleness, and rare candor. Always original and thoughtful, Carruth realizes himself in this book even more fully than before, like Yeats's "wild old wicked man" coming into his element without apology and with the confidence that only the enthusiasm of the constant beginner can engender and that only lifelong devotion to the art and craft can support.

In Reluctantly Carruth provides fragments of autobiography, including an excruciating study of his own nearly successful suicide, titled simply "Suicide." Not since Camus's "The Myth of Sisyphus" has an author examined this issue as directly and bluntly. Carruth neither sentimentalizes his act nor shies away from painful detail but achieves a masterful balance. Finally, he believes that he "discovered in suicide a way to unify [his] sense of self, the sense which had formerly been so refracted and broken up":

Suicide is not only what I did but what I was capable of doing. Elemental though it may be, it still gives shape, integrity, and certain fullness to the figure of myself—minuscule, of course—that I see out there in history. It isn't much, but it's more than I had before. And this is a real and significant feeling in me, no matter how other people may recoil from it, as I myself would have recoiled if it had been presented to me in my ante-suicidal ignorance.

The other fragmentary pieces, though less pervasively intense, provide an insight into the life and mind of one of the great poets of our age.

Carruth's Beside the Shadblow Tree is a memoir of his complex friendship with James Laughlin. The value of the book is not its factual accuracy, for Carruth uses his first footnote to advise readers, "I'm writing this entirely from memory. No research. Conditions are not the best." Toward the end of the book, after recalling dates and persons earlier forgotten and uncovering evidence to suggest that chronology was other than he recalled, Carruth wonders about his method:

Should I go back to the beginning and rewrite this memoir to make it more accurate? That is what Jas [Carruth's name for Laughlin] would have suggested. He was a stickler not only for accuracy but for tidiness. But this is my work, not his. I could and did mimic his style in language, though not in other things, when I needed to, but my own poetry and prose were always naturally different from his, to say the least. This is a matter of esthetic, not moral, judgment. To my mind the value of the kind of writing I'm doing here, if it has any, is in its spontaneity, its closeness to the actual mental flow, which is a virtue that Jas did not appraise highly. I will leave this thing the way it is.

This passage, as the work as a whole, reveals more about Carruth than about Laughlin, though certainly the careful distinction—also characteristic of Carruth—made between the author's working method and that of his subject provides a miniature of Laughlin as well as Carruth—or at least Laughlin as Carruth recalls him. Their friendship spanned the better part of both their adult lives and spanned social differences as well: Laughlin the moneyed sophisticate and Carruth the poor and stymied rustic. If these caricatures fail to apprehend either of the parties fully, they structure much of Carruth's treatment of the friendship. For readers interested in twentieth-century poetry of the past half century, this small memoir will prove indispensable.

—John R. Cooley and

Allen Hoey

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