Carruth, Hayden 1921–
Carruth, Hayden 1921–
PERSONAL: Surname accented on final syllable; born August 3, 1921, in Waterbury, CT; son of Gorton Veeder (an editor) and Margery Tracy Barrow (maiden name, Dibb) Carruth; married Sara Anderson, March 14, 1943; married Eleanore Ray, November 29, 1952; married Rose Marie Dorn, October 28, 1961; married Joe-Anne McLaughlin, December 29, 1989; children: (first marriage) Martha Hamilton; (third marriage) David Barrow. Education: University of North Carolina, A.B., 1943; University of Chicago, M.A., 1948. Politics: Abolitionist
ADDRESSES: Home—RD 1, Box 128, Munnsville, NY 13409.
CAREER: Poet; freelance writer and editor. Poetry, editor-in-chief, 1949–50; University of Chicago Press, associate editor, 1951–52; Intercultural Publications, Inc., project administrator, 1952–53. Poet-in-residence, Johnson State College, 1972–74; adjunct professor, University of Vermont, 1975–78; visiting professor, St. Michael's College, Winooskie, VT. Syracuse University, professor of English, 1979–85, 1986–91, professor emeritus, 1991–; Bucknell University, professor, 1985–86. Owner and operator, Crow's Mark Press, Johnson, VT. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, World War II; became staff sergeant; spent two years in Italy.
MEMBER: New York Foundation for the Arts (senior fellow, 1993).
AWARDS, HONORS: Vachel Lindsay Prize, 1954, Bess Hokin Prize, 1956, Levinson Prize, 1958, and Morton Dauwen Zabel Prize, 1967, all from Poetry magazine; Harriet Monroe Poetry Prize, University of Chicago, 1960, for The Crow and the Heart; grant-in-aid for poetry, Brandeis University, 1960; Bollingen Foundation fellowship in criticism, 1962; Helen Bullis Award, University of Washington, 1962; Carl Sandburg Award, Chicago Daily News, 1963, for The Norfolk Poems; Emily Clark Balch Prize, Virginia Quarterly Review, 1964, for North Winter; Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize, 1964; Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 1965 and 1979; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1967; National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities grant, 1967 and 1974; Governor's Medal, State of Vermont, 1974; Shelley Memorial Award, Poetry Society of America, 1978; Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, 1978, for Brothers, I Loved You All; The Voice That Is Great within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century was selected as one of the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age, 1981 and 1982; Whiting Writers Award, Whiting Foundation, 1986; honorary degrees from New England College, 1987, Syracuse University, 1993; Sarah Josepha Hale Award, 1988; senior fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1988; Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, 1990; National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, 1993; Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, both 1996, both for Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems 1991–1996.
The Crow and the Heart, 1946–1959, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1959.
In Memoriam: G.V. C., privately printed, 1960.
Journey to a Known Place (long poem), New Directions (New York, NY), 1961.
The Norfolk Poems: 1 June to 1 September 1961, Prairie Press (Iowa City, IA), 1962.
North Winter, Prairie Press (Iowa City, IA), 1964.
Nothing for Tigers; Poems, 1959–1964, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1965.
Contra Mortem (long poem), Crow's Mark Press (Johnson, VT), 1967.
For You: Poems, New Directions (New York, NY), 1970.
The Clay Hill Anthology, Prairie Press, 1970.
From Snow and Rock, from Chaos: Poems, 1965–1972, New Directions (New York, NY), 1973.
Dark World, Kayak (Santa Cruz, CA), 1974.
The Bloomingdale Papers, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1975.
Loneliness: An Outburst of Hexasyllables, Janus Press (Rogue River, OR), 1976.
Aura, Janus Press (Rogue River, OR), 1977.
Brothers, I Loved You All, Sheep Meadow (New York, NY), 1978.
Almanach du Printemps Vivarois, Nadja, 1979.
The Mythology of Dark and Light, Tamarack (Madison, WI), 1982.
The Sleeping Beauty, Harper (New York, NY), 1983, revised edition, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1990.
If You Call This Cry a Song, Countryman Press (Woodstock, VT), 1983.
Asphalt Georgics, New Directions (New York, NY), 1985.
Lighter than Air Craft, edited by John Wheatcroft, Press Alley, 1985.
The Oldest Killed Lake in North America, Salt-Works Press, 1985.
Mother, Tamarack Press, 1985.
The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
Sonnets, Press Alley, 1989.
Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies across the Nacreous River at Twilight toward the Distant Islands, New Directions (New York, NY), 1989.
Collected Shorter Poems, 1946–1991, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1992.
Collected Longer Poems, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1993.
Selected Essays and Reviews, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1995.
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems, 1991–1995, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1996.
Doctor Jazz: Poems, 1996–2000, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2001.
Contributor of poetry to books, including Where Is Vietnam?: American Poets Respond, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 1967.
(With James Laughlin), A New Directions Reader, New Directions (New York, NY), 1964.
The Voice That Is Great within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century, Bantam (New York, NY), 1970.
The Bird/Poem Book: Poems on the Wild Birds of North America, McCall, 1970.
The Collected Poems of James Laughlin, Moyer Bell (Wakefield, RI), 1994.
(And author of introduction) James Laughlin, A Commonplace Book of Pentastichs, New Directions (New York, NY), 1998.
Appendix A (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1963.
After "The Stranger": Imaginary Dialogues with Camus, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1964.
Working Papers: Selected Essays and Reviews, edited by Judith Weissman, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1981.
Sitting In: Selected Writings on Jazz, Blues, and Related Topics (includes poetry), University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1986, expanded edition, 1993.
Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1998.
Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1999.
Listener's Guide: Reading from Collected Shorter Poems and Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey (sound recording), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1999.
Letters to Jane, Ausable Press (St. Paul, MN), 2004.
Contributor to The Art of Literary Publishing, Pushcart Press (Wainscott, NY), 1980; contributor to periodicals, including Poetry, Hudson Review, New Yorker, and Partisan Review. Member of editorial board, Hudson Review, beginning 1971; poetry editor, Harper's, 1977–83.
SIDELIGHTS: "Now and then a poet comes along whose work ranges across wide and diverse territories of form, attitude, and emotion—yet with the necessary intelligence that belies a deep, lifelong engagement with tradition—so that variance never seems mere experimentation or digression, but improvisation," wrote Midwest Quarterly contributor Matthew Miller. "Hayden Carruth is such an artist."
The Pulitzer Prize won by Carruth in 1996 for his collection Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey: Poems, 1991–1995 provided a grace note for a long academic and literary career that has seen the author become known as a proponent of twentieth-century modernism. Though recognized primarily as a critic and editor, Carruth is also, according to a critic in the Virginia Quarterly Review, "a poet who has never received the wide acclaim his work deserves and who is certainly one of the most important poets working in this country today…. [He is] technically skilled, lively, never less than completely honest, and as profound and deeply moving as one could ask." Characterized by a calm, tightly controlled, and relatively "plain" language that belies the intensity of feeling behind the words, Carruth's poetry elicits praise from those who admire its wide variety of verse forms and criticism from those who find its precision and restraint too impersonal and academic.
Commenting in his book Babel to Byzantium, James Dickey speculated that these opposing views of Carruth's work may result from the occasionally uneven quality of his poetry. In a discussion of The Crow and the Heart, 1946–1959, for example, Dickey noted "a carefulness which bursts, once or twice or three times, into a kind of frenzied eloquence, a near-hysteria, and in these frightening places sloughing off a set of mannerisms which in the rest of the book seems determined to reduce Carruth to the level of a thousand other poets…. [He] is one of the poets (perhaps all poets are some of these poets) who write their best, pushing past limit after limit, only in the grip of recalling some overpowering experience. When he does not have such a subject at hand, Carruth amuses himself by being playfully skillful with internal rhyme, inventing bizarre Sitwellian images, being witty and professionally sharp."
American Poetry Review critic Geoffrey Gardner, who characterized Carruth as "a poet who has always chosen to make his stand just aside from any of the presently conflicting mainstreams," said that such linguistic playfulness is typical of the poet's early work. He attributes it to Carruth's struggle "to restore equilibrium to the soul [and] clarity to vision, through a passionate command of language," a struggle that gives much of his poetry "a Lear-like words-against-the-storm quality." Continued Gardner: "I won't be the first to say Carruth's early work is cumbered by archaisms, forced inversions, sometimes futile extravagances of vocabulary and a tendency of images and metaphors to reify into a top heavy symbolism…. But the courage of [his] poems can't be faulted. From the earliest and against great odds, Carruth made many attempts at many kinds of poems, many forms, contending qualities of diction and texture…. If the struggle of contending voices and attitudes often ends in poems that don't quite succeed, it remains that the struggle itself is moving for its truthfulness and intensity…. Carruth uniformly refuses to glorify his crazies. They are pain and pain alone. What glory there is—and there are sparks of it everywhere through these early poems—he keeps for the regenerative stirrings against the storm of pain and isolation."
In his essay, Miller looked at one major influence on Carruth's poetry. "Carruth's relationship to jazz music has been lifelong," he noted, "and it has expressed itself on many different levels in his work." Carruth produced an essay, "Influences: The Formal Idea of Jazz," in which he described his personal feelings about the musical genre. He did read the prominent poets Ben Johnson, William Yeats, and Ezra Pound, but added that "the real question is not by whom I was influenced, but how." To Miller, Carruth's early grounding in traditional poetic forms prepared him to "improvise" later on, much like the way jazz musicians often study classical music early in their training: "The discipline must precede the rejection of discipline."
In Carruth's poetry, that means using an external, fixed poetic structure upon which to launch improvisation. But even when he works in a spontaneous, "jazz" mode, his "poetic improvisation does not mean the abandonment of form or rhyme," declared Miller, "nor does it limit itself to any particular attitude or emotion…. What improvisation ultimately amounts to is structure becoming a function of feeling, whatever that feeling may be." Miller pointed to Brothers, I Loved You All as a prime example of Carruth in his spontaneous prime. Noted Alastair Reed in the Saturday Review: Carruth's "poems have a sureness to them, a flair and variety…. Yet, in their dedication to finding an equilibrium in an alien and often cruel landscape, Vermont, where the poet has dug himself in, they reflect the moods and struggles of a man never at rest…. His work teems with the struggle to live and to make sense, and his poems carve out a kind of grace for us."
Like many poets, Carruth often turns to personal experience for inspiration; however, with the possible exception of The Bloomingdale Papers—a long poetic sequence the poet wrote in the 1950s while confined to a mental hospital for treatment of alcoholism and a nervous breakdown—he has not indulged in the self-obsessed meditations common among some of his peers. Instead, Carruth turns outward, exploring such "universal opposites" as madness—or so-called madness—and sanity or chaos and order. He then tries to balance the negative images—war, loneliness, the destruction of the environment, sadness—with mostly nature-related positive images and activities that communicate a sense of stability—the cycle of the seasons, performing manual labor, contemplating the night sky, observing the serenity of plant and animal life. But, as Gardner pointed out, "Carruth is not in the least tempted to sentimentality about country life…. [He recognizes] that it can be a life of value and nobility in the midst of difficult facts and chaos." Nor is he "abstractly philosophical or cold," according to the critic. "On the contrary," Gardner stated, "[his poems] are all poems about very daily affairs: things seen and heard, the loneliness of missing friends absent or dead, the alternations of love for and estrangement from those present, the experiences of a man frequently alone with the non-human which all too often bears the damaging marks of careless human intrusion." Furthermore, he said, "Carruth comes to the politics of all this with a vengeance…. [His poems] all bear strong public witness against the wastes and shames of our culture that are destroying human value with a will in a world where values are already hard enough to maintain, in a universe where they are always difficult to discover. Carruth does not express much anger in [his] poems. Yet one feels that an enormous energy of rage has forced them to be."
In the 1990s, the appearance of anthologies and collections of Carruth's verse and prose allowed critics to assess his career as a whole. In reviewing Collected Shorter Poems, which appeared in 1992, Poetry contributor David Barber called attention to the rich diversity of the poet's oeuvre: "Carruth is vast; he contains multitudes. Of the august order of American poets born in the Twenties, he is undoubtedly the most difficult to reconcile to the convenient branches of classification and affiliation, odd man out in any tidy scheme of influence and descent."
Somewhat deceptively titled, Carruth's Collected Shorter Poems, which won the 1992 National Book Critics' Circle Award, is not a comprehensive volume but is comprised of selections from thirteen of Carruth's previously published volumes, together with many poems appearing for the first time. Writing in the Nation, Ted Solotaroff found the volume to be a welcome opportunity for giving a "full hearing" to "a poet as exacting and undervalued as Carruth generally has been." Solotaroff highlighted two characteristics typifying Carruth's poetic achievement. First, he describes him as a "poet's poet, a virtuoso of form from the sonnet to free verse, from medieval metrics to jazz ones." Secondly, Solotaroff drew attention to the moral seriousness of Carruth's work as a critic of contemporary poetry, claiming that the poet "has also been, to my mind, the most catholic, reliable and socially relevant critic of poetry we have had in an age of burgeoning tendencies, collapsing standards and a general withdrawal of poets from the public to the private sector of consciousness."
The 1993 volume Collected Longer Poems received similar praise from critics, many who felt that this collection contains much of the poet's best work. Anthony Robbins, commenting in American Book Review, characterized Carruth's poetry as being "grounded in the traditions of Romance, in entre-les-guerres modernism revised in light of mid-[twentieth]-century existentialism, and in his own personal forms of nonviolent anarchism." Both Robbins and Bloomsbury Review contributor Shaun T. Griffin called attention to the importance of the volume's opening selection, "The Asylum," which details the poet's experiences of being hospitalized for a breakdown. Griffin judged these "among the most honest and harrowing in the volume," maintaining that "they ring with the compelling voice of despair; the wind floats through them, and the reader finds himself staring at the November landscape, leafless, dark, and dormant."
Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a National Book Award in 1996, Carruth's Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey centers on meditations of such themes as politics, history, aging, nostalgia, guilt, and love. Another collection, Doctor Jazz: Poems, 1996–2000, written as the poet approached his ninth decade, includes a fifteen-page elegy to the author's daughter, Martha, who died in her forties of cancer. That poem in particular "refuses to release us until its final syllable," wrote Library Journal reviewer Fred Muratori. In 1998 Carruth turned to a different form of self-narrative with Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays. These essays—the words of a self-described "old man in his cave of darkness, regretting his arthritis and impotence and failing imagination"—speak frankly of his often troubled life, including treatment for depression, debilitating phobias, and a nearly successful suicide attempt. Peter Szatmary, writing in Biblio, found the "fractured" nature of Carruth's life reflected in his prose: "At its best," noted Szatmary, Reluctantly "isolates idiosyncratic clarity. At its worst it betrays arbitrary self-indulgence." In a similar vein, "fragmentary" was the word used by Ray Olson of Booklist to describe the memoir, though Olsen also characterized the book as a "powerful autobiography." A Publishers Weekly critic had a similar impression, saying that Reluctantly shows that, "although life is messy and unpredictable, it is possible to survive, to write well and to salvage from the wreckage a redemptive dignity."
Carruth has explained of his work as a writer: "I have a close but at the same time uncomfortable relationship with the natural world. I've always been most at home in the country probably because I was raised in the country as a boy, and I know something about farming and woodcutting and all the other things that country people know about. That kind of work has been important to me in my personal life and in my writing too. I believe in the values of manual labor and labor that is connected with the earth in some way. But I'm not simply a nature poet. In fact, I consider myself and I consider the whole human race fundamentally alien. By evolving into a state of self-consciousness, we have separated ourselves from the other animals and the plants and from the very earth itself, from the whole universe. So there's a kind of fear and terror involved in living close to nature. My poems, I think, exist in a state of tension between the love of natural beauty and the fear of natural meaninglessness or absurdity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Carruth, Hayden, Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1998.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4, 1975, Volume 7, 1977, Volume 10, 1979, Volume 18, 1981, Volume 84, 1994.
Dickey, James, Babel to Byzantium, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
American Book Review, September, 1995, p. 23.
American Poetry Review, May, 1979; January, 1981; July-August, 2004, Christian Thompson, "In Measured Resistance," p. 20.
Antioch Review, fall, 2002, John Taylor, review of Doctor Jazz: Poems, 1996–2000, p. 714.
Biblio, April, 1999, Peter Szatmary, review of Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays, p. 60.
Bloomsbury Review, January-February, 1996, p. 18.
Booklist, August, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Reluctantly, p. 1953; April 15, 1999, review of Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin, p. 1502; September 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review of Doctor Jazz, p. 44.
Chicago Tribune Book World, December 26, 1982.
Georgia Review, spring, 2000, Jeff Gundy, review of Reluctantly, p. 142.
Houston Chronicle, June 20, 1999, Robert Phillips, "Poets Carruth, Snodgrass Pen Prose Memoirs," p. 25.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1998, review of Reluctantly, p. 788.
Library Journal, September 1, 1990, p. 263; November 1, 1993, p. 95; March 1, 1996, p. 4; July, 1998, David Kirby, review of Reluctantly, p. 88; June 15, 1999, review of Beside the Shadblow Tree, p. 79; September 1, 2001, Fred Muratori, review of Doctor Jazz, p. 184.
Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1986.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 3, 1984.
Midwest Quarterly, spring, 1998, Matthew Miller, "A Love Supreme: Jazz and Poetry of Hayden Carruth," p. 294.
Nation, February 15, 1965; October 25, 1971; November 16, 1992, p. 600; December 27, 1993, p. 810.
New York Times, January 3, 1976; October 21, 2001, Ken Tucker, review of Doctor Jazz.
New York Times Book Review, May l2, 1963; April 6, 1975; September 2, 1979; May 23, 1982; August 21, 1983; January 22, 1984; July 14, 1985; May 11, 1986; December 27, 1992, p. 2.
Poetry, August, 1963; May, 1974; July, 1993, p. 237; March, 1996, p. 343; March, 2003, Bruce F. Murphy, review of Doctor Jazz, p. 329.
Publishers Weekly, January 31, 1994, p. 82; October 9, 1995, p. 80; February 26, 1996, p. 101; June 29, 1998, review of Reluctantly, p. 44; April 19, 1999, review of Beside the Shadblow Tree, p. 55; August 6, 2001, review of Doctor Jazz, p. 87.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1999, Amy Havel, review of Beside the Shadblow Tree, p. 167.
Saturday Review, October 27, 1979.
Seneca Review, spring, 1990.
Threepenny Review, spring, 1999, review of Reluctantly, p. 8.
Times Literary Supplement, July 23, 1971.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1963; summer, 1971; summer, 1979.
Washington Post Book World, January 1, 1984; April 13, 1986.
Western American Literature, fall, 1998, review of Selected Essays and Reviews, p. 304.
World Literature Today, summer-autumn, 2002, Michael Leddy, review of Doctor Jazz, p. 95.
Academy of American Poets Web site, http://www.poets.org/poets/ (January 11, 2002), "Hayden Carruth."