Blogs > Cliopatria > Interlude: the impact of a poet

Oct 15, 2008 3:40 pm


Interlude: the impact of a poet



I suppose I should be all a’twitter about the debate last night. Once I read about it, perhaps I will be. But my mind is elsewhere this insomniac morning.

A poet died on Wednesday. His name was Hayden Carruth.

I first encountered Carruth as an anthologist. He edited a book of American 20th century poetry called The Voice that is Great Within Us. The title is from a Wallace Stevens poem, “Evening without Angels.”

It really can’t be called a 20th century anthology anymore. It came out in 1971, so it barely covers the first 2/3 of the old century. No matter. I ran across it sometime in the 1970s and it opened doors and doors and doors of poets and poems and universes to me. It still does. It is the only anthology of poems I have had to buy a second time, because I wore the first one out. Each year I see something new as understanding grows, one hopes, with age.

It was some years later that I looked for his poetry, and found some marvelous works. This one, “Eternity Blues,” will give you a sense of his sensibility though perhaps not of his amazing ability to unity strict forms and a colloquial, even slangy speech. Nor is it set in New England where he lived and where much of his poetry is rooted. Still, it’s on the web, and it’s a start.

His death is not the reason I was having trouble sleeping. There are more trivial though irritating concerns that opened my eyes and got me out of bed. But as I got ready to get off the computer and away from the tasks at hand, I remembered the loss. Another person who I had always hoped to meet and never did. I should have written him, simply to honor him, but I am poor at that. So I write this today.

In the anthology I mentioned, he restricted his own entry to what he called “Five Short-Shorts,” “the last five of several hundred” that he wrote while editing. An appropriate one to end on would be this:

A hard journey. Yes
it must be. At the end they
always fall asleep.

However, I think I will end with the very last of the five.

So be it. I am
a wholeness I’ll never know.
Maybe that’s the best.

PS (Oct. 15): A fine 2005 article on Carruth.
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