All of Us

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Raymond Carver, who died in 1988, is one of the best-known fiction writers of the second half of the twentieth century; his short stories appear in the vast majority of teaching texts and fiction anthologies. His poetry is far less universally known, although he was publishing poetry as well as fiction over his writing years. Editor William L. Stull has collected his poems into a substantial volume, which in addition to the poems includes a preface; a moving introduction by his second wife, poet Tess Gallagher; and a number of appendices.

The poems are clear, accessible fragments of Carver’s own troubled story. Carver’s life included alcoholism, bankruptcy, divorce, and early death from cancer. His major spiritual father was Anton Chekhov, whose life and writings Carver grafted onto his own. The poems narrate the turmoil of Carver’s life and reflect its Chekhovian nature. Some of the poems seem to be embryonic short stories, while others are honest fragments. Their memorable natural imagery enhances their wistfulness. The last poems, which were posthumously published in the collection A NEW PATH TO THE WATERFALL (1989), tell of the poet’s acceptance of his coming death, and celebrate the last few months he shared with his wife, Tess Gallagher. “Late Fragment” sums up the final poems: “And did you get what/ you wanted from this life, even so?/ I did./ And what did you want?/ To call myself beloved, to feel myself/ beloved on the earth.”

These are not poet’s poems, since they have a directness not common in contemporary poetry, but they are emotionally intense reflections that serve to amplify our understanding of Carver.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCV, September 1, 1998, p. 58.

The Economist. CCCXLVIII, August 15, 1998, p. 72.

Library Journal. CXXIII, September 15, 1998, p. 83.

The New York Times Book Review. CIII, November 8, 1998, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, July 27, 1998, p. 71.

San Francisco Chronicle. October 4, 1998, p. REV4.