Hayden Carruth Carruth, Hayden (Vol. 18) - Essay

Adrienne Rich

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Brothers, I Loved You All: Poems 1969–1977] is simply superb. Carruth gets better as he gets older because he has not stopped caring—for the poem or for the world. "Paragraphs," the concluding poem in this volume, consists of 28 16-line stanzas. It ends celebrating the recording of "Bottom Blues" in 1944, having gotten there from the Campground Road in Carruth's Vermont. How it got there is the poem, and makes it major—a term I don't use loosely….

Carruth speaks from and to a shared experience in his own voice. But that voice has heard what is around it. The combination is irresistible, and must produce poems that matter. But then he says: "In nature / rebirth will follow, we know, an upheaval / greater than death, but sometimes it / doesn't matter…."

This is the central fact. I won't say only poets know it, but how come they're the only ones who say it? And still go on writing.

Adrienne Rich, "Books: 'Brothers, I Love You All'," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), Vol. XXIII, No. 57, December 18, 1978, p. 120.

Philip Booth

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Few poets have been as social … as W. B. Yeats; few have been as essentially solitary as Hayden Carruth. But like Yeats in his Tower, Carruth has for years rooted his poetry in the primary realism of place: in his case "a country laborer's / holding, fourteen acres 'more or less'" in the bottom of Foote Brook Gulf in northern Vermont. The difference in local altitude points to a major difference in attitude: Yeats, from the beginning, looked down on the changes that waved beneath him; his bitterness towered as he aged. Carruth is no less immune to anger, to the new "brutishness" which dooms farms and invades "the sacred identity" of individual lives. But Carruth's poems resist at ground level every invasion; they know the bitterness of a northern winter in their very bones, and their outlook is, by necessity rather than program, New England radical….

As any reader of The Bloomingdale Papers … must know, one of Hayden Carruth's inherent strengths is his will to resist not only the insanities of our society, but the "awful madness in the Valley of Humiliation" that he has himself been through. Where Yeats finally needed a Crazy Jane to dramatize a knowledge he could barely speak for himself, Carruth lets his own voice tell the virtue of walking naked…. Having once known a madhouse inside out, Hayden Carruth has come through to such sanity that he can speak the variant anguish of fully experienced middle age. And, beyond that, the endless dark of the human heart in conflict with its own dying.

The end of dying may be timeless, but to anticipate death is to live and to write in time, "the measure of change." Insofar as transcience is Carruth's prime subject, nothing is more important to a full reading of Brothers, I Loved You All than its parenthetical subtitle: (Poems, 1969–1977). Whether the poems are printed here in anything close to the sequence in which they were written, I have no way of knowing; nor do I know how rigorously Carruth selected these poems from any larger number. But to the extent that the poems focus on the coming of age, and on loss, the shape of the book looks to be as intentional as the shape of a single poem. This much is sure: somewhere in the years approaching 1977, Hayden Carruth found himself "fifty-three going on fifty-four," found that "a rotten time of life," and (as he says in a different "Essay") began "to give way to sorrow (watching myself / sorrowlessly the while)." Such saying might seem maudlin were it not, in context, so clearly beyond self-pity; Carruth watches himself with such objective exactitude that the anabasis of his spirit invites any number of writers to remember their own long march….

Few poets have said with such condensed precision … the "inside truth" of their searching-out the interior; Hayden Carruth's triadic pairings, moreover, directly point to the territory in which the poems of this deeply demanding book explore their meanings….

Perhaps one of Stevens' Adagia can most directly illuminate the art of Hayden Carruth's present poems. "In the presence of extraordinary actuality," Stevens says, "consciousness takes the place of imagination."

The actuality of northcountry farmsteading, of animal death, March misery and seasonal love, is ordinary enough in itself. But nothing is entirely "in itself" when met by the poet. In the poet's consciousness of his relationship to the actual, what's ordinary becomes extraordinary as it is raised by the power of an eye immediately focused on the present, as it is raised by the power of a voice (however quiet) which verifies the music of time's constant inconstancy….

Death may be the famous mother of beauty, but beauty is what is vital. Beautiful emotions recollected in tranquility may have served an earlier century, but this century asks no less than tranquility re-collected with emotion. We want our beauty, no matter what its form, made immediate. Thus, partially, our pleasure in Williams' wheelbarrow. Thus, in a different tense, our pleasure in Carruth's loon. Here Carruth implicitly demonstrates what Stevens explicitly propounded: that there are moments of inherent excellence (not only in the ordinary, but perhaps particularly in the ordinary) which, when they are met by the poet's equally open motive, become entirely extraordinary. In what, through his response to the loon's song, becomes the "extraordinary actuality" of their interrelationship, Carruth can consciously but selflessly celebrate the vital nature of both loon and man. In answering the loon as directly as he does, he notably evades all sorts of epistemological problems; he also risks prose statement to the extent he avoids the very language of relationship: metaphor. But his poem has the vital immediacy of a poem precisely because his sense of its temporal nature permeates his saying…. The intensive sequence of the poem comes to consequence both as meaning and as music. Instead of having to imagine meaning, and to manufacture music, Carruth is so ordinarily conscious of both that his participatory awareness makes for extraordinary actuality: the-poem-of-the-words as direct instance of the-poem-of-the-event.

Given Carruth's loon-song, or any number of comparably speculative poems in this book, it's tempting to think that a country poet has, by self-definition, special access to a totality in which every element is naturally symbolic. The danger of such temptation is such facile pantheism as tempted an earlier time; the virtue of such access is the poet's daily consciousness of the symbolic valence...

(The entire section is 2309 words.)

Charles Molesworth

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Somewhere between Robert Frost's pastoral skepticism and Mikhail Bakunin's trust in historical progress, Hayden Carruth makes his way [in "Brothers, I Loved You All"]. He is, finally, a moralist, as this volume's long center piece, "Vermont," shows. He doesn't trust the difference between the contemporary and archaic….

For Mr. Carruth there is "more warmth and far less vanity" in his neighbor's greeting than there is in "people living for the minutest public dissection / of emotion and belief." Running against the tide of fashion and standing on the "absolute stone," the "abyss inverted, the abyss made visible," means that the poet must claim much for his language. That claim rests in part on the Vermont dialect, which he'd rather discuss than glibly mimic. But he also claims that Vermont Republicans and anarchists are the same: "names / are slippery, unreliable things." (p. 8)

His poetry will strike some as insufficiently dialectical, but Mr. Carruth often seems clear about what he's willing to settle for…. "Paragraphs," a long, 28-section poem, is not, as the jacket claims, "surely one of the few great poems written in English during recent years." Nor, I think, would Mr. Carruth, a keen-eyed critic and reviewer, claim so himself. But it is part of a book written out of true feelings and clear vision, and that's enough to make it valuable. (p. 14)

Charles Molesworth, "Fire Poets," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 2, 1979, pp. 8, 14.∗

Alastair Reid

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Brothers, I Loved You All: Poems 1969–1977 clamors] for attention, in its richness and variety, in its burly energy, in its courage and gusto. His poems have a sureness to them, a flair and variety; they are the work of an old craftsman. 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 defeats have generated his epiphanies, and he passes on to us a certain gruff blessing, a passion to survive and make sense. His long poem, "Paragraphs," is a major work, a kind of testament of his time. He pervades his own poems. In his beautiful "Essay on Stone," he both becomes stone and makes it almost a human quality. His work teems with the struggle to live and to make sense, and his poems carve out a kind of grace for us. It is, however, his utter dedication to the office of poet that most impresses, that takes poetry beyond the need of any justification. This book fixes him firmly among the most important poets we have.

Alastair Reid, "The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1979 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission). Vol. 6. No. 21, October 27, 1979, p. 38.∗