Hayden Carruth 1921–
American poet, critic, novelist, and editor.
The following entry provides criticism on Carruth's works from 1982 to 1994. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 7, 10, and 18.
Carruth is a well-respected and prolific author, whose frequently autobiographical poetry encompasses a wide variety of emotions and forms and is noted for its unadorned, precise use of language. Often addressing such themes as the fragility of life, the fine line between sanity and madness, and the importance of social responsibility, Carruth has called his philosophy of poetry a "radical secular existentialism." Carruth's literary criticism, collected in such volumes as Working Papers (1982) and Effluences from the Sacred Caves (1983), is recognized for its directness and magnanimity, while The Voice That Is Great Within Us (1970), a poetry anthology edited by Carruth, is frequently used in university literature courses and is considered one of the best representations of contemporary American poetry.
Carruth was born to Gorton Veeder Carruth, a newspaper editor, and Margery Barrow Carruth in Waterbury, Connecticut. He received a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1943 and earned an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1947. During World War II, Carruth served for two years in the United States Army Air Corps, advancing ultimately to the rank of staff sergeant. Carruth worked as editor of Poetry magazine from 1949 to 1950, associate editor of the University of Chicago Press from 1950 to 1951, and project administrator for New York's Intercultural Publications from 1952 to 1953. In 1953 Carruth suffered an emotional breakdown and was admitted to Bloomingdale, the psychiatric branch of New York Hospital in White Plains, New York. Carruth kept journals and wrote poetry while hospitalized; these writings were encouraged by his doctors as a means of therapy until his condition worsened and he underwent electroconvulsive therapy. Carruth later acted as consulting editor of the Hudson Review and poetry editor of Harper's, and served on the faculties of the University of Vermont and Syracuse University. Carruth has won numerous literary awards, including the 1968 Morton Dauwen Zabel Prize, Guggenheim Foundation fellowships in 1965 and 1979, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988, and the 1990 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
Carruth has published more than twenty-five volumes of poetry, some of which are single poems divided into sections. His long poem The Bloomingdale Papers (1975) was composed during his 1953 hospitalization and chronicles his experiences as a patient in a psychiatric ward. Carruth's poetic form, subject matter, and tone vary widely, even within a single collection, but he is almost entirely consistent in maintaining the importance of subject over poetic form. For example, in The Bloomingdale Papers, Carruth asserted: "I am a poet / whereby I mean no boast. / I want to / say simply, I am a poet, not a good one, / whereby neither do I mean any abasement. / Poetry is profuse and multinominal / the latency of action." In For You (1970) Carruth collects and revises five of his previously published long poems, the first of which, "The Asylum," treats the irony of the word "asylum" and is marked by stark, striking imagery and an apparent rejection of meaning. In "Journey to a Known Place" and "North Winter," the second and third poems in For You, Carruth forms a connection between the speaker and elements of the natural world, while in "Contra mortem" Carruth focuses upon a Vermont village and its inhabitants. In "My Father's Face," the final poem in For You, Carruth departs from the contained, imagistic approach of the first four poems and gives voice to his distress over the loss of a parent. Considered by many critics to be one of Carruth's best poetry collections, Brothers, I Loved You All (1978) treats a variety of subjects and themes, including the madness inherent in society and the importance of the natural world in confirming thoughts and emotions. Carruth has commented: "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." The Sleeping Beauty (1982), another highly respected poetry collection, consists of 124 fifteen-line stanzas that address attitudes about women and love.
Many critics have praised Carruth's honesty, integrity, and directness of approach in both his poetry and his literary criticism. He has been recognized for his ability to elicit intense emotional reaction in a variety of poetic forms and for the spare, tightly controlled language he uses to treat common subjects. Nevertheless, some critics have characterized Carruth's use of plain language as rigid and didactic, and they fault his poetry for lacking insight. Several commentators have noted that the quality of Carruth's verse tends to be uneven, but contend that Carruth captures basic human thoughts and emotions and expresses them in a sincere and unassuming manner. Alastair Reid has commented: "[Carruth's] poems have a sureness to them, a flair and variety…. His work teems with the struggle to live and to make sense, and his poems carve out a kind of grace for us." As a critic, Carruth has been praised for his extensive knowledge of literature, his open-mindedness, and his focus on social issues. As to the role of the literary critic, Carruth has stated: "Reviewers who use the space assigned them primarily for slopping out their own temperamentalities or for buttering up editors and readers by displaying their own cleverness at the expense of the authors whose works they are supposed to be considering, have no place—I emphasize, no place at all—in a responsible culture."