Hayden Carruth Carruth, Hayden (Vol. 84) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Crow and the Heart, 1946–1949 (poetry) 1959
Journey to a Known Place (poem) 1961
The Norfolk Poems: 1 June to 1 September 1961 (poetry) 1962
Appendix A (novel) 1963
After "The Stranger": Imaginary Dialogues with Camus (essays) 1964
North Winter (poem) 1964
Nothing for Tigers: Poems, 1959–1964 (poetry) 1965
Contra mortem (poem) 1967
The Clay Hill Anthology (poetry) 1970
For You (poetry) 1970
The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century [editor] (poetry anthology) 1970
From Snow and Rock, from Chaos: Poems, 1965–1972 (poetry) 1973
Dark World (poetry) 1974
The Bloomingdale Papers (poetry) 1975
Loneliness: An Outburst of Hexasyllables (poem) 1976
Brothers, I Loved You All: Poems, 1969–1977 (poetry) 1978
Almanach du printemps vivarois (poetry) 1979
The Mythology of Darkness and Light (poetry) 1982
The Sleeping Beauty (poem) 1982
Working Papers: Selected Essays and Reviews (criticism) 1982
Effluences from the Sacred Caves: More Selected Essays and Reviews (criticism) 1983
If You Call This Cry a Song (poetry) 1983
Asphalt Georgics (poetry) 1985
Lighter than Air Craft (poetry) 1985
The Oldest Killed Lake in North America (poetry) 1985
Mother (poem) 1986
The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth (poetry) 1986
Sitting In: Selected Writings on Jazz, Blues, and Related Topics (essays and poetry) 1986
Sonnets (poetry) 1989
Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across the Nacreous River at Twilight toward the Distant Islands (poetry) 1989
Collected Shorter Poems, 1946–1991 (poetry) 1992
Suicides and Jazzers (criticism) 1992
Collected Longer Poems (poetry) 1993

∗This volume contains revised versions of the previously published long poems "The Asylum" (which first appeared in The Crow and the Heart), "Journey to a Known Place," "North Winter," "Contra mortem," and "My Father's Face."

Judith Weissman (essay date 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Working Papers: Selected Essays and Reviews by Hayden Carruth, edited by Judith Weissman, The University of Georgia Press, 1982, pp. xv-xxiii.

[In the following essay, Weissman surveys Carruth's critical works, concluding: "[Carruth's] progress has taken him continuously deeper into the knowledge of his own humanity, and of the humanity of literature."]

It is difficult to write an introduction to the works of any living author, and it is particularly difficult to write about this selection of Hayden Carruth's essays and reviews. His work seems awesomely rich, full, complete—thirty years of essays that begin with Pound and end with numerous...

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D. J. R. Bruckner (review date 23 May 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Working Papers: Selected Essays and Reviews, in The New York Times Book Review, May 23, 1982, p. 15.

[Bruckner is an American journalist, editor, and critic. In the following review, he provides a positive assessment of Working Papers.]

"Traditions come and go," Hayden Carruth wrote in 1973; "… they come and go in language. I am making a plea for courage among writers, and for a recognition that the means of poetry are what they are and what they have always been." But language is full of deceits; the temptation is to be dogmatic, "by insisting arbitrarily that part of the truth is the whole of the truth, and by pinning everything on an...

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R. W. Flint (essay date Spring-Summer 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Odyssey of Hayden Carruth," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring-Summer, 1983, pp. 17-32.

[In the following essay, Flint surveys Carruth's body of work, paying particular attention to The Sleeping Beauty and Working Papers.]

For at least two decades Hayden Carruth has been a poet of the first quality, no mythmaker or trend-setter in matters of style but a writer so well endowed with character, courage, stamina, honesty, and independence as to make whatever styles he has adopted or adapted peculiarly his own. He has also been a quirky anthologist (The Voice That Is Great Within Us), an occasional reviewer, and a writer of...

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Joe Ashby Porter (review date Summer 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Working Papers: Selected Essays and Reviews, in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 2, Summer, 1983, pp. 330-31.

[Porter is an American novelist, educator, and critic. In the following mixed review of Working Papers, he faults some of Carruth's essays as "glib and naive," but lauds the author's ability to write about poetry "with modesty, intelligence, and generosity."]

Hayden Carruth's Working Papers provides a poet's-eye view of the literary and intellectual scene of the last thirty years, in his selected essays and reviews with an introduction by Judith Weissman. The forty-four works have been gathered from literary...

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Hayden Carruth (essay date 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to his Effluences from the Sacred Caves: More Selected Essays and Reviews, The University of Michigan Press, 1983, pp. 1-7.

[In the following excerpt from his introduction to his Effluences from the Sacred Caves, Carruth reflects on philosophy and literature and discusses his approach to writing.]

By heritage and inclination, I am not a Platonist. That is clear. I am forced to say it thus negatively, however, because I can define myself—to the extent possible at all—only against the Platonic and Romantic aspirations that still hold out to me a powerful, though I think false, allure.

I come from the western and...

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Thomas Swiss (essay date Winter 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "'I Have Made This Song': Hayden Carruth's Poetry and Criticism," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. XCIII, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 149-57

[In the following essay, Swiss surveys several of Carruth's collections of poetry and criticism and lauds the author for his technical skill and his earnest and straightforward approach in both genres.]

Hayden Carruth is one of our most enduring writers; at sixty-three he continues to be prolific. Two collections of criticism, two full-length volumes of poetry, and a handsome small-press chapbook have all been published in the last two years. Even as I prepared to write about this recent work, a half-dozen new essays and poems...

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Roger Mitchell (review date November-December 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Voice Is Everything," in The American Book Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, November-December, 1985, pp. 19-20.

[Mitchell is an American poet, educator, and critic. In the following review, he applauds the skill with which Carruth employs a variety of voices and themes in If You Call This Cry a Song.]

I would like to begin this review of Hayden Carruth's [If You Call This Cry a Song] by saying that voice is unimportant to poetry, but too many crimes are committed in such a remark, not the least of which is imprecision, since it isn't clear exactly what voice is. Whatever it is, though, a great deal is said about it, mostly in its defense. Those who use the word...

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Robert B. Shaw (review date November 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth, in Poetry, Vol. CXLIX, No. 2, November, 1986, pp. 98-100.

[In the following review of The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth, Shaw remarks: "Warts and all, this is a collection animated by a seriousness of purpose, a vocational commitment which few poets nowadays can match."]

I wonder why Hayden Carruth has not made this selection of his poetry [in The Selected Poetry of Hayden Carruth] himself. Galway Kinnell, who supplies an appreciative foreword, has done the job; it is unclear to what extent the author has been consulted. I can well imagine that someone who writes as copiously as Carruth...

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Roderick Nordell (review date 19 March 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Words without Music about All That Jazz," in The Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 1987, p. 24.

[Nordell is an American journalist, editor, and critic. In the following review, he determines that Sitting In provides "an uneven performance with a number of fine, thought-provoking moments."]

It shouldn't be surprising that a poet here and there goes public with a fondness for jazz. Both poetry and jazz got rhythm, as the song says, and both have to make things new within established forms, whether the 14-line sonnet or the 12-bar blues.

Britain's late candidate for poet laureate Philip Larkin went so far as to write newspaper reviews...

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D. W. Faulkner (review date Fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Homages to Life," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. XCIX, No. 4, Fall, 1991, pp. cii-civ.

[The following excerpt is from Faulkner's laudatory review of Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across the Nacreous River at Twilight Toward the Distant Islands.]

For a good long while Hayden Carruth has been one of our best critics of contemporary American poetry. His reviews, whether appearing in literary quarterlies or major newspapers, have always borne a sense of kinship with his readers. He reads the way an attentive reader would want, with perspicacity and hindsight, as often offering the reader a close-but-no-cigar estimation of the work before him as he...

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Richard Tillinghast (review date 27 December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Chants and Chain Saws," in The New York Times Book Review, December 27, 1992, p. 2.

[Tillinghast is an American poet, educator, and critic. In the following excerpt from a review of Collected Shorter Poems, 1946–1991, he asserts: "Something Hayden Carruth does as well as any living writer is to treat the reader as a friend, and to provide, through his poetry, hours of good company."]

Hayden Carruth's Collected Shorter Poems, 1946–1991 brings together in 417 pages what the author describes as "about two-thirds of my previously published shorter poems and perhaps one-fifth or less of all the poems I've written." Mr. Carruth is prolific. He...

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Allen Hoey (review date Winter 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Collected Shorter Poems, 1946–1991, in The Southern Humanities Review, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 101-05.

[Hoey is a poet, educator, and critic who regularly writes the "Year in Poetry" essay for the CLC Yearbook. In the following review of Collected Shorter Poems, 1946–1991, he provides a positive assessment of the collection, commenting: "[T]his volume demonstrates what some readers have long known: Hayden Carruth possesses greater range of style, scope of subject, and diversity of formal skills than any other poet working in the United States today."]

Since the publication of his first collection in 1959,...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Feder, Lillian. "Poetry from the Asylum: Hayden Carruth's The Bloomingdale Papers." In Literature in Medicine, Volume 4, Psychiatry and Literature (1985): 112-27.

Illustrates how Carruth's struggle for identity and selfhood while writing The Bloomingdale Papers contributed greatly to his growth as a poet.

Flint, R. W. Review of Asphalt Georgics, by Hayden Carruth. The New York Times Book Review (14 July 1985): 15.

A laudatory appraisal of Asphalt Georgics.

Gardner, Geoffrey. "The Real and...

(The entire section is 329 words.)