+ Poet-Critic Hayden Carruth Dead at 87

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William Grimes writes the obituary of Hayden Carruth in the NY Times, describing his work as spare, precise, impassioned.

Verse that took myriad forms stamped Carruth as one of the most wide-ranging and intellectually ambitious poets of his generation.

The cause was a series of strokes.

Known primarily as a critic, reviewer and editor, Carruth produced some 30 books of poetry in taut, charged language that addressed subjects like madness, loneliness, death and the fragility of the natural world, writes Grimes.

Galway Kinnell, a poet as well as a longtime friend, says, “He had a greater variety of poems than almost anybody.  He was interested  — superinterested — in everything and he could write about anything.”

Critic Geoffrey Gardner spoke of a “Lear-like words-against-the-storm quality” of Carruth’s work.   It was imbued, says Grimes, with the tension between  the chaos of the human heart and the sublime order of nature.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, he grew up in Woodbury where his father was a journalist and newspaper editor.  He began reading poetry as a child.  Early on, he developed a love for jazz, and improvisation, played out against a structured meter, became central to his notion of poetry.

In WWII, he served in Italy for two years, and then enrolled in the University of Chicago on the GI Bill.  After earning a master’s degree, he edited Poetry magazine for a year and worked at the University of Chicago Press.

Struggling with mental illness and alcoholism, he spent years on the margins, living in the attic of his parents’ house.  He worked out a personal philosophy that was profoundly influenced by the Existentialists, especially Camus, who became the subject of his book “After ‘The Stranger’: Imaginary Dialogues with Camus.”

Moving tentatively into the outside world, he lived and did clerical work at an estate owned by James Laughlin, the founder and director of New Directions Press.   He ultimately married four times.

He patched together a life of free-lance writing, editing, reviewing as well as some farm chores.  But he continued writing poetry, which began appearing in publications like The New Yorker and Partisan Review.  His first collection was “The Crow and the Heart,” in 1959, which captured the attention of James Dickey.  Dickey found many of the poems mannered and academic but noted approvingly “a kind of frenzied eloquence, a near-hysteria” in certain of them.

Carruth solidified his reputation in books like “Journey to a Known Place,” in 1961; “The Norfolk Poems,” in 1962; “North Winter,” (1964); “From Snow and Rock, From Chaos,” (1973); and “Brothers, I Loved You All,” in 1978.  His trials as a mental patient were the raw material for “The Bloomingdale Papers” in 1975. 

After he took a teaching post at Syracuse University, the poetry poured forth, with “The Sleeping Beauty” in 1982, a long poem of 124 sonnetlike stanzas of his own invention that he called paragraphs.  “Asphalt Georgics” in 1985 incorporated colloquial speech into diatribes against what one reviewer called “the universal plastic nothingness of mallsville.”  He won the National Book Award in 1996 with his collection “Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey.”

Over time, the elegiac note became dominant — sorrow at so much loss, human brutality and ecological catastrophe.

He wrote in 2003, “Regret, acknowledged or not, is the inevitable and in some sense necessary context — the bedrock — of all human thought and activity.  “Intellectually speaking, it is the ground we stand on.”

sole source: William Grimes’s obituary of Hayden Carruth in the NY Times on 9/30/08.   www.nytimes.com 

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com  

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