Today in New England a celebration is taking place to pay tribute to one of the most astute poets of that region: Hayden Carruth.1 Until two days ago I had not even heard of this poet but, while waiting in the Launceston Tasmania library at mid-day(21/11/’08) before going for an ultra-sound at a local hospital, I picked up somewhat at random volume 84 of Contemporary Literary Criticism, a useful encyclopedia of analysis and commentary of the works of writers and poets, biographers and autobiographers as well as novelists and journalists. I had been dipping into this encyclopedia in the last fifteen years(circa 1993-2008), beginning in the last several years of my employment as a full-time teacher in Western Australia.
In the same spirit of randomness and, perhaps, serendipity, as someone might browse through a magazine while waiting in a doctor’s reception area, my eyes casually fell on the pages devoted to Hayden Carruth. I found out very quickly many things about his life, about his poetry and his general writings. When I got home I looked him up on the internet. I found out he had just died and that this celebration I mention here was taking place today. I write this prose-poem to contribute my part to a celebration of someone I hardly know but with whom, in only the last two days, I have developed a sense of a spiritual, an intellectual, kinship. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Times Argus Online, 15 November 2008.
I often write with a certain weary ease,
Hayden, not like you.1 I often write, too,
with an overt utilitarianism but, like you,
it is often indirect and as subtle as I can.
My criticism is, like yours, a verging on
philosophy, indeed, a deep-down thing.
There is for both of us, too, a subjective,
an objective, communalism in my openly
transcendent prose-poetic acts. You wrote
things about poetry, Hayden, which I can
only quote and will quote to end this verse:
Poetry is the reason for all things humanly
true and beautiful, and the product of them—
wisdom, scholarship, love, teaching—Love
of poetry is the habit and the need of wise
men wherever they are, and when for some
reason of social or personal disadjustment
they are deprived of it, they will be taxed
in spirit and will do unaccountable things.
Great men will turn instinctively to the
poetic labour of their time, because it is
the most honourable and useful, as it is the
most difficult, human, endeavour.2
.....and on and on you went as if the poet
Shelley had been reborn as a result of your
painful but incredible trip backwards toward
the evolutionary roots of poetry in a politics
of poetic spirituality and its politics of love.
I wish you well, Hayden, in that Undiscovered
Country, as Shakespeare once called the Land
of Lights which, perchance, you may now enjoy.
1 Judith Weissman quoted in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 84, p.116 from 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.
2 Hayden Carruth in Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 84, p. 117.
23 November 2008
Hayden Carruth’s(1921-2008) first book of poems was published the year I joined the Baha’i Faith: 1959. He had been released from a psychiatric hospital after a fifteen month stay right at the start of the first international teaching plan, Ten Year Crusade, in 1953. Of course, Carruth knew nothing of this new world religion back then in its early decades of expansion in the West. And I knew nothing of Hayden Carruth back then or even after his thirty books were published. I came to know him in the first two months after his passing in 2008.
He and I shared much in common and that is, in part at least, why I write this prose-poem in memory of a man who grew up in a small town in Connecticut in the 1920s and 1930s before I grew up in a small town in Ontario in the 1940s and 1950s. We both drew on philosophy, history and literature while writing about: everyday matters, education, domestic life, mental illness and community life. In the evening of our lives we each got up late, had our brunch, moved slowly, suffered from mental illness, were disinclined to socialize and applied our energies to writing poetry and prose.
We both owed much to Ezra Pound and both wrote millions of words about what we found to be “honest and true” in relation to ourselves, our talents and our society. We found writing was not unlike sex and what we wrote about ranged over a wide ambit of subject matter. We did differ, as any two people inevitably do, on many fronts: he had a bitter streak, felt marginalized by the literary establishment, thought writing had little affect on society as society got worse and worse in his lifetime, was disillusioned about the impact of poetry after holding high hopes for its role as late as the 1950s. He became somewhat like W.H. Auden who expressed the view that: poetry doesn’t matter.
I possessed a solemn but not bitter consciousness. It was a consciousness that found its wellspring in a celebratory joy, a golden seam of joy that slowly matured in my adult life. By the time I turned to writing poetry extensively in my fifties and sixties I also enjoyed a tranquillity in which memories were recollected, recreated and seen afresh.-Ron Price with thanks to several internet sites on Hayden Carruth and The University of Chicago Magazine, April 2005, Vol. 97, No.4, 29 November 2008.
You never received a wide acclaim,
Hayden, an acclaim you deserved.
Nor did I, Hayden, nor did I. But
I did not deserve such acclaim far
out on the periphery of poetic life,
as I was, far down in the Antipodes,
the last stop on the way to Antarctica
if one takes the western-Pacific rim
route. Much of our writing was far
too academic and impersonal, in my
case too eccentric, too religious, with
apocalyptic intuitions.....an excess of
personal convictions quite incompatible
with contemporary literary taste, idiom.
With feather not with hammer, Hayden,
I brushed the sleep-fast windows of a
dozing world where my brother lied
innocently and unwittingly curled while
the flames leaped lush and the tempest’s
winds yammered....while tongues licked
the door and lapped the sashes so little
did he know and I, too, often wingless1
clambered, often, songless screamed but,
so quietly now with inward tones softened
with the years, softened, silent, tranquil now.
And you, too, now, Hayden, you too—at last.
1 Roger White, “Nuncio,” The Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, Oxford, 1982, p.126.
29 November 2008