shameless with hayden carruth

I found this week’s poem reading through The Seleced Poetry of Hayden Carruth (Macmillan, 1985). In his introduction, Galway Kinnell quotes Carolyn Kizer’s response to the question of what it takes to be a poet: “It is necessary to be absolutely shameless.” There are many things this could mean. For one, Carruth was writing at a time when the term “confessional” was rooting itself into the poetic landscape. But there is more to what Kizer means than gossip, per se. There is a depth of feeling to Carruth’s work that is tapped into indirectly.

fireAn example of what I mean can be found below. The narrative of “In Memoriam” is straightforward through the first six lines; the stoking of a fire in winter described in these lines grounds the poem in physicality. The repetition of the word “suddenly” in line six, however, marks a turn from the physical to the emotional. The speaker goes on to describe reading the poems of a recently deceased poet in the same straightforward manner as the fire, only this act of reading coincides with an increase of heat in the room. This coinciding blurs the physical and emotional in a shameless way; the heat that overwhelms the speaker is evoked on both levels. Rather than state his grief directly, the poem moves on carrying the charge of these blurred states through imagery. The admission (or confession) in these lines, however, occurs in the clarity of each line, and rings out because of it.

In Memoriam – Hayden Carruth

This warmish night of the thaw
in January a beech chunk
smoldering in my Herald
No. 22A box stove suddenly
takes fire and burns
hot, or rather I suddenly
who was reading the sweet
and bitter poems of Paul
Goodman dead last summer
am aware how my shed
becomes a furnace, and taking
my shovel I ladle
a great mush of snow
into the stove’s mouth
to quieten it
and then step quickly
outside again to watch
the plume of steam rise
from my stovepipe straightly
and vanish into mist.


Happy misting!


* a meditation on brevity with paz, ritsos, & carruth

Writing – Octavio Paz

I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return


It’s suiting to begin this meditation on brevity with Paz who once said that he admired the short lyric for being the hardest kind of poem to write. Anyone who’s worked out a haiku or tanka in earnestness knows something of this difficulty. With haiku and tanka there are at least parameters, a spirit to leap after. Often, the short poem is a surprise, something arrived at when you intuit the right time to leave a poem alone.


Triplet – Yannis Ritsos

As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels his pencil trembling at the very tip –
it is the moment when the lighthouses light up.


I came across this gem from Ritsos in Stephen Dobyn’s illuminating book “Best Words, Best Order.” In it, Dobyns speaks of the nuanced work of the last line as a “metaphysical moment,” one that suggests “sympathetic affinities and a sensitivity to those affinities on the part of the poet.” The power of a short lyric can be felt when one is reading and feels something like “lighthouses light up” inside the mind.


haiku – Hayden Carruth

Hey Basho, you there!
I’m Carruth. Isn’t it great,
so distant like this?


Ultimately, what is at stake in the short lyric is what is at stake in any poem, the translating/transcribing of the human voice. In a longer poem, one can create an argument via imagery and metaphor, what’s being said accumulates like a wave to a crest. The short lyric is the echo of that argument, the sound of foam chisping on the shore. What is compelling about Carruth’s distance is not that Basho feels it, but the reader does.

* wavering *
* wavering *

Happy shoring!


* what I don’t know – with Hayden Carruth & Joseph Massey

Swept – Hayden Carruth

When we say I
miss you what
we mean is I’m
filled with

dread.  At night
alone going
to bed is
like lying down

in a wave.  Total
absence of light.
Swept away to


This week I am sharing poems by Hayden Carruth and Joseph Massey.

The thread between them is how nuanced the lines are – both in terms of line breaks as well as pacing – in order to work their magic.  Read Carruth’s poem too fast and you miss the power of like lying down // in a wave – how the stanza break opens up after lying down and places you in a wave as you read.

A similar thing happened for me in the following poem by Massey in the second stanza.  The phrasing of I know/them, not/knowing their/names is tricky.  It took me a few readings to really cotton to what was happening there at the level of language.  More than an admission of not knowing the names of the things in spring, it elevates that not knowing into a knowing all its own.

I feel it in terms of this: what I don’t know could fill libraries – and does!

Hear – Joseph Massey

The field
throbs.  Early
spring splits
a few things

open; I know
them, not
knowing their

— my only
Here at the

it’s all said


Happy illegibling!


* cemeteries, thrift stores & Hayden Carruth

*wonder why they call it Vine Street...*
*wonder why they call it Vine Street…*

This vine-riddled chap of a chapel can be found at the Vine Street Hill Cemetery – founded in 1849 – which we drove by yesterday on our way to a thrift store.  (We were hunting for a funky tablecloth and were not disappointed.)

In general, cemeteries are pretty charged places for people, myself included.  They are the great plots of our lives.  Ahem.

All seriously bad jokes aside, I am comforted by cemeteries because there is one that I have yet to walk through – the one where my father is buried – the location of which I have never been told.  I just know it’s out there.   A walk through a cemetery for me is a connection to all hallowed ground, here and elsewhere.  It is a space where life is put down and remembered.

Kinda like thrift stores.  A walk through a thrift store is a walk through former lives, former use and purpose.  Somebody argued over this mug, somebody turned restlessly in these sheets.  Somebody really needed/needs this black velvet painting of Elvis.

I know someone who took her grandson to a thrift store and together with him came across a tin of ashes.

Needed/needs.  There is the door you walk through in life.


The poem below by Hayden Carruth has stuck with me for some years now.  I want to call it light-hearted, but I think it’s more life-hearted.  The ending in particular moves me still to look at the world a little closer.


Graves – Hayden Carruth

Both of us had been close
to Joel, and at Joel’s death,
my friend had gone to the wake
and the memorial service
and more recently he had
visited Joel’s grave, there
at the back of the grassy
cemetery among the trees,
“a quiet, gentle place,” he said,
“befitting Joel.”  And I said,
“What’s the point of going
to look at graves?”  I went
into one of my celebrated
tirades.  “People go to look
at the grave of Keats or Hart
Crane, they go travelling just to
do it, what a waste of time.
What to do they find there?  Hell,
I wouldn’t go look at the grave
of Shakespeare if it was just
down the street.  I wouldn’t
look at — ”  And I stopped.  I
was about to say the grave of God
until I realized I’m looking at it
all the time….


Happy looking!


* photo found here.