Hayden Carruth

August 3 was the birthday of poet Hayden Carruth, who died in 2008 after a long, hardscrabble life.  There was no time on the third to observe his birthday, but he shares it with mine, and I hadn’t heard his name in quite a number of years.

Carruth was the editor of one of best poetry anthologies I know, a volume called The Voice That Is Great Within Us.  I became familiar with it in Creative Writing class and in the Intro to Poetry classes I was teaching in the 1980s, and I recommend it to you now, for your own pleasure, a treasure-trove of the finest in free verse and metered forms.

What I did not know in first reading the anthology was how hard Carruth’s own life had been.  The Wikipedia sketch of him will give you some idea of what he went through but, whatever impression it makes upon you, I hope it will eliminate any false notions you might still have about poets being effeminate, dainty little creatures who write poems about birds and beasts and flowers and trees.  Keats could get away with such subjects because he was a genius, but I remind you that he was also a surgeon’s assistant, whose job it was to sop up the gore with a bucket.  He knew what life was, Keats did, and so did Carruth.

Carruth’s subjects were the wild creatures of nature, the lonely and downtrodden of human life.  It was thought by many that there wasn’t any “poetry” in such lives, no elegance amid the pain; but Carruth found it the same way Steinbeck did in prose, and he showed others how to find it.  Wendell Berry, whose birthday happens to be today, credits Carruth with showing him how, and Carruth’s peers thought highly of him.


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