Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hayden Carruth, American poet

Hayden Carruth died yesterday. In 1996, he won a Pullitzer prize for his collection of poetry called Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey.

I am an appreciator of poetry but have little critical insight. I understand what is written and sometimes if I mull on it for a while I understand what is not written but most of the subtleties are probably lost on me.

My daily poetry tutorial consists of Garrison Keillor's Writer's Alamanc on the radio during morning drives. Several years ago Garrison read a poem called Memory that stuck with me until I got home, googled and copied it to my list of favorite poems.

Yesterday when I heard that Hayden Carruth had died I thought that perhaps he had written that haunting poem--he had.

"Memory," by Hayden Carruth from Doctor Jazz (Copper Canyon Press).


A woman I used to know well died
A week ago. Not to be mysterious:
She and I were married. I'm told
She fell down dead on a street in
Lower Manhattan, and I suppose
She suffered a stroke or a heart attack.
The last time I saw her was in the spring
Of 1955, meaning forty-four
Years ago, and now when I try
To imagine her death I see in my
Mind a good-looking, twenty-nine-
Year-old woman sprawled on the pavement.
It does no good to go and examine
My own ravaged face in the bathroom
Mirror; I cannot transpose my ravage-
Ment to her. She is fixed in my mind
As she was. Brown hair, brown eyes,
Slender and sexy, coming home
From her job as an editor in a huge
Building in midtown. Forty-four
Years is longer than I thought. My dear,
How could you have let this happen to you?


Weather Boy said...

Wow. I'd never read Hayden Carruth before, and now I am sure I will read more. It is amazing when a writer can tell such a powerful story in so few words. It is why writing a good children's story or short story is so difficult, yet he did it in a few lines. Thanks for the tip.

Robert Penn Warren is one of my favorites, but he's much more wordy and oblique.

Lavinia said...

I echo what weather boy said. I like this poem. Memory is an apt title...on more than one level.

Beth said...

Weatherboy--I knew we were kindred souls--I love Robert Penn Warren, too. I thought for many years that we were related--he's from the area in Kentucky where my family is from--but our families were friends but no relation.

Thanks Lavinia. So, it is.

Rondi said...

Oh my! What an amazing poem!

I, too, get my daily poetry fix from Garrison Keillor, only in my e-mail box. What a treat!

KGMom said...

I too had not encountered Carruth before. Robert Penn Warren--a fav of mine, along with Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.
Thanks for introducing me to a "new" poet.

Jayne said...

Like you, I often read poetry and ponder its meaning. This, however, is a very gut wrenching poem filled with emotion and memory. Thanks for the introduction Beth. :c)

Barb Hartsook said...

Oh boy -- Now I want a book of his poetry. What a painting this made. In school, we'd have had to dissect this and write an essay of it. How to ruin perfectly good poetry -- if it could have been said better in prose it would have been.

Thanks for sharing, Beth -- a lovely post.

Kathiesbirds said...

Beth, if you can appreciate such poetry you are well on your way. This is lovley and who says you have to understand it all or be able to critically appraise it to enjoy it. Enjoying it is the most important part, contrary to what some others may say. I love this poem. It almost made me cry.