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About this poet

Hayden Carruth was born on August 3, 1921, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and educated at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Chicago, where he earned a master's degree.

His first collection of poems, The Crow and the Heart, was published in 1959. Since then, he published more than thirty books, including Toward the Distant Islands: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2006) and Doctor Jazz: Poems 1996-2000 (2001).

Other poetry titles include Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey: Poems, 1991-1995 (1996), which received the National Book Award for Poetry; Collected Longer Poems (1994); Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991 (1992), which received the National Book Critics' Circle Award; The Sleeping Beauty (1990); and Tell Me Again How the White Heron Rises and Flies Across Nacreous River at Twilight Toward the Distant Islands (1989).

Known also for his criticism, Carruth is the author of several prose collections, including Selected Essays & Reviews (Copper Canyon Press, 1996) and Sitting In: Selected Writings on Jazz, Blues, and Related Topics (1993), as well as nonfiction works, including Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin (Copper Canyon Press, 1999) and Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays (1998).

He is also the author of a novel, Appendix A (1963), and has edited a number of anthologies, including The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century (Bantam, 1970).

Informed by his political radicalism and sense of cultural responsibility, many of Carruth's best-known poems are about the people and places of northern Vermont, as well as rural poverty and hardship.

About Carruth and his work, the poet Galway Kinnell has said, "This is not a man who sits down to 'write a poem'; rather, some burden of understanding and feeling, some need to know, forces his poems into being. Thoreau said, 'Be it life or death, what we crave is reality.' So it is with Carruth. And even in hell, knowledge itself bestows a halo around the consciousness with, at moments, attains it."

Carruth received fellowships from the Bollingen Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and a 1995 Lannan Literary Fellowship. He was presented with the Lenore Marshall Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Vermont Governor's Medal, the Carl Sandburg Award, the Whiting Award, and the Ruth Lilly Prize, among many others.

He taught at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and at the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.

Carruth lived in Vermont for many years before residing in Munnsville, New York, with his wife, the poet Joe-Anne McLaughlin Carruth. He died September 29, 2008.


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

Letter to Denise

Hayden Carruth

Remember when you put on that wig
From the grab bag and then looked at yourself
In the mirror and laughed, and we laughed together?
It was a transformation, glamorous flowing tresses.
Who knows if you might not have liked to wear
That wig permanently, but of course you
Wouldn’t. Remember when you told me how
You meditated, looking at a stone until
You knew the soul of the stone? Inwardly I
Scoffed, being the backwoods pragmatic Yankee
That I was, yet I knew what you meant. I
Called it love. No magic was needed. And we
Loved each other too, not in the way of
Romance but in the way of two poets loving
A stone, and the world that the stone signified.
Remember when we had that argument over
Pee and piss in your poem about the bear?
“Bears don’t pee, they piss,” I said. But you were
Adamant. “My bears pee.” And that was that.
Then you moved away, across the continent,
And sometimes for a year I didn’t see you.
We phoned and wrote, we kept in touch. And then
You moved again, much farther away, I don’t
Know where. No word from you now at all. But
I am faithful, my dear Denise. And I still
Love the stone, and, yes, I know its soul.

Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth was born on August 3, 1921, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and

by this poet

poem
The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so
poem
Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we've put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My
poem
The great poems of
our elders in many
tongues we struggled

to comprehend who
are now content with
mystery simple

and profound you
in the night your
breath your body

orbit of time and
the moment you
Phosphorus and

Hesper a dark circle
of fertility so
bloodthirsty for us

you in the world
the night breathing