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.


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From the Image Archive

Regarding Chainsaws

Hayden Carruth
The first chainsaw I owned was years ago,
an old yellow McCulloch that wouldn't start.
Bo Bremmer give it to me that was my friend,
though I've had enemies couldn't of done
no worse. I took it to Ward's over to Morrisville,
and no doubt they tinkered it as best they could,
but it still wouldn't start. One time later
I took it down to the last bolt and gasket
and put it together again, hoping somehow
I'd do something accidental-like that would
make it go, and then I yanked on it
450 times, as I figured afterwards,
and give myself a bursitis in the elbow
that went five years even after
Doc Arrowsmith shot it full of cortisone
and near killed me when he hit a nerve
dead on. Old Stan wanted that saw, wanted it bad.
Figured I was a greenhorn that didn't know
nothing and he could fix it. Well, I was,
you could say, being only forty at the time,
but a fair hand at tinkering. "Stan," I said,
"you're a neighbor. I like you. I wouldn't
sell that thing to nobody, except maybe
Vice-President Nixon." But Stan persisted.
He always did. One time we was loafing and
gabbing in his front dooryard, and he spied
that saw in the back of my pickup. He run
quick inside, then come out and stuck a double
sawbuck in my shirt pocket, and he grabbed
that saw and lugged it off. Next day, when I
drove past, I seen he had it snugged down tight
with a tow-chain on the bed of his old Dodge
Powerwagon, and he was yanking on it
with both hands. Two or three days after,
I asked him, "How you getting along with that
McCulloch, Stan?" "Well," he says, "I tooken
it down to scrap, and I buried it in three
separate places yonder on the upper side
of the potato piece. You can't be too careful,"
he says, "when you're disposing of a hex."
The next saw I had was a godawful ancient
Homelite that I give Dry Dryden thirty bucks for,
temperamental as a ram too, but I liked it.
It used to remind me of Dry and how he'd
clap that saw a couple times with the flat
of his double-blade axe to make it go
and how he honed the chain with a worn-down
file stuck in an old baseball. I worked
that saw for years. I put up forty-five
run them days each summer and fall to keep
my stoves het through the winter. I couldn't now.
It'd kill me. Of course they got these here
modern Swedish saws now that can take
all the worry out of it. What's the good
of that? Takes all the fun out too, don't it?
Why, I reckon. I mind when Gilles Boivin snagged
an old sap spout buried in a chunk of maple
and it tore up his mouth so bad he couldn't play
"Tea for Two" on his cornet in the town band
no more, and then when Toby Fox was holding
a beech limb that Rob Bowen was bucking up
and the saw skidded crossways and nipped off
one of Toby's fingers. Ain't that more like it?
Makes you know you're living. But mostly they wan't
dangerous, and the only thing they broke was your
back. Old Stan, he was a buller and a jammer
in his time, no two ways about that, but he
never sawed himself. Stan had the sugar
all his life, and he wan't always too careful
about his diet and the injections. He lost
all the feeling in his legs from the knees down.
One time he started up his Powerwagon
out in the barn, and his foot slipped off the clutch,
and she jumped forwards right through the wall
and into the manure pit. He just set there,
swearing like you could of heard it in St.
Johnsbury, till his wife come out and said,
"Stan, what's got into you?" "Missus," he says
"ain't nothing got into me. Can't you see?
It's me that's got into this here pile of shit."
Not much later they took away one of his
legs, and six months after that they took
the other and left him setting in his old chair
with a tank of oxygen to sip at whenever
he felt himself sinking. I remember that chair.
Stan reupholstered it with an old bearskin
that must of come down from his great-great-
grandfather and had grit in it left over
from the Civil War and a bullet-hole as big
as a yawning cat. Stan latched the pieces together
with rawhide, cross fashion, but the stitches was
always breaking and coming undone. About then
I quit stopping by to see old Stan, and I
don't feel so good about that neither. But my mother
was having her strokes then. I figured
one person coming apart was as much
as a man can stand. Then Stan was taken away
to the nursing home, and then he died. I always
remember how he planted them pieces of spooked
McCulloch up above the potatoes. One time
I went up and dug, and I took the old
sprocket, all pitted and et away, and set it
on the windowsill right there next to the
butter mold. But I'm damned if I know why.

Hayden Carruth's "Regarding Chainsaws," from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems (2006) is used by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Hayden Carruth

Hayden Carruth

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

by this poet

poem
Masters, the mock orange is blooming in Syracuse without
       scent, having been bred by patient horticulturalists
To make this greater display at the expense of fragrance.
But I miss the jasmine of my back-country home.
Your language has no tenses, which is why your poems can
       never be translated whole
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
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