I discovered via jessamyn‘s fine obituary MetaFilter post that Hayden Carruth died last night at his home. (I urge you to visit the post for the links, for the poems people quote in the thread, and for the Carruth quote jessamyn cites that ends “His sympathies extend even to despised creatures like rats and car salesmen. ‘I’ve always felt sorry for the rats,’ he says.” [And of course there are more good links and poems at wood s lot.]) As I wrote there:

I can’t say this is unexpected news, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take. For many years I’ve been saying Carruth was one of my favorite living poets, and now I have to remove one of those qualifiers. I became acquainted with him through The Voice That Is Great Within Us and didn’t discover his own poetry for years afterwards, but I made up for lost time. His Collected Shorter Poems and Collected Longer Poems are essential for any poetry collection, and if you can find a CD of him reading his poetry, he’s one of those rare modern poets who can really do justice to his own poetry.

The Voice That Is Great Within Us is still my favorite poetry anthology, three decades after I bought it, and the reason it took me so long to discover the editor’s own great poetry is that, being self-effacing to a fault, he included only a few haiku of his own in this tremendously influential anthology. But his poems tend to be long enough that they’re hard to anthologize anyway. Here’s the one I quoted at MetaFilter:

Not Transhistorical Death, or at Least Not Quite

Jim Wright, who was a good poet and my friend, died two or three years ago.
I was told at the time that we did not lose him.
I was told that memories of him would keep him in this world.
I don’t remember who told me this, just that it was in the air, like the usual fall-out from funerals.
I knew it was wrong.

Now I have begun to think how it was wrong.
I have begun to see that it was not only sentimental but simplistic.
I have examined Jim in my mind.
I remember him, but the memories are as dead as he is.
What is more important is how I see him now.
There, there in that extreme wide place, that emptiness.
He is near enough to be recognizable, but too far away to be reached by a cry or a gesture.
He is wearing a light-weight, brightly colored shirt.
His trousers belong to a suit, but the coat has been discarded.
His belt is narrow and somehow stays straightly on his pot belly.
His shoes are thin and shiny.
I think he bought those shoes on his last journey to Europe.
He is walking away, slowly.
He is wandering, meandering.
Sometimes he makes a little circle.
Sometimes he pauses and looks to one side or the other.
Sometimes he looks down.
Occasionally he looks up.
He never looks back, at least not directly.
Although he recedes very gradually, and becomes very gradually smaller, I continue to see all the aspects of his face and figure clearly.
He is thinking about something and I know what.
It is not the place he now occupies in my life.
He cannot imagine that, only I can.
He is neither what he was (obviously), nor what he is (for I am quite sure I am inventing that).
Is he Jim Wright? Is he not someone else?
Yes, he is Jim Wright. No, he is not someone else. (Who else could he possibly be?)
When I die, he will arrive at where he is going. And I will set off after him.


  1. Oh. I do like that one.

  2. John Emerson says

    My favorite anthology too. He introduced me to half a dozen poets, Lorine Niedecker being one of them.
    I’d really been stuck in the old “beatnik” vs. “academic” vs. “deep image” trichotomy, and Carruth was completely independent of trends.

  3. John Emerson says

    Off topic, but I just talked to someone whose 90 year old mother is almost unable to communicate in English, but who responds clearly and accurately to simple Norwegian phrases. I doubt that she’s spoken Norwegian on a daily basis since she was twenty.

  4. I hadn’t heard of him, but what I read here and at wood’s lot is beautiful. I will seek out his work.

  5. 90 year old mother is almost unable to communicate in English, but who responds clearly and accurately to simple Norwegian phrases:
    It is common for people with memory loss to be able to remember events and people far in the past. Short-term memory goes first. Sometimes they remember family members’ names but don’t remember who has died.

  6. A.J.P. Crown says

    I had a friend in Hamburg, a woman whose grandmother had come over from Aberdeen. The grandmother reverted from having conversed solely in German for seventy years to speaking only in Scottish in her nineties.

  7. marie-lucie says

    Around the age of 90, with her mind changing for the worse, my mother did not forget French but started to come out with numerous phrases in the Occitan that she spoke with her grandfather when she was a small child.

  8. In a generally very interesting Wiki entry on Occitan i found the titbit that it has ’75 synonyms related to sunshine’; this comes from a magazine called Géo, it says. I think Language should sell this information to Ben Zimmer at Language Log for its two-hundred-Eskimo-words-for-snow entry.

  9. John Emerson says

    And the Norse have over a hundred words for herring.

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