Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15 -- Ides of March

Hayden Carruth :

What a poet… We discussed Father’s Day, Birthday Cake, The Cows at Night, The Heaviness (from Summer with Tu Fu).

Some of his magic:
 skillful line breaks;
 using syntax to enhance the weight of a word’s meaning
 layering of metaphor
 working vowels, assonance, alliteration, rhythms to create music that supports the meaning
 keen sense of paradox: combinations like ordinary improbability; almost paleolithic/perplexities; a young woman’s poetry to an old man’s; joy and its undersides; sorrow and its oversides

Reading aloud, each person, one line, made the skillful breaks more apparent.
I don’t know what fathers are
Supposed to do

What are fathers? and what are they supposed to do? Like a hinge, the double sense increases the weight of the question.

In this poem of 27, unrhymed lines, fairly evenly stacked into a stack, Carruth guides the reader to think about days assigned a special meaning on the calendar and just what it means to a Father to reflect on a father’s day. What starts out as a tongue-in-cheek version of the “best thing fathers in their prime can do is to make daughters and/More daughters; leads to the problem of insatiable wishing: we can never have enough. The poem might well be about fathers, daughters, but harkens to the problem of our human yearning for love, relationship, which is echoed so poignantly at the end in his plea to the cat to stay with him as long as he’s here.

The repetition of daughters with different syntax assigns each one with a different meaning. Daughters are:
-- a protection against loneliness and absurd atrocities of / Foreign policy
-- involved in the mysterious failure of the speaker to be successful and yet there is no blame… (we only know that something happened)
-- a cat can become a daughter

Because we do not know that the poem starts out addressing the cat, when we learn my dear refers to the cat, five lines before the end, it both hurts to see the speaker’s need
and his pain.

Two short sentences. Yes, I did. Truly you are. provide reassurances more to the speaker than to the cat but have the effect of endearing the speaker to the reader. We have been given a portrait of a tender, but wounded father.

In Birthday Cake, we learn more about the speaker. He is finishing a birthday cake his beloved hasn’t touched for five days which provides the details of his liking stale cake,
and she opening a fresh box of cereal before the old one is finished. The scene is set in a valley in March, with patterns of melting snow and goes on about the differences in the couple – man/woman, young/old, different styles of poetry in this season of differences
articulable differences that signify/deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic/perplexities in our lives, and still/ we love one another.
I want to cheer at the words that you love me, /confident in my amazement .
I am confident at his amazement of this love. It confirms my own – amazement, and love.

The Cows at Night ambles along in tercets, developing a sense of dark: night, brown shadows of mountain-dark. What saves this from a purely descriptive, pleasant poem
is the sentence in stanza 5: the cows. Always a shock,
of course you want to know what was in the stanza before (description of driving at night the an opening where he sees… the cows.) And after. The shock is not the cows, but the memory of them as great breathings which is echoed in the last stanza by that great darkness. He plays with the adjective sad and with repetitions, and creates a mood,
enhanced by not wanting to go, yet unable to explain anything at all.

The last poem, The Heaviness is a pure delight of heavy soundplay in a haiku-feel,
where words just won’t behave, and there, chattering, the sparrow have no problem with communicating!

I am glad for Hayden. He wrote in his signed copy of Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey, April 5, 2005, “Thanks so much for coming”. Copper Canyon Press quotes him this way:
“Writing is first of all a way of being in the world, a functioning nub of relatedness. Hence my happiness, that frothy feeling, is now with me almost all the time.”

“A Portable Carruth is a useful tool” – Sam Hamill “A unique and complex life lived and recorded in poetry.” -- Richard Pokora, reader response.

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