Poet Hayden Carruth 8/3/21-9/29/08

Hayden Carruth 1921-2008

The Impossible Indispensibility of the Ars Poetica
by Hayden Carruth

But of course the poem is not an assertion. Do you see? When I wrote

That all my poems over the long years before I met you made you come true,

And that the poems for you since then have made you in yourself become more true,

I did not mean that the poems created or invented you. How many have foundered

In that sargasso! No, what I have been trying to say

Is that neither of the quaint immemorial views of poetry is adequate for us.

A poem is not an expression, nor is it an object. Yet it somewhat partakes of both. What a poem is

Is never to be known, for which I have learned to be grateful. But the aspect in which I see my own

Is as the act of love. The poem is a gift, a bestowal.

The poem is for us what instinct is for animals, a continuing and chiefly unthought corroboration of essence

(Thought thought, ours and the animals’, is still useful).

Why otherwise is the earliest always the most important, the formative? The Iliad, the Odyssey, the book of Genesis,

These were acts of Love, I mean deeply felt gestures, which continuously bestow upon us

What we are. And if I do not know which poem of mine

Was my earliest gift to you,

Except that it had to have been written about someone else,

Nevertheless it was the gesture accruing value to you, your essence, while you were still a child, and thereafter

Across all these years. And see how much

Has come from that first sonnet after our loving began, the one

That was a kiss, a gift, a bestowal. This is the paradigm of fecundity. I think the poem is not

Transparent, as some have said, nor a looking glass, as some have also said,

Yet it has a quality of disappearance

In its cage of visibility. It disperses among the words. It is a fluidity, a vapor, of love.

This, the instinctual, is what caused me to write, “Do you see?” instead of “Don’t you see?” in the first line

Of this poem, this loving treatise, which is what gives away the poem

And gives it all to you.

BIO: Hayden Carruth according to Poets.org

The Impossible Indispensibility of the Ars Poetica
by Hayden Carruth

Collected Shorter Poems 1946-1991 page 352
Copper Canyon Press 1992
winner of the National Book Crtiics Circle Award

His lines are so long, so voluptuous–I wonder if he wrote on legal pads sideways. I’ve tried to transcribe the lines accurately but when in doubt, he capitalized each new line.

August 3, 1921-September 29, 2008.

Among the 10 poets and writers he named  in 1991 as having influenced his work and were his close friends, he named Raymond Carver, Wendell Berry, Galway Kinnell, Denise Levertov, Henry Rago, JV Cunningham, George Dennison, David Budbill, Adrienne Rich and Carolyn Kizer. Look for poems by Ray Carver and by Wendell Berry on this blog.

Here’s a poem about Ray Carver by Hayden Carruth read by him in May 2008:

Here he reads one of his most well-known poems, “Emergency Haying” :

He described himself as “A duck blown out to sea and still squawking.” Fortunately, we can still hear him even when he’s flown farther than we can see him.

Jackson Wheeler: Ars Poetica

There is a tradition amongst poets to produce an “Ars Poetica.” One of my favorites by Oxnard poet Jackson Wheeler has just been published in Bear Flag Republic:


Because I was sung to as a child. Because my father shot himself when I was ten. Because my mother took in ironing and worked as a janitor. Because, my mother would say, “I could turn on the radio and you would lie in your crib and listen, quiet as a mouse”. Because there was singing: Kitty Wells, The Louvin Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, The Carter Family, The Stoneman Family, and when I was older, Saturday afternoons with my father’s mother, her dark Indian eyes glittering in the twilight of the room – boxing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, announced by Harry Thornton. Because I watched my uncles slaughter hogs, because I watched my mother kill a chicken for dumplings, because I watched the Rescue Squad drag the Nantahala Lake for drowned vacationers, up from Florida. Because Southern Appalachia was imagined by someone else – I just lived there, until I read about it in a book, other than the King James Bible, which is “all true” my mother said and says, “every jot and St. Matthew tittle of it”. Because God is a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a night wrestler, a swathe of blood, a small still voice, a whisper in Mary’s ear. Because my family is rank with alcoholics, wife beaters, spendthrifts, and big-hearted people, who give the shirts off their backs. Because their stories lie buried in the graveyards, because their stories have been forgotten, because their stories have been misremembered. Because my father’s people said they were from Ireland, down Wexford way. Because my father’s father baptized people, because my father’s mother bore a child out of wedlock and was part Indian. Because my mother’s father got his leg crushed at the quarry, because my mother’s mother died of brain cancer; My friends think I talk too much, don’t talk enough; that I’m too queer for company that I’m not queer enough. My mother’s people were Scots and Welsh, three cheers for the beard of Brady Marr, three cheers for the blood on the shields of the Keiths from Wick, three cheers for immigration, the waves of it and the desperation behind it. Let’s hear it for King’s Mountain and the Scots’ revenge for Culloden. Three cheers for extended family, the nameless cousins, all the petty griefs and regrets, the novels never written, the movies never made, the solace of the bottle, the solace of sex, the solace of loneliness of which there is plenty. All hail the poetic arts, and the art of poetry and the knowledge at the heart of it all: Words bear witness.

Jackson Wheeler

(My other favorite Ars Poetica is by Jen Hofer!)