I have been reading Hayden Carruth’s poems, admiring the breadth of his experiments in styles from sonnets to jazzy free verse to prose poems and extremely short poems–even haiku. One thing becomes clear after awhile: his appreciation of song, of the poem as song, of the need to create song as an expression of life and against the things one wishes to resist, even when (especially when) it is impossible to resist.
His poem “Mother” says all of the things I wanted to write about my mother-in-law’s death, and more. It is achingly honest and achingly sad and deeply loving.
After reading it, I thought to myself, “You do not need to write those poems; Carruth has achieved what you are trying to accomplish.” But we compose poems under individual circumstances and for personal reasons, and I suspect that reading “Mother” will help me to revise my own poems in probing ways.
This is why we read other poets’ work. One reason why, anyway.
I am in mourning at present, shocked by the death of a Beloved Friend’s adult son. I thought of a poem I had recently read in Carruth’s Contra Mortem. I searched through the book to locate it–it is, in fact, (appropriately) the last poem in the collection. Here is Carruth in a spiritual and almost elegiac mode, as the singer he always is in his work, exhorting us to give to one another our small songs, no matter how they fail, for whatever they are worth. I love the line “the was the is the willbe out of nothing” for the way the simplest verbs, forcibly combined, guide the reader to face a fundamental truth: “and thus we are.”
The Wheel of Being II
Such figures if they succeed are beautiful
because for a moment we brighten in a blaze of rhymes
and yet they always fail and must fail
and give way to other poems
in the endless approximations of what we feel
Hopeless it is hopeless Only the wheel
endures It spins and spins winding
the was the is the willbe out of nothing
and thus we are Thus on the wheel we touch
each to each a part
of the great determining reality How much
we give to one another Perhaps our art
succeeds after all our small song done in the faith
of lovers who endlessly change heart for heart
as the gift of being Come let us sing against death.