The Voice that is Great Within Us

About the time Henry initiated the Plumbline School, Ron Silliman was drawing up lists, one of which indicated that Hayden Carruth "isn't much read" these days, a judgment I started out to dispute, then thought, "Oh, what the hell," and let it drop. Many of Carruth's books are in fact in print -- there are both a Collected Longer Poems and a Collected Shorter Poems from Copper Canyon Press, along with several books of essays on poetry and jazz. Carruth was a second-generation American modernist, though, and it is that generation, that includes Lowell and Bishop and Roethke, that the currently ascendent schools of poetry must be at pains to dismiss; thus, I'd argue, Silliman's offhand remark. But that's by way of prologue. Carruth has been very important to me in charting my own course down the center. So I was pleased to find Henry's post with the long quote from Carruth the other day. Here is another part of the case for Carruth being made an honorary member of the Plumbline School: His 1970 mass-market poetry anthology (also still in print), The Voice that is Great Within Us. I'm just getting ready to return to Vietnam. When I go there, I usually try to take a couple of American books to give to friends there, many of whom are English teachers and professional translators, and poets. In browsing around Amazon, I ran across the Carruth anthology, which I have given away to many students over the years, but which I hadn't looked at closely for a while. I ordered a copy, which arrived yesterday. In his introduction, Carruth talks about getting an envelope of poems from Wallace Stevens on day and another from E.E. Cummings the next when he was editor of Poetry magazine. He goes on to sketch out the capaciousness of American poetry and his anthology selections reveal a very wide taste; more than that, they reveal a time in American poetry before the Fall. A look at the Table of Contents of The Voice that is Great Within Us provides evidence of a prelapsarian paradise where Jack Spicer and Conrad Aiken have converse, where Yvor Winters and Kenneth Fearing meet on friendly terms, and so on: Lorine Niedecker, Richard Eberhardt, Louis Zukofsky, Kenneth Rexroth, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, Thomas McGrath, William Bronk, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Donald Justic, Richard Wilbur. . . Carruth's anthology suggests that American poets might have more in common than they realize. The recent divisions are largely political, I'd argue, rather than aesthetic. No, check that. I'd say that in the recent divisions into schools, a narrow politics drives aesthetics. _____________________ Cross-posted to The Plumbline School.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “The Voice that is Great Within Us”


    I think maybe what the poet’s
    getting at has more to do
    with the larynx sometimes

    than the heart at least
    as far as I’ve been able to tell
    when I assume the position

    not to say the blue mantle
    of my Irish grandfather
    a great sentimentalist and

    talented sensualist with nine
    children to my one
    I think there are always at least two

    or more world’s at any given point
    all undergoing mitosis in the true
    poet’s heart and throat.

  2. I enjoyed this anthology. Among the moderns, I see more similarity than difference. Harder in one’s own time to find the common threads. Then again, what’s happened to fashion may be happening to art. We all know what makes a clothing style ’60s, and ’70s, and ’80s. But now? All that stuff is back in. All at once.

  3. I guess that means we’re really postmodern now, when all the styles of the recent past are available. You might be interested in the comments this post and a previous one generated at The Plumbline School blog, linked beneath the entry.

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