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.