Hayden Carruth, as fine a poet who has ever taken a drink and recovered from the culminated grief of the fact, died at the age of 87 in 2008 after a remarkable run of years and poetry writing. Not a serene soul nor a seeker of quick exits from a line of inquiry, Carruth had what James Dickey called “a kind of frenzied eloquence, a near-hysteria” . Carruth's range of interests was, to use a quaint usage, flabbergasting, and there was in his work an effort to penetrate the convenient shells that disguise the things of the world and to sense, instead, the orbits friends, occupations, ideas keep around each other.
Perhaps influenced by a personal philosophy informed, in large part, by European existentialism, his poems, and his critical writing resisted the temptation to arrange or discourse upon scenarios that would finalize an idea or an arrangement of images. His view was broader, his view was that something happens after we read the last line and raise our eyes from the page if only to see what is in front of us now and how we might consider the complexity with our own nested recollection. He was a fine stylist, with a command of the speaking voice that could cut to the quick, serve up the essence, isolate rich sediment of association with the inspired riff, the punched-up phrase. Plus he wrote one of my favorite drinking poems, this one:
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
by Hayden Carruth
Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don't say a word,
don't tell a soul, they wouldn't
understand, they couldn't, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.
What gets to me is that Carruth gets the imbibing culture precisely because the poem deals not with the drinking itself , the confessional rants as to what drove one to the bottle, or the good glory of one's drunken vision of a spiritless present the arch romantic is imprisoned within; there is no mythology, but there is the idea that the camaraderie one thought they'd achieve the night before at bars, with toasts and the buying of many founds is now fading with the rise of the sun.
The geniuses, the wits, the beautiful company one kept under bar light and streetlight now seem wizened, human, full of aches, wrinkles, slight limps, and all are united by hunger and encroaching hangovers. It reflects my history of all-night drinking; the bare fact that the next morning comes and you haven't been to bed yet and the only real question to ask yourself after the bent-elbow heroics and bravado on the barstool, once you're on the street, looking for your keys or loose change, is "now what?" This is space being the dying buzz of the booze and the accursed remorse that will settle soon enough, too soon enough.
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