Saturday, October 4, 2008

Concerning Joy

Poet Hayden Carruth died last week. I did not read and have not read a lot of his work, but what I did read was good, in my opinion. Also, he did seem to have one of those names that seemed manufactured just for a poet. He's considered an important American poet.

My most specific memory regarding him goes back to an evening maybe two decades ago when I was having dinner with three other poets, Lee Bassett, Sam Hamill (best or most recently known for the Poets Against the War project, but also a fine poet, translator, and publisher), and Madeline DeFrees. This was not long after Richard Hugo had died, and Madeline was angry about a bad review Carruth had written about Hugo--maybe it was about his collected poems. I don't know. I never tracked down the review. I just remember that Madeline, not the type to anger easily, was pretty miffed at Carruth's review, especially where it (according to her) had observed that Hugo "had no hear"--for poetry, that is. Hugo's poetry is deliberately clipped and sometimes purposely monotonous and/or staccato, but he had a great sense of language. My own view is that he was writing in the way he'd heard language when he was growing up, working class, Pacific Northwest. And he just leaned more toward the Anglo Saxon side of the language as opposed to the Latin side. Carruth probably just didn't get what Hugo was doing, but Hugo had studied with Roethke, after all, and Roethke was all about sound. If you've read Hugo's The Triggering Town, you know Hugo was almost all about sound, too.

To digress from the digression, the NY Times obituary (which I think I found online) of Carruth mentioned his once saying that he wrote a lot about loss, a statement that made me giggle because, well, don't we all write about loss, even people who don't write? Then I scolded myself for a) giggling and b) writing about loss too much myself. So I made one of those precipitous resolutions. I resolved to write about joy more. I don't know precisely why I chose joy as the opposite of loss when gain, possession, interest-accrued, or permanence would probably have been more reasonable choices as opposites to loss. Fulfilling the resolution hasn't gone all that well, but here's one poem, at least, allegedly on joy--with one of my classic, numbingly obvious titles, which Carruth probably would have hated, along with my poetry, although I doubt if he ever read even one by me, unless maybe one I had in Ploughshares. (Anyway, Mr. Carruth, I'm sorry you're dead.)


Concerning Joy


When an infant laughs,
especially at nothing,
joy has scrawled a note
for anyone to read
and get a giggle.

When people see someone
they love receive what's right,
joy juices a corpuscle of time.

When you sense that thing
move through you, the one
that feels as if your bones
just told a joke to your nerves,
which then told your feet
to dance (knowing full well
your feet ache) joy just might
have been nearby. Mercurial,

needed, and nimble,
as small as a thimble
and as big as a moon,
joy is, I'm telling you,
welcome most any time,
including midnight,
noon, and soon. I'm

saying something about
joy, okay? I'm not trying
to reproduce it, so don't
get all joyless on me. If
joy comes to you, let it.
If it doesn't, ask around.
See what you can find out.
Somebody has to know something.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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