Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Toward the Distant Islands by Hayden Carruth

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 150 pages
# Publisher: Copper Canyon Press, 2006
# Price: $17.00
# ISBN: 1556592361

Over many years of reading poetry, I've come to trust that any poetry book published by Copper Canyon Press is going to be an adventure. This collection, hand-picked by Press founder, Sam Hill, is no exception. I'd read enough of Hayden Carruth's work that I expected to be impressed, and I was.

The poems are selected from 12 previous collections (oh, if all of us poets could boast of so many published books!) with an addition of new poems at finish to keep the appetite whetted for more yet to come. It is interesting to watch for change and growth in the whole of Carruth's work, but that his talent was richly showing early on - the first batch selected dates back to 1959's The Crow and the Heart - is clear:

Of all disquiets sorrow is most serene.
Its interval of soft humility
Are lenient; they intrude on our obscene
Debasements and our fury like a plea
For wisdom...

Sorrow can shape us better than dismay.

Carruth understands the peaks and valleys of a man's life. As Sam Hill notes in his introduction, this is a poet who has struggled with angels and demons alike, finding both in himself. So his work reflects such struggles, and we swing upwards with him to whisper with angels, just as we slide into shadows with him, to weep and gnash teeth with dark demons. If a poet creates often from the grit inside him, as an oyster its pearl, then this poet proves the old axiom. We must know the demon to recognize the angel; we must strive to be angelic to fully understand the power of the demonic.

Carruth writes glorious love poems to his wife, filled with appetite and relish and adoration. He writes love poems to his daughter, lost too early to cancer. He writes love poems to the natural world around him, and to the characters that are found in humanity. He writes love poems to sorrow.

This is a poet who lives his life seam to seam, depth to height, and journals it into his lyric work. To share in his journey, this is a collection not to be missed.