Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sunday Poem: Hayden Carruth

I, I, I

First, the self. Then, the observing self.
The self that acts and the self that watches. This
The starting point, the place where the mind begins,
Whether the mind of an individual or
The mind of a species. When I was a boy
I struggled to understand. For if I know
The self that watches, another watching self
Must see the watcher, then another watching that,
Another and another, and where does it end?
So my mother sent me to the barber shop,
My first time, to get my hair "cut for a part"
(Instead of the dutch boy she'd always given me),
As I was instructed to tell the barber. She
Dispatched me on my own because the shop,
Which had a pool table in the back, in that
Small town was the men's club, and no woman
Would venture there. Was it my first excursion
On my own into the world? Perhaps. I sat
In the big chair. The wall behind me held
A huge mirror, and so did the one in front,
So that I saw my own small strange blond head
With its oriental eyes and turned up nose repeated
In ever diminishing images, one behind
Another behind another, and I tried
To peer farther and farther into the succession
To see the farthest one, diminutive in
The shadows. I could not. I sat rigid
And said no word. The fat barber snipped
My hair and blew his brusque breath on my nape
And finally whisked away his sheet, and I
Climbed down. I ran from that cave of mirrors
A mile and a half to home, to my own room
Up under the eaves, which was another cave.
It had no mirrors. I no longer needed mirrors.

This is one of Carruth's lesser poems, but the Buddhist element in it is appealing. Carruth is sometimes known as a "Jazz Poet," but I feel such a limiting tag does a disservice to his mastery of language, unique vision, and often metaphysical content.

A little biography:

Hayden Carruth was born on August 3, 1921, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and was educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Chicago. For many years, Carruth lived in northern Vermont. He now lives in upstate New York, where until recently he taught in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University. Noted for the breadth of his linguistic and formal resources, influenced by jazz and the blues, Carruth has published twenty-nine books, chiefly of poetry but also a novel, four books of criticism, and two anthologies. His most recent books are Collected Shorter Poems 1946-1991 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001); Doctor Jazz: Poems 1996-2000 (2001); Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays (1998); Selected Essays & Reviews; Collected Longer Poems; Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991 (awarded the National Book Critics' Circle Award); and Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey (1996), which won the National Book Award for Poetry.

More Carruth poems and interviews are available online:

Poem Hunter
Academy of American Poets
A Review
Hayden Carruth's Website

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