I must say … Raymond Carver is growing on me. Thanks to some literary friends, I overcame my prejudice against poets who “play with the net down” and write in free verse.
At first I was put off by Carver’s early focus on his alcoholism. But, after sticking with it, I’m warming to his honesty and humanity.
He can take a sliver of a memory and spin it into a little short story in the form of a free-verse poem. It’s not surprising, I suppose, that Carver is most well known as a short story writer.
His poems are little mini-short stories.
I’m also appreciating Carver’s blue collar roots. I’m not sure I should say he celebrates his blue collar roots. It just is, and he doesn’t shy away from it.
I’ve read that he left the Iowa State Workshop because he was having trouble fitting in with the “upper-middle-class milieu” at the school. And although his wife-at-the-time successfully lobbied for him to be given a second chance by comparing his struggles to Tennessee Williams’ difficult experience with the program 30 years earlier, Carver eventually dropped out with no degree.
I’ve known what it is like to go from blue collar roots in a small town to the jungle of an academic arena, and that’s a story for another day.
But, Carver has my empathy.
I’ve also come to appreciate how Carver can spin a little story and — BAM — just nail you with a feeling or an observation that leaves you pondering and pondering. He’s open and honest to a fault.
Whether he’s writing about getting letters from his kids asking for money, or about him committing adultery, you can be cocksure he’s telling you the truth.
I love, too, how his childhood in the American Northwest gave him insight into nature.
While I now live in the Northwest, I didn’t grow up here. I did grow up in the country in Missouri, so we have some shared experiences.
For the first few years of my life, I grew up on a farm. Here is a story of one memory from that time.
I heard them long before I saw them
Like a cacophony of oncoming clown cars.
Rising up out of the valley
And breaking over the Douglas firs.
The biggest formation I’d ever seen,
A magnificent wedge of geese all headed somewhere fast.
There must have been a hundred of them
Flying so low they went by just-like-that
With two hundred wings pumping urgently in unison.
And then they were gone
With just a fading honking echo left behind.
Was it a flock like that, dear brother,
That enticed you to run out of the barn door
That evening so long ago, shotgun in hand,
Thinking you might have a chance at bagging one?
Mom and I were up at the house making cookies,
And I remember hearing eerie wails and noises
Coming from the dark outside
And laughing, thinking it must be some strange animal
Making its strange animal sounds.
But when the cries went on and on
Mom got worried and went to look.
It could have been worse, you know.
You could have blown your head off,
You big klutz.
As it was, you only tripped over the threshold
And broke your elbow, which was bad enough,
So bad you couldn’t wrangle open the barnyard gate,
And so bad it made you moan like a dying beast.
But we drove you all the way to Cameron that night
To find a doctor who could set the bone.
And you got a cast and it healed up mostly,
And though you’d live another 60 years or so,
You never would be able to straighten out that arm.
You did your best to teach me how to hunt
But I never was much for killing things,
Yet … any time I hear wild geese approaching
I still run to where I can get a clear line of sight,
If only to shoot them with my eyes.