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CARRUTH, HAYDEN (1921- ) Among 20th-century poets, Hayden Carruth is one of the most iconoclastic and difficult to place. Marshall Rand writes of him: "There is some of Whitman, some of pound, and a bit of berryman, among others, but the well-known names (pick your own) don't come to mind after reading his poetry. Where does he fit in?" (272). Because of the enormous span of his career— Carruth's first book, The Crow and the Heart (1959), included poetry written as early as 1946—and his penchant for changing style, technique, and tone from poem to poem, trying to pigeonhole Carruth's body of work into a single poetic school or tradition proves not only futile, but largely unproductive. The varied nature of Carruth's work is one of the most vital aspects to consider in understanding his career.
Carruth was born in Waterbury, Connecticut. He earned an A.B. in journalism from the University of North Carolina (1943) and an M.A. in English from the University of Chicago (1948). A noted editor and critic, Carruth has worked for Poetry magazine, the University of Chicago Press, and Harper's, among other places, and has won numerous awards, including the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a National Book Award.
In spite of his panoramic approach to subject and style, Carruth's poetry exhibits some important thematic predilections. His 15-month stay at the Bloom-ingdale Psychiatric Hospital provided him with material that he has constantly returned to throughout his career: definitions of madness, issues of authenticity, the irresolvable tension between hope and hopelessness. He takes great joy in writing dramatic monologues. By writing in the voices and dialects of others in poems such as "Marvin McCabe," "Marge," and "Septic Tanck [sic]," he finds both relief from his own psychological demons and a vehicle through which to express "man's existential situation," which David Perkins cites as the central concern of Carruth's poetry (386). When the character Septic Tanck says in his self-titled poem that his name is the quintessential name "for a poet nowadays, the / ending up place for everything," his humorous, slightly perverse, and ultimately courageous logic is meant to bolster not only Carruth himself, and not only poets, but all people: Through the specificity of the voice, Carruth reaches toward the universal and the timeless. Of his work, Carruth writes, "Beyond passion . . . honesty, charity and a radical attitude . . . have also been my guides."
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