Written while Carruth was approaching or had reached the age of 80 years, this collection understandably reflects the recognition of aging, loss, and of a changing world. Also, there are memories--of jazz and jazz players, relatives, pets, youth. And there is life in the present--with grown children, old friends, the Vermont countryside, writing, remembering, coping, not coping. Throughout, Carruth has a no-nonsense style; a mixture of straight talk, irony, irreverence, contemplation--and wonderful craft.

Carruth's adult daughter, Martha, died miserably of cancer in the late 1990s; in Part II, "Martha," Carruth describes himself as "blocked and almost silent / for two years. Titled "Dearest M --", this is a 15-page elegy that accomplishes "a release of some dire kind" (46) for Carruth, but he can't take pleasure in the release, feeling shame instead ("how shaming, how / offensive!"). Even in his mourning, Carruth raises questions about the ethics of writing such poems, and questions whom he is addressing ("not Martha. The absence / is like a hollow in my mind" [48]).

Section IV, "Faxes to William," is a series of 54 short poems addressed in "faxes" to a mysterious William: "William, do you know why / I like writing these faxes / to you? Because you / don't have a fax machine" (75). The poems instruct William about writing poetry ("some poets write blurbs, William, / and some do not. And it is by / a law of nature that the former / envy the latter desperately . . . They have unmade / their beds and they must schlepp in them" [67]); and life ("William, for the things / life didn't give us / we have no / compensation. None." [7]); and pose conversational questions ("You say I shouldn't write / so much about old age?) that have their own answers (I always / told my students to write / about what they know" [86]).

Section V, "Basho," is in dialogue with a 17th-century Japanese poet who is considered to be the best haiku poet during the time this form was being developed. Carruth's haiku-like poems in this section blend reflections on aging with reflections on writing poetry.

The final section, "Second Scrapbook," continues to explore memories ("Memory," in which Carruth learns of a former wife's death and can remember her--fondly--only as she was years ago. "My dear, / How could you have let this happen to you?" [116]); growing old ("Senility": "week after week, the mist gathering" [120]); representation ("Something for the Trade": Please note well, all you writers, editors, directors / out there: when a phone call is terminated / by the other person you do not, NOT, hear / a dial tone" [121]).


Hayden Carruth has published 23 books of poetry in addition to other works. This is the first collection of his that I have read and I found it tremendously appealing. Carruth continues to engage with life even as he contemplates his own diminishment. From the perspective of teaching medical students and healthcare professionals, there are numerous poems in this collection that would be useful, including "Senility" (120), "Old Man Succumbing to Retrospection" (24), the entire "Martha" section, "Sharing" (94), "To a Friend Who Is Incommunicado" (128), "Turning Back the Clocks" (130).


Copper Canyon

Place Published

Port Townsend, Wash.



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