Though I read and loved Carver's famous collection of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, I had never read any of his poetry. I'm not tackling the whole collection; rather I'm just dipping into it periodically and many times coming up empty. I don't mean the poems are empty; they just don't speak to me. But the beauty of this collection - or really any collection - is that when I dip in and find one that sings to me, it reminds me of the power of just one poem. Every celebrated writer has written mediocre poems, average stories, decent novels, and those same poems and stories might read as gigantic successes to another reader. We bring so much of ourselves to our reading, and I believe this relationship between text and reader is a strength and not a weakness of the form.
My favorite of those great ones is called "The House behind This One," and it is a haunting description of a woman arriving at the house of a dying man. I love the first lines of it:
The afternoon was already dark and unnatural.There's no real reason this poem means something more to me than the others, no obvious emotional attachments or connecting points. I just like the way he built the image and used the words.
When this old woman appeared in the field,
in the rain, carrying a bridle.
Perhaps one of his most famous poems is the one inscribed on his tombstone called "Late Fragment":
And did you get whatA beautiful benediction, don't you think?
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Carver is represented in volume three of The Paris Review Interviews, so I can return to my ongoing project to read through these amazing interviews. Conducted in 1983, the publication year of Carver's first collection of poetry, the interview starts with some of Carver's background and early motivations to write before moving on to such standard fare as the drinking, the writing process, the literary influences. My favorite parts were sort of snuck in on other questions, like this about his father reading Zane Grey westerns:
It seemed a very private act in a house and family that were not given to privacy. I realized that he had this private side to him, something I didn't understand or know anything about, but something that found expression through this occasional reading. (218)Though we bloggers make a very public conversation out of our private acts of reading, they still feel private to me, and I like this acknowledgment of that privacy. I also really like this idea of audience:
Any writer worth his salt writes as well and as truly as he can and hopes for as large and perceptive a readership as possible. So you write as well as you can and hope for good readers. (233)But perhaps the most important thing I took from this interview was his high recommendation for John Gardner's book On Becoming a Novelist. He also talks about On Moral Fiction, and considering I like Grendel so very much, I think I will have to look into both.