Poetry Month 2016: Hayden Carruth
Ovid, Old Buddy, I Would Discourse with You a While upon mutability—if it were possible. But you don’t know me. Already you cannot conceive my making the second line of a poem so much longer than the first. No matter, mutability is the topic, and I see you there exiled on the Thracian shore among those hairy mariners speaking an improbable tongue, a location of you damnably similar to Syracuse, N.Y., and I see you addressing your first letter to the new emperor, Tiberius, looking blankly out to the rocks and the gray ocean as you search for rhythms and awesome words to make this the greatest verse-epistle ever written and obtain your pardon, your freedom to return to Rome, so long denied by Augustus. Do you know me, after all? But of course, how could you not when my words are your very bones? You speak to me of two thousand years of solitude. Yes, you are writing that letter forever. You tell me how you cannot name your crime because you only suspect what it is and to name it would make it true. You are innocent. Tiberius will not grant you pardon. He cannot. But he can fling those victims, stopped forever wild-eyed in mid-air, off the precipice at Capri! Some powers are always powerless. The change from Augustus to Tiberius, what does it mean, that instant of mutability continuing forever between a death and an investiture? You whisper to me, No pardon, no pardon, no pardon, and the three sprigs of white lilac in the glass pitcher on my table that are slightly, but only slightly, wilted— the stems weakened, the heavy blossom-clusters depending— tremble as if a wind even from Olympus were meandering through the room. [from Collected Shorter Poems, 1946-1991] ~ From the publisher’s Web site: Collected Shorter Poems presents hundreds of lyric, short narrative, comic, meditative, nature, and erotic poems that Hayden Carruth wrote over a forty-five year period. Noted for the breadth of his linguistic and formal resources, influenced by jazz and the blues, Carruth gives his poems a philosophical resonance. His explorations of rural poverty and hardship—sometimes grim, sometimes funny—are deeply informed by political radicalism and cultural responsibility.