Monday, April 30, 2007

Poetry in Motion, Day 30 (Hayden Carruth)

In the Fall of 2001, I attended a tribute reading at Cooper Union, billed as

A Tribute to Hayden Carruth in Honor of his 80th Birthday at Cooper Union, The Great Hall with Adrienne Rich, Galway Kinnell, Grace Paley, Jean Valentine, Sam Hamill, David Budbill, Marilyn Hacker, Ellen Bryant Voigt and Hayden Carruth. This event was made possible by the Lannan Foundation. Co-sponsored with Copper Canyon Press, the NYU Creative Writing Program, YMCA National Writer's Voice, The Poetry Society of America, and The Academy of American Poets - October 17
It was a wonderful event co-sponsored by Poet's House. Carruth is one of the more beloved lions of the poetry world, and has an impressive biography to back up the much-deserved respect he has earned. At that reading, three-and-a-half years ago, Cooper Union was packed. It was a star-studded affair and there was much adulation heaped upon Mr. Carruth, and deservedly so.

Well, you know me by now: multiple-poet event, I was in reading and signing heaven. I also had two friends along to assist. There's a significant gap in my jounral so I am relying only on memory here. I believe Adrienne Rich did not make it, or left shortly afterwards. The line for Carruth, perched magisterially on the stage, grasping an ornate walking stick, was lengthy. His eighty years had slowed his movement and it did not look good for a signing. We were eventually told that he had to get to his birthday dinner, thank you for coming, etc., etc.

So despite getting autographs from several of the poets that evening, I was left with a gaping chasm in my Signing Satisfaction Index. The big fish, the man of the hour, the reclusive Hayden Carruth had been unattainable. And I had an awesome Poetry in Motion poster I wanted him to sign for me.

[There's a reason I saved this poster for last, it has the longest story.]

But wait, you say, the photo at the top of the post, it looks like the poster is signed. Indeed. Or sort of. Read on.

So, assuming that the 80-year old and not-getting-any-younger Carruth would not be making any return visits to the Big Apple, I resorted to my plan B, a risky venture that often pays big dividends.

I had been determined once to obtain the great Polish-born poet Czeslaw Milosz's signature in my favorite anthology A Book of Luminous Things. Problem was, he lived in Berkeley and I was on the Other Coast. He was aging and didn't make it East very often, at least not for public events. So I blindly sent my book to Berkeley, to the Department of Foreign Literature where, a secretary told me, "Professor Milosz comes in every now and again to check his mail." Goodbye book! I included a note, a return, self-addressed, postage-paid envelope, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Nearly a year passed and the book came back to me, boldly inscribed to me by Mr. Milosz. I was beaming. Milosz was in New York the following week for a signing. Go figure.

So, I snagged a poster tube, bought return postage, wrote a note explaining I had seen him but not managed to reach him at the birthday tribute, even dropped a pen in the tube with the poster and sent it upstate to Mr. Carruth.

And I waited. Not as long as I waited for the Milosz book. And the poster came back to me. I beamed. I unrolled the poster, there was the shaky-handed inscription:

"To Bill Cohen/with regards & best wishes/Winter Solstice 2003".

Nice, no? Except for one thing. He didn't sign the poster!

Well, he did, I guess. But his signature is not on the poster. Sure, who else would have signed it like that? Who inscribes Poetry-in-Motion posters, other than the poets? I was stunned. Then I remembered the letter:

So I have a signed letter from Mr. Carruth to go with the poster. An amusing anecdote with an interesting twist. Had the poster bore the signature of the man, I would have framed it already. But the two-part piece of memorabilia begs a different treatment, I think. I'm still trying to figure out how best to display the two together.

Anyway, the poem itself is remarkable:

Lilac Time

The winter was fierce, my dear,
Snowy and blowy and cold,
A heart-breaker and record-breaker,
And I am feeble and old.

But now it is lilac time.
Come out in the sweet warm air,
Come and I'll gather flowers
To put in your beautiful hair.

Let's make a bouquet of lilac
For our old bedside table.
Then the fragrance in the night
Will make me form-i-dable.

Hayden Carruth (b. 1921)

So, dear readers, thus I bring National Poetry Month to a close. Thirty-five posters in thirty days. I hope you enjoyed the show.

Previous BillyBlog Poetry in Motion posts for April 2007:

from "My Grandmother's New York Apartment" by Elizabeth
Alexander (Day 1)
from "A Bouquet" by Bei Dao (Day 2)
"Separation" by W.S. Merwin (Day 3)
"The Groundfall Pear" by Jane Hirshfield (Day 4)
"For Friendship" by Robert Creeley (Day 5)
from "Crazy Horse Speaks" by Sherman Alexie (Day 6)
"Hunger" by Billy Collins (Day 7)
from "Little Man Around the House" by Yusef Komunyakaa (Day 8)
"The Loon on Oak-Head Pond" by Mary Oliver (Day 9)
from "I Am Vertical" by Sylvia Plath (Day 10 - part 1)
"Two Haiku" by Kobayashi Issa (Robert Hass, trans.)
(Day 10 - part 2)
"you say 'i will come' " by Lady Otomo No Sakanoe (Kenneth
Rexroth, trans.) (Day 11)
"You Called Me Corazón" by Sandra Cisneros (Day 12)
"Too Much Heat, Too Much Work" by Tu Fu (Carolyn
Kizer, trans.) (Day 13)
"Sew" by Donald Hall (Day 14)
"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden (Day 15)
"Luck" by Langston Hughes (Day 16)
"0˚" by Elizabeth Spires (Day 17 - part 1)
"I Finally Managed to Speak with Her" by Hal
Sirowitz (Day 17 - part 2)
"Window" by Carl Sandburg (Day 18)
" 'Hope' is the thing with feathers" by Emily
Dickinson (Day 19)
from "Watch Repair" by Charles Simic (Day 20)
"Thank You, My Dear" by Sappho (Mary Barnard,
trans.) (Day 21)
"A Piece of the Storm" and "Keeping Things Whole" by
Mark Strand (Day 22)
"Lullaby for a Daughter" by Mary Jo Salter (Day 23)
"I Ask My Mother to Sing" by Li-Young Lee (Day 24)
"Let Me Think" by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Agha Shahid
Ali, trans.) (Day 25)
from "Riding ona Railway Train" by Ogden Nash,
AND from "Antigone (lines 879-886)" by Sophocles,
translated by Robert Fagles AND "Quies, or Rest,"
by Allen Grossman (Day 26, "Three for Thursday").

"Exile" by Ellen Bryant Voigt (Day 27)
"We Join Spokes Together in a Wheel" by Lao-tzu (Day 28
"El Chicle" by Ana Castillo (Day 29)

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