In celebration of National Poetry Month: Hayden Carruth read his poem “Emergency Haying” at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont on May 4, 2008 just a few months before his death. The text of the poem can be read at the Poetry Foundation. (I’m not posting it here in full because that would violate copyright.)
About the poem & the poet
Earlier today I attended an all-college meeting for the College of Health and Social Welfare at UAA, of which my department, the Justice Center, is part. After updates about the activities of the various CHSW departments, our dean, Dr. Cheryl Easley, gave a presentation on modern slavery and human trafficking — as common if not more so today than it was when Carruth wrote this poem. His words till hold true: not the Christ of sacrifice, but the Christ of justice —
. . . My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who
if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say
woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.
The typescript of the poem was put online by Virginia Quarterly Review, where the poem was first published in Spring 1967. An appreciation of Hayden Carruth’s life and work, “Hayden Carruth in VQR: The Earth Too Cried Out for Justice” by Honor Moore, was published on the VQR website in October 2008, shortly after his death. More of his poems can be read at the Poetry Foundation.
Hayden Carruth is one of the great poets — as anyone who went through UAA’s Master of Fine Arts program at the same time I did can tell you — & they’re all right. I remember especially the final meeting of one of MFA class, in December 2007, I think it was, as we were heading toward Winter Solstice: the entire class meeting was devoted to a shared reading of Carruth’s masterwork The Sleeping Beauty (also collected in his Collected Longer Poems) with class members taking turns reading each of the poem’s cantos. I’ve participated in three additional such group readings of The Sleeping Beauty — two of them organized by me — & used lines from it as an epigraph to one of the sections of my MFA thesis —
. . . So this pure loveliness
Of the moving air, unseen equally,
Is truly the world’s breath, truly
The spirit, invisible and from nowhere. . .
That was actually a snowfall scene. Carruth could write snow and winter like nobody’s business.