Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Raymond Carver

by lizard

Raymond Carver is probably more known for his short stories than his poems, but he’s one of those writers—like Jim Harrison—who can do both fiction and poetry with skill.

Here’s a bit of his history from the NYT obit (he died in 1988):

Mr. Carver was born on May 25, 1938, in Clatskanie, Ore., to Clevie Raymond Carver, a sawmill worker, and the former Ella Beatrice Casey, a waitress. He was brought up in a gray tract house in Yakima, Wash., a mile from Bachelor Creek, where he began a lifelong love affair with fishing. Start in Storytelling

Frog, as he was nicknamed, used to sit at the foot of his parents’ bed and listen to his father read from Zane Grey books or tell his own tales of hunting and fishing.

Before long, the boy was telling his own stories, amateurish efforts at escapism that drew groans from the grown-up Carver when he recalled them in the 1988 interviews. It was not until he went to Chico State College in California in 1958 and took John Gardner’s creative writing course that he became serious about writing.

”He galvanized me,” Mr. Carver said. ”He told me who to read and helped me learn to write. He opened a door for me.”

It just so happens I picked up this book today, Carver’s Collected poems, titled All of US.

As I flipped through it, a poem jumped out at me, demanding I write this post immediately. So here it is. Enjoy!



It’s what the kids nowadays call weed. And it drifts
like clouds from his lips. He hopes no one
comes along tonight, or calls to ask for help.
Help is what he’s most short on tonight.
A storm thrashes outside. Heavy seas
with gale winds from the west. The table he sits at
is, say, two cubits long and one wide.
The darkness in the room teems with insight.
Could be he’ll write an adventure novel. Or else
a children’s story. A play for two female characters,
one of whom is blind. Cutthroat should be coming
into the river. One thing he’ll do is learn
to tie his own flies. Maybe he should give
more money to each of his surviving
family members. The ones who already expect a little
something in the mail first of each month.
Every time they write they tell him
they’re coming up short. He counts heads on his fingers
and finds they’re all surviving. So what
if he’d rather be remembered in the dreams of strangers?
He raises his eyes to the skylights where rain
hammers on. After a while—
who knows how long?—his eyes ask
that they be closed. And he closes them.
But the rain keeps hammering. Is this a cloudburst?
Should he do something? Secure the house
in some way? Uncle Bo stayed married to Aunt Ruby
for 47 years. Then hanged himself.
He opens his eyes again. Nothing adds up.
It all adds up. How long will this storm go on?

—Raymond Carver

  1. Turner

    Years ago I was in a creative writing class at Humboldt State College with Carver. He was married and working in a mill at the time. I was an angst-ridden no-talent with vague dreams of becoming a writer.

    I remember one story in particular that he shared with the class (our instructor R. C. Day and three other students). It was very simple — a guy coming home tired from working a night shift job and discussing with his wife whether or not they’d have sex. I remember how shocked I was at the time at the passionless matter-of-factness of the married couple’s relationship. It didn’t comport with my naive ideas about conjugal love.

    I think the story was really about being very tired.

  2. This is one of my favorite Carver poems to teach.

    October. Here in this dank, unfamiliar kitchen
    I study my father’s embarrassed young man’s face.
    Sheepish grin, he holds in one hand a string
    of spiny yellow perch, in the other
    a bottle of Carlsbad Beer.

    In jeans and denim shirt, he leans
    against the front fender of a 1934 Ford.
    He would like to pose bluff and hearty for his posterity,
    Wear his old hat cocked over his ear.
    All his life my father wanted to be bold.

    But the eyes give him away, and the hands
    that limply offer the string of dead perch
    and the bottle of beer. Father, I love you,
    yet how can I say thank you, I who can’t hold my liquor either,
    and don’t even know the places to fish?

  1. 1 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Raymond Carver […]

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