Carruth’s Early Life and Education:
Hayden Carruth was born in Connecticut in 1921, son and grandson of writers and editors. He studied journalism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, met his first wife Sara Hudson there, and when the two graduated in 1943, they married and both enlisted in the Army. After the end of World War II, Carruth and his wife used the GI bill to enter graduate school at the University of Chicago, where they both earned master’s degrees in 1947. He had been writing poems since he was very young, but this was his real introduction to modern poetry, particularly Pound and Eliot, the literary life, and jazz music.
Young Editor in the Big City:
While he was at the University of Chicago, Carruth’s poems had begun to be published, some of them in Poetry magazine
, the Chicago-based purveyor of modernist American poetry founded by Harriet Monroe in 1912. When he realized he didn’t want a professor’s life, he left school and got a job at Poetry
, and in 1950, he was named editor of the magazine. His tenure there was brief — he shifted the focus of Poetry
away from publishing only verse, campaigned on behalf of Ezra Pound and those who awarded him the Bollingen Prize, clashed with the magazine’s trustees, and was ultimately asked to resign after less than a year.
Breakdown and Life in “the Loony Bin” :
Soon after Carruth lost the editorship at Poetry, his wife left him, taking their new baby daughter away with her. During the next year he worked in publishing in Chicago and New York, married again and suffered the end of that marriage as well, and his life spiraled down into anxiety, alcohol and suicidal depression. In 1953 he entered Bloomingdale, a private psychiatric hospital in New York where he was given electroshock treatment and stayed for 15 months. He suffered from severe agoraphobia, was never again able to live in the city, and struggled all his life against depression and the temptation to suicide.
Surviving on the Fringe:
After his stay in the hospital, Carruth lived an isolated life, staying in his parents’ attic for 5 years and then in a Connecticut cottage belonging to James Laughlin of New Directions
. He supported himself doing contract work at home as a book reviewer, blurb writer, ghostwriter, editor and typist, what he called “hack work” — but he always wrote poems, and in 1959 published his first collection, The Crow and the Heart
, in which he invented his own new form, a sonnet-like 15 lines he called a “paragraph.” In 1961 he married Rose Marie Dorn, and they moved to a remote farm in northern Vermont with their son David.
The Vermont Farm:
Carruth lived on the farm for 20 years and the isolation and hard physical work suited him, although it was always difficult to support his family on farm work and his contract literary jobs. Many of his best-loved poems are portraits of his country neighbors and descriptions of the hardships of rural life, simple subjects in plain, open-hearted language, the poet at his most direct and plain-spoken, incorporating the speech patterns of the country folk around him into his poems.
Carruth’s Later Life:
Carruth made a partial return to the outer world late in his life, moving from Vermont to teach at Syracuse University and live in the suburbs for 10 years, marrying for the fourth time, and garnering many public accolades and awards, including the National Book Award for poetry in 1996, for his collection Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey (Copper Canyon Press). After giving up teaching, he retired to Munnsville, New York, with his wife, the poet Joe-Anne McLaughlin Carruth. He died at home after several strokes on September 29, 2008.
Books by Hayden Carruth:
- Toward the Distant Islands: New and Selected Poems (poems selected by Sam Hamill, Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
- Doctor Jazz (poems, Copper Canyon Press, 2001)
- Reluctantly (autobiographical essays, Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
- Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey: Poems, 1991 - 1995, winner of the National Book Award, 1996 (poems, Copper Canyon Press, 1996)
- Collected Longer Poems (poems, Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
- Collected Shorter Poems, 1946 - 1991 (poems, Copper Canyon Press, 1992)