Carruth’s “Letter to Denise”

I had several poems to choose from that I liked in the last third of the book, but I finally decided on this one, probably because I was surprised, but not really surprised once I remember some of Levertov’s poems, that she and Hayden were apparently close friends, though they lived a continent away from each other.

This poem, though, probably explains why I generally am fond of both of these poets:

Letter to Denise

Remember when you put on that wig
From the grab bag and then looked
In the mirror and laughed, and we laughed together?
It was a transformation, glamorous flowing tresses.
Who knows if you might not have liked to wear
That wig permanently, but of course you
Wouldn’t. Remember when you told me how
You meditated, looking at a stone until
You knew the soul of the stone? Inwardly I
Scoffed, being the backwoods pragmatic Yankee
That I was, yet I knew what you meant. I
Called it love. No magic was needed. And we
Loved each other too, not in the way of
Romance but in the way of two poets loving
A stone, and the world that the stone signified.
Remember when we had that argument over
Pee and piss in your poem about the bear?
“Bears don’t pee, they piss,” I said. But you were
Adamant. “My bears pee.” And that was that.
Then you moved away, across the continent,
And sometimes for a year I didn’t see you.
We phoned and wrote, we kept in touch: And then
You moved again, much farther away, I don’t
Know where. No word from you now at all. But
I am faithful, my dear-Denise. And I still
Love the stone, and, yes, I know its soul.

Although Carruth certainly has a grittier tone to his poems than Levertov does, “piss” versus “pee,” the two share a view toward nature and its relationship to the “soul,” one that I obviously share.

Whether called “love” of nature or “meditation” on nature, both seem to produce the same feeling of oneness. Awareness is, as far as I can tell, the heart of meditation. To me one of the greatest benefits of meditation has been a greater awareness on my walks. The more you pay attention to a place the more you tend to love it, and the more you love it, the more you tend to pay attention.

I felt particularly comfortable reading Toward the Distant Islands, though his poetry, as evidenced by this one, lacked the kind of lyrical intensity that draws me to great poetry.

3 thoughts on “Carruth’s “Letter to Denise”

  1. Didn’t know about the Carruth/Levertov connection;
    so this is interesting for that alone.

    Tried to think of an alternative to “piss” or “pee”
    but all I came up with “hose”–lol.

  2. Just the right poem for today, loren. In the past few days, I’ve been asking myself what the word “soul” means and doesn’t mean to me. Now I can add the thought that at least two poets agree that stones have souls. Entirely helpful!

  3. Hi Loren – long time no visit – thanks for this – and for the Stern poems which I just revisited. I’ve loved Stern a long time, despite not understanding a lot of it, and heard him read/speak last Nov – he’s a legend! Hope all’s good with you and yours.

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