Raymond Carver’s All of Us

I’ve finally started reading Raymond Carver’s All of Us. I’ll be taking it with me on my upcoming trip to California and should have lots of time to finish it there, though I may not get it posted until I get back, depending on how things go.

Although I was originally attracted to Carver because his poems were set in the Pacific Northwest, the more I read the more I realize that he’s much closer to being a “confessional poet” than a “nature poet.” Still, the fact that I immediately recognized the setting of “Hominy And Rain” probably made it more appealing to me than it might have otherwise have been. That, and the fact that it seems to come very close to expressing the same feelings I touched on in the entry “Altered Ego.”

HOMINY AND RAIN

In a little patch of ground beside
the wall of the Earth Sciences building,
a man in a canvas hat was on
his knees doing something in the rain
with some plants. Piano music
came from an upstairs window
in the building next door. Then
the music stopped.
And the window was brought down.

You told me those white blossoms
on the cherry trees in the Quad
smelled like a can of just-opened
hominy. Hominy. They reminded you
of that. This may or may not
be true. I can’t say.
I’ve lost my sense of smell,
along with any interest I may ever
have expressed in working
on my knees with plants, or
vegetables. There was a barefoot

madman with a ring in his ear
playing his guitar and singing
reggae. I remember that.
Rain puddling around his feet.
The place he’d picked to stand
had Welcome Fear
painted on the sidewalk in red letters.

At the time it seemed important
to recall the man on his knees
in front of his plants.
The blossoms. Music of one kind,
and another. Now I’m not so sure.
I can’t say, for sure.

Its a little like some tiny cave-in,
in my brain. There’s a sense
that I’ve lost – not everything,
not everything, but far too much.
A part of my life forever.
I like hominy.

Even though your arm stayed linked
in mine. Even though that. Even
though we stood quietly in the
dorway as the rain picked up.
And watched it without saying
anything Stood quietly.
At peace, I think. Stood watching
the rain. While the one
with the guitar played on.

Part of what he’s talking about here is probably the result of age, the loss of smell, not to mention the loss of interest in some activities that might have once interested us, like working on our knees with plants, but I think the the “barefoot/ madman with a ring in his ear/ playing his guitar and singing/ reggae” represents more than just the losses of old age. He seems to represent the Dionysian side of human nature, for Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. One only has to think of Zorba the Greek or Yeats’ Wild, Wicked Old Man to know what he fears he has lost.

Although the narrator seems to have found love and is “At peace, I think,” he misses that irrational, ecstatic side of his earlier life, even more surprising when we realize how many of his poems are about an admitted alcoholism that seemed destined to destroy his life and everyone around him.

9 thoughts on “Raymond Carver’s All of Us

  1. I don’t know how you do it Loren but you always seem to pick a subject relevant to what is happening to me, particularly today on my retirement day reflecting on my “irrational, ecstatic earlier life”. Thank you.

  2. I also have a copy of Carver’s Collected Poems. I think some of them, many of them, are very fine. He had a great natural gift for poetry just as much as for short story writing. I look forward to your future comments on Carver. Certainly confessional – but we’re not talking navel-gazing here like Sexton or Plath!

  3. GRAVY

    No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
    Gravy.
    Gravy, these past ten years.
    Alive, sober, working, loving, and
    being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
    ago he was told he had six months to live
    at the rate he was going. And he was going
    nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
    somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
    After that it was all gravy, every minute
    of it, up to and including when he was told about,
    well, some things that were breaking down and
    building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
    he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
    I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
    expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”
    (Raymond Carver)

    LATE FRAGMENT

    And did you get what
    you wanted from this life, even so?
    I did.
    And what did you want?
    To call myself beloved, to feel myself
    beloved on the earth.
    (Raymond Carver)

    One of the finest of poets of immense gratitude in the midst of loss.

    Looking forward to spending time with ALL OF US, loren.

  4. I am pretty sure the loss of smell related to his progressive cancer; perhaps even to treatments.
    Different in style, but with a similar feel for life and loss, Kenneth Patchen’s brief poems in his (self)illustrated booksare still findable in some stores.
    The one that comes to my mind first is:

    The animal I wanted
    Couldn’t get into the world…
    I can hear it crying
    When I sit like this away from life.

  5. Congratulations, Rudi!

    Yes, sw. I’d intended to distinguish his confessionalism from the others but forgot to do so.

  6. Just found your blog serching for a copy of Gravy to share with a friend. I have been doing a personal study of this collection of his complete works for nearly a year … a poem a day. I am in the final book in this collection … New Path to the Waterfall and am dreading the day when I get to the final poem. This book speaks to me on so many personal levels and I grieve the poems he had yet to write when he died …

What do you think?