Last winter I spent a leisurely three months reading the more than three-hundred poems in Raymond Carver's "All of Us." Raymond Carver is best known as one of America's preeminent short story writers; but he began his career as a poet and continued writing poetry his entire life.
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Caver's short stories evoke vivid, realistic images of people on the edge of society - in situations that are rarely harmonious. His style is crystalline clear and minimal. His voice is conversational and intimate. And Carver possessed an uncanny ability to compress tremendous feeling into discreet moments - his best poetry reflects all of these qualities, and more.
"All of Us" represents Carver's entire poetic output. The book is comprised of his four major collections: "Fire" (1983), "Where Water Comes Together with Other Waters" (1985), "Ultramarine" (1986), and "A New Path to the Watherfall" (published posthumously in 1989). The book also contains nineteen uncollected poems from "No Heroics, Please: uncollected writings" (1991).
In the late 50's Raymond Carver was a creative writing student of John Gardner. In 1967, he met the editor and writer Gordon Lish - Lish went on to become the fiction editor of Esquire and published several of Carver's stories. A chronic alcoholic, Carver died of lung cancer in 1988. He was 50.
But Raymond Carver spent the last decade of his life in relative contentment with fellow poet Tess Gallagher. They married and Carver stopped drinking. It was dutring this period that he wrote the majority of these poems. In her lengthy introduction to the book, Gallagher writes: "From early to late, the poems are beautifully clear, and this clarity, like the sweet clang of spring water to the mouth, needs no apology. Time spent reading Ray's poems becomes quickly fruitful, for the poems give themselves as easily and unselfconsciously as breath. Who wouldn't be disarmed by poetry which requires so much less of us than it unstintingly gives?"
Here's an example of what she is talking about:
The dusk of evening comes on. Earlier a little rain
had fallen. You open a drawer and find inside
the man's photograph, knowing he has only two years
to live. He doesn't know this, of course,
that's why he can mug for the camera.
How could he know what's taking root inside head
at the moment. If one looks to the right
through boughs and tree trunks, there can be seen
crimson patches of the afterglow. No shadows, no
half shadows. It is still and damp...
The man goes on mugging. I put the picture back
in its place along with the others and give
my attention instead to the afterglow along the far ridge,
light golden on the roses in the garden.
Then, I can't help myself, I glance once more
at the picture. The wink, the broad smile,
the jaunty slant of the cigarette.
Poetry needs no explanation, does it? you either like it or you don't. I truly enjoyed Raymond Carver's "All of Us."