In the late '70s and early '80s, Raymond Carver's spare, moving fiction had an impact on American letters like nothing before or since. But Carver began life as a poet, and it might be argued that in their striking rhythms, their almost lyric compression, his stories resemble nothing so much as narrative verse. In All of Us
, his collected poems, we find what his widow, Tess Gallagher, calls "the spiritual current out of which he moved to write the short stories." Played out against the quintessential Carver emotional landscapes of loneliness and alcohol and not enough money, these poems seem to contain the seeds of his stories within them, sometimes caught in a single image, line, or idea. Any Carver aficionado will experience shivers of recognition while reading this volume: how the final moments of "My Dad's Wallet" ("our breath coming and going") transmute into the "human noise we sat there making" in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"; the way the early poem "Distress Sale" resonates in the garage sale of his "Why Don't We Dance."
"The poems give themselves as easily and unselfconsciously as breath," Gallagher writes in her introduction, and it's true. But just because they are plainspoken, don't mistake these for the doodles of a fiction writer whiling away the time between stories. Carver's poems have a lyric momentum all their own, never more evident than in his final poems, written months and in some cases just weeks before his death; Carver seems to have broken away from everything but the simplest and most direct forms of expression. This is language burnished to its essentials, heartbreaking in its very clarity. Witness the final words he ever wrote, in "Last Fragment":
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
That much, surely, he did. Carver lived a decade longer than he had any right to expect, lived to give us some of his most powerful work: two of his three books of stories, almost all of these poems. Nearly dead from alcoholism, he was granted a 10-year reprieve--"pure gravy," he calls that time, in one poem--and so were we. --Mary Park
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From Publishers Weekly
Carver published three major poetry collections during the five years prior to his death in 1988 at age 50. Edited by Univ. of Hartford professor William Stull, and introduced by Carver's widow, the poet Tess Gallagher, this definitive gathering includes those books as published, the posthumous A New Path to the Waterfall, and numerous appendices of previously uncollected poems, notes and sources, and a brief biography. Like the short stories for which he is better known, Carver's poems piercingly observe characters incarcerated by time and circumstance, but whose dreary lives are occasionally ignited by moments of startling clarity. Reading straight through, one is struck by how many of Carver's poems hang on memory, on near forgotten incidents that flash through the poet's mind and produce his peculiarly weighty vignettes. Although Carver concentrated on the poor, bewildered and addicted?among whom he counted himself?readers will notice a marked turn toward the hopeful as they progress. Like the painter of "The Painter & the Fish," Carver, toward the end of his life, "was ready to begin/ again, but he didn't know if one/ canvas could hold it all. Never/ mind. He'd carry it over/ onto another canvas if he had to./ It was all or nothing." Carver put it all into his canvases, and All of Us does a fine job of presenting them for maximum impact.
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