Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Raymond Carver’

“Half Hours on Earth” (For Molly)

In Poems on April 26, 2009 at 1:35 pm

M. Standfast, Auckland

The quality of experience in half hours
is not uniform.
Some half hours are simply wasted
in others, something occurs
and leads into something else.
Other half hours pass quickly
they are maintenance,
but leave little residue.

“Half hours on earth
what are they worth?
I don’t know.”

With the occasional half hour
something actually happens,
in the Raymond Carver sense,
something that matters.
The air is charged and thin,
butterflies roil one’s viscera
and something is on the line.

“Half hours on earth
what are they worth?”

These electric half hours
even those isolated in time
are frightening, or better
giddily upsetting, and dangerous.
They sear themselves into the memory
more–they ripple the fabric of the cosmos.

“Half hours on earth.”

Editor’s Note: The title and refrain for this poem are borrowed from the song “Trains Across the Sea” by the Silver Jews. See the Lost and Found page for the full song lyric.

On Raymond Carver’s “Fires”

In 20th c. Literature on January 25, 2009 at 10:20 pm

c10797Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Raymond Carver is not one of my very favorite writers, but his work is full of resonant nuggets of greatness that linger long after one puts him down. Fires, contains four essays, a number of poems and half a dozen or so stories. Carver has useful things to say about using common language in writing, although he arguably makes a fetish of it. The best things in the book are a handful of poems, and the one standout work seems to be “The Baker.” Other excellent poems include: “Iowa Summer,” “For Serma with Martial Vigor,” “Looking for Work,” “Cheers.” Fires also includes a lengthy poem on Bukowski where Carver appears to be recounting an evening’s worth of Bukowski’s conversation. Good stuff, but not of overwhelming interest except to Bukowski fanatics.

The essays, on his father, on writing, are very sharp. Carver’s prose, as he himself admits, tends to be lean, approaching flat, but accumulates force on that account: “If the words are heavy with the writer’s own unbridled emotions, or if they are imprecise and inaccurate for some reason-if the words are in any way blurred-the reader’s eyes will slide right over them and nothing will be achieved” (“On Writing”). This is fundamentally true and great–the statement has a corollary, if the words are just right, the reader’s eyes will stick, and come back to them for a second look, even though they were taken in the first time.

Little things register. From the title story: “On the other end of the line was the voice of a man who was obviously a black man, someone asking for a party named Nelson. It was the wrong number and I said so and hung up.” Here, decisiveness of language (“and I said so”) fused with perfect choice of noun phrase “a party named Nelson” achieve a remarkable force. Sometime his terms are loaded with meaning because Carver’s paragraphs tend to close where other writer’s would just be beginning: (his motto: “Don’t explain. Don’t complain.”): “I really don’t feel that anything happened in my life until I was twenty and married and had the kids. Then things started to happen.” Fin. What does he mean? does he mean happen, like, “that’s really happening man,” or just happen, as in, flatly events transpired. We are left to guess; the paragraph ends. Continue Reading