"I began as a poet, my first publication was a poem. So I suppose on my tombstone I'd be very pleased if they put 'Poet and short-story writer--and occasional essayist' in that order."
Now, in what would have been his sixtieth year, and ten years after his death, Raymond Carver's poems--more than three hundred in all--are collected in this volume, allowing readers to experience their full range and overwhelming cumulative power. This complete edition brings together, in their order of publication, the early poems of Fires, the mature work of Where Water Comes Together with Other Water and Ultramarine, and the last, intensely moving collection, A New Path to the Waterfall. Poems uncollected during his lifetime, but published posthumously in No Heroics, Please, are included in an appendix.
The text has been edited by Professor William L. Stull of the University of Hartford, whose notes address details of first publication and significant variant readings. The introduction by Tess Gallagher, Mr. Carver's widow, provides valuable insights into his methods of composition.
Hailed as our own Chekhov, and certainly the preeminent storyteller of his time, Raymond Carver is revealed in All of Us as the "heir to that most appealing American poetic voice, the lyricism of Theodore Rothke and James Wright" (New York Times). And whether in fiction or verse, his heart, craft, and vision ensure his essential position in modern literature.
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