Raymond Carver, who became a master-storyteller of his generation and was hailed in Europe as 'the American Chekhov', wrote of himself: "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." This complete edition allows readers to experience the range and overwhelming power of Carver's poetry for the first time. It brings together in the order of their American publication the poems of Fires (1985), Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (1986), Ultramarine (1988), A New Path to the Waterfall (1989) and No Heroics, Please (1991). For readers who know Carver's middle period only through his selected poems, In a Marine Light (1988), it includes the windfall of 51 poems not previously published in Britain. All of Us is edited by Professor William L. Stull of the University of Hartford, and introduced with an essay on Raymond Carver's methods of composition by his widow, the poet Tess Gallagher.
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