What About Raymond Carver?

Though Raymond Carver published only a handful of books in his lifetime, he is often considered one of the great American short story writers. Debate still exists as to whether to consider Carver a minimalist for his frequent use of sparse language, a voice of the working class for his commitment to ‘ordinary’ characters, or a champion of “dirty realism” for his frank depictions of modern American life. But no matter how you might regard his work, Carver’s legacy and reputation have only grown since his death in 1988, at the age of 50.

“Well, of course I had to keep him on a leash,” his mother, Ella Carver, said much later — and seemingly without irony. Mrs. Carver might have had the right idea. Like the perplexed lower-middle-class juicers who populate his stories, Carver never seemed to know where he was or why he was there.

Born in Oregon in 1938, Carver soon moved with his family to Yakima, Wash. In 1956, the Car­vers relocated to Chester, Calif. A year later, Carver and a couple of friends were carousing in Mexico. After that the moves accelerated: Paradise, Calif.; Chico, Calif.; Iowa City, Sacramento, Palo Alto, Tel Aviv, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Cupertino, Humboldt County . . . and that takes us up only to 1977, the year Carver took his last drink.

His two passions were stories (which he failed to get published despite a strong work ethic for submissions) and Maryann Burk, a local girl four years his junior. When his parents moved to California for work, Carver already had the plans in motion for their marriage.

The relationship between Raymond and Maryann would define much of Carver’s life. Within two years of marriage, they’d had two children, Christine and Vance. Most of their early life was fraught with financial difficulty. Carver’s passion for writing was intense, but was at odds with his disdain for any other kind of work. As such, Maryann tended to act as breadwinner, usually through waitress jobs, as she supported Carver’s attempts to get recognized and also his attempts to earn a college degree, a goal thwarted by both financial trouble and Carver’s insecurities.

Carver’s most important break came through a long-time friend, Gordon Lisch, who had become an editor at Esquire. Through the connection, Carver published his first major-press collection, the Lisch-edited Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? In the years following, he and Maryann finally separated and Carver gained control of his drinking. The book was widely praised, and it is clear in light of his biography how well he made use of the sadness and desperation he had experienced in his own life and those of his lower middle-class communities.

From there, Carver’s fortunes improved. Sober and committed, Carver published another collection – What We Talk about When We Talk About Love – and though it’s often criticized as having been too heavily edited by Lisch, it won even more acclaim than the previous collection. Along with another poetry book (Fires), Carver then prepared his final collection of all-new stories, considered by many to be his masterpiece: Cathedral. In this time, Carver met and moved in with Tess Gallagher, a poet who would eventually become his wife and partner until his death.

Financially stable through both fellowships and book sales, Carver spent his final few years cementing his reputation as a great American literary figure. His relationships with his mother, Maryann, and his children grew stronger. And then he was diagnosed with cancer.

On August 2, 1988, Carver died from lung cancer at the age of 50. He is buried at Ocean View Cemetery in Port Angeles, Washington. The inscription on his tombstone reads:

LATE FRAGMENT

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

 

His poem “Gravy” is also inscribed.

raymond-carver

 

A love Poem

1          Love poem

 

My butterfly life, never settling with the flower of a wife,

I wonder if I am capable of true love or if I am cursed to wonder.

How my arms ache to hold, how my lips burn to kiss

But, I do not want a butterfly wife.

I don’t want a pretty little miss who doesn’t mind who she kisses,

I am a man who needs a real wife.

 

I am a man with a butterfly life. I am not a gypsy,

nor travelling salesman who sells potions and lotions from door to door.

I do not hunt for a wife only long for a love.

I don’t just want some other cute young tipsy,

nor a woman who has a tendency to mother.

I don’t want women who constantly smother or call you guilty.

 

 

Oh my butterfly life I need an anchor.

Life so fleeting, that it is constantly moving and never settles too long.

I have been through so many changes and have had so many stages.

Some say I am pretty, and for my flesh hanker.

Say that I am infamous, that I’m famous, because I own many pages.

Oh, but, I am also lonely, and desire only her.

 

by S.Bryant

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Poems from writing retreat

I come from
I come from ‘kiddy’ like

From angel named and dad’s girl

From ‘Ser Bear’ can have what she wanted.
I come from Mums are so sensible

From the smell of Jeyes’ Fluid and Tea Tree oil

From dentist visits and “clean up please.”
I come from having a silver cross and my hero’s St Christopher

From talking to myself and him talking calm sense to me.

From “if it’s worth you having baby, it’s worth you fighting for.”
I come from protests at tinned peas

From chocolate please

From “baby is so funny, just like her mummy.”
I come from the smell of Nan’s apple pies

From picking blackberries along the road

From an older man, spinning lies…
I went to “Marry me please”

To a home among tall pine trees

To paper immigration and Canadian contemplation
I went to our broken dream

Then the angriest of screams

Then our marriage ripping at the seams
I came back to Dad’s large arms

To nanny’s home charms

To mummy’s clean and my brokenness unseen.
By SB

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Kidderminster

It’s “Kiddy like”

Its ride your bike.

Its multi-coloured rivers

From factory carpet dippers.

Its many cars on their way

For who would want to stay.

It’s not Birmingham or Worcester

But an intertwined waster,

It’s a town with a city sound.

It’s got no shop centre

Its inhabitant’s dissenter

Its generic supermarkets, Give it some spit.

Its “kiddy like” to have a fight

It’s Park Street’s weed that fills the night,

It’s the canal towpath meet

Its youth who you’ll greet

Its police ASBO warnings

It’s yawning but not at all boring

It’s my gang and our click.

“You Jubilee Drive or Brinton chick?”

Are you ‘kiddy’ Harriers Proud?

It’s Saturday massing Saturday crowd.

“Yer it’s kiddy like”

It’s “get on ya bike!” or “take a hike!”

If you’re not ‘kiddy’ like.

By SB

The phoenix and the rose

The phoenix and the rose

How they stare in wonder

How they speak in whisper

Lookup to my brother

Looking at your golden glamour

Their awe you devour

For it gives you the power

And me my blood flower

We, you and I know

From the same ashes did grow

We both had to travel

Though a change so dreadful

The doubtful, fearful and dismal

From the crumbled ashes

New hope thrashes and flashes

The glint in our eyes

To our enemies surprise

Both you and I give rise

To new hopes and out cries

We move on, we survive

In the worlds adversity now thrive

Ours is the victory, nature contradictory.

artwork WEA 001

WEA Paint and Poem Workshop

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Evening At Sea

Come set sail with me in my green boat

As our evening turns blue and we just float,

Come let us drift to the remote.

Don’t worry about the stormy sky

All will fade as time goes by

I know how life can make us cry

So come set sail with me and we can all drift free.