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The Baltimore Sun


Editor, critic and poet

Hayden Carruth, an editor, critic and poet who earned recognition late in his 50-year writing career for powerful work that explored the struggles, loves and desires of people who made their living with their hands, as he did for two decades, died Monday at his home in the small central New York town of Munnsville after a series of strokes.

Called a poet's poet for his technical mastery of forms from the sonnet to free verse, he wrote more than 20 books of poetry and prose, much of which emanated from the hardscrabble Vermont farm where he lived for 20 years.

In 1996 when he was 75, he won the National Book Award for Poetry for his collection Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey. It was arguably the most prestigious prize among many that he received since publishing his first volume of poems in 1959. But it was bestowed without the excessively shy Mr. Carruth, who did not attend the ceremony.

He was an outsider in most respects: a self-proclaimed anarchist, who wrote unflatteringly of his family; an alcoholic who suffered from paralyzing phobias; a poet who lived on a hill farm far removed from the literary mainstream.

"Hayden Carruth is vast; he contains multitudes," poet David Barber once wrote. "Of the august order of American poets born in the Twenties, he is undoubtedly the most difficult to reconcile to the convenient branches of classification and affiliation, odd man out in any tidy scheme of influence and descent."

Born on Aug. 3, 1921, in Waterbury, Conn., where his father was a newspaper editor, he studied journalism at the University of North Carolina, earning a bachelor's degree in 1943. After serving in Italy with the Army during World War II, he used the GI Bill to further his education at the University of Chicago. There he discovered that poetry was his true calling.

After earning a master's in Chicago in 1948, he went to work for Poetry magazine, which had published some of his poems. He became its editor in 1950 and wrote a controversial defense of Ezra Pound, the modernist poet charged with treason for his pro-Fascist views.

A short time later, he lost his job. Then his first wife left him, taking with her their newborn daughter.

He found a new job, at the University of Chicago Press, and he remarried.

In 1961, he married for the third time and with his new wife, Rose Marie Dorn, had a son, David. Because he still said that he "couldn't function in a social situation," they moved to a farm in Johnson, Vt., about 25 miles from the Canadian border, where he worked outdoors everyday, chopping wood, digging potatoes and cutting hay.

When he wasn't toiling on his own farm, he was working for his equally poor neighbors. And way past midnight, when the chores were done, he wrote about them, in poems tightly packed with the details of their daily struggles.

When he no longer could make ends meet, Mr. Carruth reluctantly accepted a job teaching English at Syracuse University in 1979. He taught there for a dozen years, near the end of which - after a romantic flameout in 1988 - he tried to kill himself by taking every pill in his possession.

During his recovery, he was cared for by poet Joe-Anne McLaughlin, 30 years his junior, who had met him as a student. After friendship deepened into romance, they were married in 1989.

She survives him, along with his son and three grandchildren.

He wrote and published well into his ninth decade, despite having emphysema, a heart condition and strokes.

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