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SU's Creative Writing program remembers Hayden Carruth

Former SU creative writing professor Hayden Carruth is honored "over his dead body"

Hayden Carruth had quite the imagination. That, mixed with his astute observations and ideas, his genius and his principles, made him a great poet. It's just that simple.

On Sept. 12, his friends, family and admirers came to celebrate Carruth's life and poetry high up on the hill at Setnor Auditorium in Syracuse University's Crouse College of Music. The handsome wood paneled floor to ceiling room with its colorful glass windows and dramatic chandeliers complete with its American-made Walter Holtkamp Organ was the perfect setting to honor this former SU Creative Writing professor.

Hayden Carruth was born Aug. 3, 1921 and died on Sept. 29, 2008. He would have especially enjoyed the irony of this gathering, not literally over his dead body; as his lovely and vivacious wife Joe-Anne McLaughlin Carruth stated right off that Hayden hadn't wanted a memorial service.

She added that the poet Brooks Haxton heroically ignored his friend and colleague's wish. After all, the afternoon could have been considered a poetry reading of sorts.

Consider that several great writers read from the great poet's work with pauses to listen to the American "old timey" music Carruth and Joe-Anne had particularly enjoyed. The music selections, which included "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?" "Please Don't Talk About Me When I Am Gone," "Bottom Blues," "So We'll Go No More A-Roving," and "St. James Infirmary," were smart, sad, funny, exciting, simple and eccentric - sound familiar?

"Hayden Carruth was a gentle, gifted man (though with a marvellously ornery side) who suffered such inner mental torment that he wiped himself off the American poetic map for many years.

"It was only in relatively old age that he enjoyed the acclaim and rewards his talent deserved, though by then he had developed what a profile writer described as an enduring 'respect for disappointment.' His mental suffering was comparable to that of his more famous contemporaries (John Berryman and Robert Lowell in particular), but there was never any career benefit in it for Carruth, and his final flourishing occurred despite his psychological troubles, not because of them," wrote Andrew Rosendheim in October of 2008 in his remembrance piece for The Independent, "Hayden Carruth: Poet who produced work of 'unapologetic affection' despite lifelong struggles with mental illness."

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