Thursday, October 2, 2008


Two wonderful writers have left this earth for the great beyond: James Crumley and Hayden Carruth.  Both men bore more than a superficial resemblence to each other.  Both loathed power and greed.  They came from opposite ends of the country, Carruth from Connecticut, Crumley from south Texas.  They both flirted with fame, words, demons and death.  Both spoke for the underpriviledged, the brutalized, the down-trodden.  Both gave voice to the voiceless, Crumley as a brawler, Hayden as a poet and clown.  Here most resemblances end.
Crumley was often called a cross between Raymond Chandler and Hunter Thompson.  His earlier novels, particluarly The Last Good Kiss (obliquely starring the poet Richard Hugo) were written with the genre in mind.  His later novels, particularly Bordersnakes, were peregrinations across landscapes controlled by brutal gods and fought by violent red necks on acid (and these were the good guys).  Crumley took the hard-drinking, hard-loving, indestructible and ultimately sentimental PI so far over the top that at times a hero like Sughrue became a caricature.  I was a student of Crumley's at the University of Montana, and remember him saying once that he never knew what was going to happen from one page to the next.  "If I've got it all charted out, I'm bored, and if I'm bored, the reader is certainly bored. There were times though in his later work where he'd seemed lost in a tangle of lose ends he was trying to tie together.  Still, Missoula will not be the same without Crumley holding court at Charlie B's or the Depot.  He was a minor god in my former small town.
Carruth's poetry was plain spoken, owing to the same impulses that power Ted Kooser or (perhaps) Billy Collins, to communicate with ordinary people.  He wanted to make poetry matter.  He often came across as a crumudgeon, a crank, an old hermit living up in the woods.  I've always favored his poem Economics.


Well, Mr. C, he's somewhat weird.

Worms are living in his beard.

He gives them to the fisher trade

Who bring him trout and pike and bass

With which his hunger is allayed

While he sits comfy on his ass.

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