Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ode to Paul Carroll

The first writer I ever met was Paul Carroll. He was a poet, literary critic, and editor involved with and publishing the beats. He knew the poets and writers I loved: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs.


I was a kid, 18 or 19, a sophomore at the University of Illinois in Chicago, taking English courses and dreaming about writing. I had discovered Kerouac the year before when I bought a copy of his The Subterraneans in a second-hand store, and I couldn't get enough of his spontaneous bop prosody. When a friend told me that the university offered courses in poetry writing, I couldn't believe it. I had never heard of such a thing. Courses in creative writing!

Posted by Picasa

I signed up immediately and ran into Paul Carroll. He was a knock out. A writer who loved poetry in the way that I imagined Shakespeare and Keats and Whitman and Yeats and Eliot and Ginsberg and Kerouac loved poetry.

I ended up taking three courses from him, and they probably shaped my writing more than anything else I learned as an undergrad or grad student.

I never saw Paul Carroll after I graduated from the U of I in Chicago, but the lessons he taught me about writing and what it means to be a writer stayed with me.

A couple of years ago, I read an article by Paul Hoover about Paul Carroll's death. It was a sad piece about his last days, his problems with drinking, his personal problems, and his writing problems. It made me want to write something that would recapture what Carroll meant to me and to a generation of young writers in Chicago in the late 60s. The poem I wrote is called "Ode to Paul Carroll."

Ode to Paul Carroll

(dead these many years but still singing in Heaven
with the Irish angels and the Chinese saints
who drowned in their love of poetry)

Remember me, Paul?

I wrote those weird poems that bad summer of '69

about Jesus burning
the prostitutes up
with His exploding eyes

and about being a mind
blistered astronaut
with nothing to say
to the sun except,
Honey, I'm yours


You were the first poet
I knew

the one who told me
to believe all poets
are brothers and sisters
and poetry is all the poems ever written
and that if you're lucky enough
to still be writing poems
when you're fifty
then you'd know the true grace of poetry

Do you remember that guy
in the red plush beefeater's hat?

He said in class the revolution
would send old farts like you
to the camps with the other assholes proud of their money
and their dick pink ties
and all you said to him was

"Maybe you won't be able to get it up tonight
because you're tired or drunk-but
someday there will be weeks and weeks
when your penis
will just stay a penis
and then,
there you'll be"

We were young and nobody
knew what you were talking about, running
riddles past us like some
Irish Li Po from the back of the yards

I still don't get your Ode to Nijinsky, its blank staring page

And what's behind it?

The lesson that poetry and art
Disappear/vanish before
we can see their dance?

But surely that's not the lesson
you wanted to teach us

You always had faith in poetry and poets,
called them your pals, even the dead ones
like Wordsworth and Milton
Dickinson and Yeats,
pals sharing a ragged pencil nub and sneaking smokes
between visions of angels
and teacups and Picasso
bald and 80 among the true Chinese poets

Our brothers and our sisters

You'd tell us stories about poets drowning
in their love of poetry
and you'd lick your lips
And say, Yes, Yes, and Yes
As if some great meal
Had just been served

When you died I read in the Chicago papers
that your last days
weren't so lucky
your wife gone, you
drinking too much and searching for James Wright
in the yuppie bars around Division and Clark

When I read that I thought maybe
you were wrong
about how Yeats's Chinese grace
could keep a man alive
and a drunk sober

But reading your
last poems again last night
I saw you were right

So I went to the library and stole
a copy of Odes, your first poems

and read your Nijinsky poem again


Carroll's books are apparently out of print, but they are available at Amazon. I especially recommend his book Odes and Poem in its Skin.

There's not much about Carroll on the internet. I haven't been able to find any of his poems there, but there is a good short piece about him at the University of Chicago site. Also, there's a youtube posted by Bob Boldt of Carroll talking about poetry.

By the way, I got the opening photo of Carroll at the University of Chicago site. The other guy in the picture is Allen Ginsberg.

The second photo? That's me.


Bob Champ said...

I spent a couple of quarters at University of Illinois at Chicago Circle back in the mid-1970s (later transferred to Loyola U.). I never know Carroll but certainly knew him as a name in the Chicago poetry scene. If I remember correctly he had a very interesting program called "The Poem in Its Skin," in which he talked to and about poetry. I bought one of his books, but have since lost track of it. . Reading your post and listening to the interview, I'm sorry now that I didn't make an effort to connect with him in some way, if only by sending him a few poems.

Thanks for bringing up h is name in this forum.

Bob Champ

Anonymous said...

The first writer I met was the poet William D. Snodgrass who was a guest lecturer during the Olivet College Creative Arts Summer Camp when I was lucky enough to attend. I was a rising senior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit in the summer of 1963. Christina Pacosz

Anonymous said...

Thank you John -- it was wonderful to read your "Ode to Paul Carroll" and your blog about him and his influence on you . . . how fortunate you were to have encountered such a memorable writer "crazy with poetry".

Gloria said...

Hi John-
I enjoyed what you wrote.

The first writer I ever met was Truman Capote. I met him at a private literary gathering in Illinois. He was charming and oh such a character! I liked him. My best memory of the whole time was Truman sitting in a huge overstuffed chair and me sitting on the floor next to him talking.

A time I will never forget.

Thanks John-
Gloria Mindock, Cervena Barva Press

Jean Braithwaite said...

How famous a writer do they have to be to count? The first person I had any serious dealings with who I knew had published a (creative) book was Terrell Miedaner, author of *The Soul of Anna Klane*, a kind of philosophico-spiritual thriller. It was excerpted in Dennett and Hoftstadter's *The Mind's I*, and that's probably the high point of his creative resume. As a teenager I thought once you had published a book you were automatically a success, so I was surprised that Terrell didn't seem more satisfied with what he'd achieved. He'd been a physicist with (I guess) a university job, then he was a one-book author, and then, during the years he was closest to my family, he kind of stepped off the professional track, never got a second book published, and even fell all the way out of the middle class, at least for a while: e.g., he had a broken arm that he splinted himself, because he didn't want to pay a doctor.

At the time, it meant a lot to me to have these intense conversations with a *published author* and deep thinker. I thought it validated my own intellectual worth. I wouldn't have admitted it, but I thought of artistic or professional pursuits as the arenas in which rare intellects were sorted out from ordinary people.

Now I think talent, or aptitude anyway, is not at all rare. And that the shape anyone's life takes has a larger amount of randomness in it than either talent or even exertion (they may be necessary but they sure aren't sufficient). I wonder how Terrell is doing these days?

Nancy Webb said...

Wonderful to have a teacher that shaped your writing, that you still remember with love.

My first meeting with a writer was probably Roger Zelazny, creative science fiction story writer whose stories I still remember when others have faded.

Anonymous said...

Comment from Bob Boldt:

Way back in 1961, I attended a reading that celebrated the initiation of "Chicago Choice," a poetry magazine Paul Carroll co-edited. The headlined poet reading that afternoon was e.e. cummings in the flesh! Later, when I returned to my studio, I read Paul Carroll's poem in the magazine: "You, Gulls, Three Ghosts". It moved me so greatly that I found myself returning to it over and over again over the years.

Years later, when I produced a video (see streaming video linked here) about Paul, I asked him about the poem. His eyes grew misty and he pulled an ancient picture out of his wallet. It was one of those accidental photographs taken by a wandering commercial street photographer so popular back then. They would snap pictures of people out on the town and hand them an envelope they would then send in and, for a fee, have returned the picture they had snapped. It was a picture of Junie from the poem. He never forgot her. She was the one that got away.

Here is the poem.

You, Gulls, Three Ghosts by Paul Carroll



here. Sun seldom

sleet &

the rawboned winds.

But I see you in Paris, dear,

rummaging around the Flea Market

as if you're searching for that Russian petticoat

embroidered by your mother for her wedding-day.

Or in a café,

sketching: trying to catch

the flip and sneer,

and the quick grace

Of the Paris rhetoric

around you.

Or in the Luxembourg-

a mild breeze crinkling through the tufts of buds

& your dark hair.

But seven months of separation

can turn affection to a photograph-

no flesh and blood

to it. Like the dream I had two nights ago

which I cant seem to shake:

Somehow I was hooting in my highschool stadium.

Clammy. Drzzly. Almost spring.

Beneath the hometeam goal post

six men in stovepipe hats

drew bead with dueling pistols.

But they shot blanks. Puffs of smoke

became a flock of frantic birds

scooping above me as I waded through alfalfa

somewhere in the Blue ridge Mountains of Virginia.

My arm

(or was it yours?)

bound in a sling

flung around

the shoulder of my friend

Frank Guest.

I think I felt ecstatic. But a tractor,

chugging, muffled what I had to say to him.

Arm became

an empty

flapping sleeve.

Or ghost.

Or bird maybe.

On the way to work this morning

I walked along the Oak St. beach

a wedge of fog

obscured the traffic

& the lake. Suddenly

dead friends began to flutter at the margin of my thoughts

just like the gulls above, sweet,


but for the swoosh

of wings. That handful:

a girl named Ruth I knew in college,

the sleet-bit look about her eyes

so like this spring hard,

uncompromising in the knowledge of

how niggardly are our attempts to touch.

Or try to talk


And frank. Now a photograph like her.

How stubbornly he would insist

the age we live in is corrupt, lacking

(as perhaps it does)

any traffic with the preternatural.

Still. His love was ingrown, too

fiercely reticent. As if,

despite the good soil his intellect was rooted in,

he secretly believed the God he got from Plato & Augustine

was ignorant and stunted as his alcoholic father.

Kit Carney, too:

lost in the multiplication of his public self

frightened by the silence in his heart.

And you, Junie. Last & most.

Sometimes I think you are the blood

circulating in my arm. But even as I write, dear,

I cannot help but wonder if

even at our best

we too don't cultivate

that curious corruption

I sought for in the others:

the unspoken guarantee that

regardless of how firm this present love

it will become a gull abandoned in the fog.

-- Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll said...

This is the most information I've ever been able to find on Paul Carroll the poet. I'm a writer with the same name - I was drawn to try find out what I could about him! I'll have to try get one of his poetry books, soon! Thanks for writing about him.

John Guzlowski said...

Thanks for stopping by, Paul.