From time to time over the years, I've surfed to your Carl page. I'm
immensely saddened to get word of his passing via your website. I
suppose we all go sometime & Carl lived a fairly full life & I'm sure
he'd say the same.
I was a creative writing major & student of Carl's at Bowling Green in
the '90s (circa. 1992-95), when he was taking a lot of bullshit at the
expense of politically correct stone-throwers. a couple other students
& I recorded depositions on his behalf when that bullshit became a
legal matter. I took 3 of his workshops & saw him often afterwards,
once I'd decided I'd had it with academe ...
... Carl was a very sweet guy, at least to me. I'm sure there are
folks who don't think he was so sweet, but I took a lot from his
workshops and, out of class, he was always hospitable. It's a small
town & we would run into one another now and again & have coffee at a
local joint or he'd stir up some instant coffee at his place (the
ground floor of an old oil-boom mansion he was renting, I believe,
from Howard McCord, though I could be wrong on that). He never once
called me out or even tried to debate politics, in spite of my leftism
& his rightist bent. We talked a lot of music & the conversation
always meandered to poetry -- his work & my fledgling beginning
attempts at work ... I was always left with the impression he must
have liked me, was pulling for me, as he could be quite brief with the
students who didn't seem to 'get it.' As part of that small minority
from that BFA program with actual pubs & who still writes for art's
sake, I can say I took more from Carl than the rest of the other folks
in that time & place. I really liked him.
Our first workshop together, Carl was a replacement for a prof on
medical leave. 1 or 2 of the more snot-nosed students pimped him a
bit, unfairly & mostly because of politics & partly because
20-year-olds tend to confront first and analyze later, I think. He
suggested folks read Pound's "A-B-C of reading" & kids were put off --
it was a workshop, not a lit class. Carl was right, though, because
Gen Xers tend to be fairly unread/unlearned when it comes to actually
knowing & controlling the language. You could have all the desire in
the world, he would say, paraphrasing Pound, or you could love the
So, some snot-nosed, pompous kids got peeved & started to gossip & the
Political Correctness police were set in motion. There was a
nontraditional student named H---- whose husband was fairly tenured in
the English department. She had an axe to grind & grind it she did.
In a workshop of mine, one this H---- was not a part of, Carl took a
poem by a fellow student, Sharon Grohar, & showed her how to make it
flow better by taking out his pocket knife & cutting & rearranging her
lines. Via 2 or 3 generations of hearsay, H---- took that event (which
she never saw with her own eyes, mind you) & spread a story Carl had
pulled a knife on a female student. Very untrue allegations, but
enough to loose the dominoes of institutional ass-covering. When we
taped our statements, Sharon was one of the 3 or 4 students speaking
up on Carl's behalf. He was railroaded. It was probably one of the
darkest moments for what was then a decent program.
Carl had a buzzcut then. He sort of looked like Anthony Hopkins in
"Silence of the Lambs." At a coffee house reading on his 60th
birthday, he read a rewrite of his "Golden Orange Brand," which was
beautiful enough to prompt me to steal the original from the
University library -- after all, Carl had become a poet after burgling
a copy of 'Paterson.' Working with the man changed the way I worked
myself, for the better. Academically, he drew a line in the sand to
separate the folks who *needed* to write from the kids who really
didn't know what they wanted.
3 years ago, I went to a reading by Robert Creeley here in Chicago. At
the reception I introduced myself, told Mr. Creeley I was also a
writing school dropout & we talked a good bit about Carl (& Blackburn
& Ed Dorn ("all of those guys are *so **good**"...) & disgust with
academics. "So, dropping out was probably the smartest thing you've
done," Creeley told me. it was about time. I had walked away from an
oppressive nonprofit career a year earlier to relearn writing out of
need & I finally felt justified.
I don't really know where these paragraphs are going. It's late & I'm
getting things off the chest. I can say I'm completely blown away by
Carl's work over the last 15 years or so. That Buddy Holly Poem, where
he wraps it up making phrases from song titles. So many of the 'bichidin'
pieces, like 'Leni,' 'Riefenstahl,' 'On First Reading Rilke' and so
many more. I always read one of Carl's poems when I feature at my own
readings here & people are always taken to the point where we'll open
up the book & look over a few more of Carl's poems.
So, I suppose I'd like to thank you for maintaining your website &
keeping Carl's work up there for folks to discover. Thank you. &
Martin Jack Rosenblum:
have had the astounding privilege to know Carl Thayler since 1969.
From that first meeting in an Ezra Pound class at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison, where Carl sat there knowing more than the
lecturer and did not feel shy about saying so, until now, as he still
writes the kind of poetry that scares the hell out of poets who
believe they are but are not, I have known Carl Thayler to be the most
courageous and brilliant person and master of words the culture can
produce. He has consistently stuck with his vision, in life and
on the page, while many others, myself included, have tried to adjust,
hiding the secret of vision when necessary to survive. I failed
to adjust anyway. I read Carl now as I did then: with
anticipation for the miracles he finds in common stuff and the flash
of insight that can blind a person even of deep insight.
Thayler's canon is one of strident form and daring content. Each
of his poems brings tears to my eyes that I am still afraid to show.
Were it not for a poet such as Carl Thayler, I would not have had the
guts to bear my own truths. He has always shown me and others
who know what it is to be at the edge of the jump that taking it is
the only landing.
Jack's books include The Werewolf Sequence and his CD's include Down
On The Spirit Farm. He would never have written nor recorded
anything were it not for Carl Thayler's hatred for things maudlin and
boring, acceptable and recognizable.
Martin Jack Rosenblum
Historian Harley-Davidson Motor Company
If I were asked to
make a short list of the best living American poets, it would be this:
Ronald Johnson, Kenneth Irby, Carl Thayler, and Denise Levertov....Carl
Thayler is a great writer, and I hope I live long enough to see him
celebrated as he should be.
When American literature
is finally measured true, the works of Carl Thayler, both his poetry
and his prose, may finally be appreciated for those lasting qualities
of vision, language and structure that have awakened a handful of
readers, most of us writers, to a recognition that he is one of the
best among us.
interview conducted with Dale Smith in JACKET
A: We’re all obviously going through some kind of transformation now,
and there’s a lot of focus on social issues of identity, race and
consciousness. For me, to be responsible in any way to those issues I
have to dig back behind them. It’s impossible to be responsible for
all of history any more, working with it like Pound or Dante before
him. But we can turn ourselves into archeologists, to borrow an idea
think it’s important to be a good finder, because you have to train
yourself, learn for yourself how to look. You have to intuit some
sense of connection and determine for yourself what’s useful to the
art of the poem. The art of finding is possibly more important than
writing poetry right now.
Q: A poet who is very much in the tradition
you speak of is Carl Thayler, someone you “rediscovered,” or
“rescued,” just as he was arguably about to vanish into
irrevocable obscurity (that sounds pretty melodramatic, I’m aware,
but I’d wager it’s probably accurate). [See Mark Wallace's review
# 9, Carl Thayler on Paul Blackburn in
# 12, and five poems by Carl Thayler in
12. — Editor.] You have committed yourself to his work in a
personal and serious way. Can you speak a bit about the “why” of
your dedication to his art?
Well, you introduced me to his work a few years ago and I immediately
took to it. I like what he writes about, which is very often the
American West, and I appreciate the formal rigor of his work. He has a
certain strength of mind that I find important. Carl is also very
sensitive to the syllabic pulse of a poem, and writes in a subtle
music that correlates meaning with cadence. The formal energy of his
poetry demands serious attention.
me he complicates the idea of the American West, because in it he
finds the compelling and contradictory nature of those men who settled
it. Carl’s not a visionary like Burroughs, nor is he an idealist.
His ground is unredeemed, same as Burroughs, but Carl evaluates and
digs through the historic past to retrieve the personae and events
that compose it in his imagination. Burroughs is a romantic whose love
of the outlaw and whose hope for some redeemed life away from
snivelization (to borrow a word from my friend Philip Trussell), led
him to write some very fine novels, especially The Place of Dead
Roads. But that’s a book of magic, a kind of prayer for the
Wilderness inside us all.
works with historic event and he’s not embarrassed to find heroes in
men many of us today might see as villains. In the Poundian sense,
Carl is working with those values that shaped the westward migration
of European peoples. And Carl grew up in California, so the
autobiography figures in as well, because that’s as far west as it
gets. He has tested poetry and himself with the determination of his
active imagination, and that for me is a serious accomplishment.
Besides, poetry is indifferent to obscurity, look at Emily Dickinson.
Poems go out when it’s time. Like Pound says, it’s the quality of
our affection that matters. I think we can only learn to trust our
affections and affinities for the poem and for poets. The rest will
take care of itself.