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Scott DeKatch

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 language.

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. & Again.


Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum:

I 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.

Dr. Martin Jack Rosenblum
Historian Harley-Davidson Motor Company
October 2001

Martin 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.


Howard McCord:

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.


Phillip F. O'Connor:

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.


Kent Johnson:
From an 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 from Olson.

I 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 in
Jacket # 9, Carl Thayler on Paul Blackburn in Jacket # 12, and five poems by Carl Thayler in Jacket 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?

A: 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.

For 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.

Carl 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.


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