He has created over the last twenty years a poetry of great tenderness in praise of the farming landscape and its human keepers. -- Les Murray
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About Jim Carruth
Jim Carruth was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, in 1963. He grew up on his family’s far near Kilbarchan, and studied for a degree in Geology at Glasgow University. After spending time in Turkey, he returned to Scotland, where he now works for the National Health Service. He began writing poetry in his thirties. He has published numerous collections of poetry, including Bovine Pastoral (Ludovic Press, 2004), Prodigal (Mariscat Press, 2014) and Black Cart (Freight Books, 2017). He has received much recognition for his work including a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship and the James McCash Poetry Prize, while his verse novel, Killochries (Freight Books, 2015) was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize, the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize and the Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Award. In 2014 he was appointed Poet Laureate of Glasgow.
Much of Carruth’s work is intimately concerned with the landscapes, histories and changing agricultural practices of rural Renfrewshire. Many poems offer precise descriptons of farming processes, which are rendered all the more vivid by the visual arrangement and prosodic character of the text. In a poem like ‘Stack’, Carruth extends a series of syntactically-complex sentences across three haystick-like stanzas, finding in this material a rich, idiosyncratic music:
No less musical the relentless putt putt judder
of an old elevator, black smoke signalling its effort
the stiff lever cranking up the angle of ascent
the conveyer’s ribbed belt struggling to send up
single file blocks of hay to be caught at the top
by coarse-handed inmates of that shrinking space
bare backs hunched inches from the tin’s hot girdle
a sauna stinging eyes blood red with salted sweat.
Formulations like ‘putt putt judder’, or the description, elsewhere, of a ram as ‘all droop and dangle, aroma of foot rot damp’ give a sense of Carruth’s sensitivity to the sound of words, his close attention to the pheomenal world, and his willingness to follow an intuitive, rather than standardised syntax. In this regard – as well as in its celebration of the local, and its elegiac engagement with the rapidly changing nature of rural life – Carruth’s work brings to mind that of both the Romantic poet John Clare and the Amercian modernist William Carlos Williams. Like these poets, Carruth pays close attention to landscapes and traditional practices precisely becausee they are endangered by larger technological and societal shifts. As such, there is an ethical dimension to his descriptions. One of Carruth’s quieter, more elegiac works in this mode is ‘Farm Sale’:
Everything is numbered and must go
so he sits at the back of the shed
while the crowd picks over the final lots.
He lays his cap flat on his knee,
slowly stretches stiff finger
to find the faded cross hatch flecks
tracing each tweed field on his bonnet,
whispering their sweet names to himself,
walking the boundaries of his lost world.
Against the backdrop of vast changes in industry, community and tradition – a whole ‘lost world’ – the poem concentrates on the smallest of details. This is a characteristically understated and moving gesture, by a poet who understands the potency of the particular. Carruth’s powerful and deliberate readings of hiis poems reinforce the sense that every syllable of this welcoming, rigorous body of work is carefully weighted and considered.
His recording was made at The Tun, Edinburgh on June 13th 2017, with Paul Sumerling as producer.
Poems by Jim Carruth
The Progressive Canadian Barn Dance - Jim Carruth
Featured in the Archive
Books by Jim Carruth
Ludovic Press, 2004
Ludovic Press, 2006
Baxter’s old ram sang the blues
Ludovi Press, 2007
Ludovic Press, 2008
Grace Notes 1959
Dreadful Night Press, 2010