Black Cart, by Jim Carruth, published by Freight Books 2017
Jim Carruth describes this as ‘a love poem to a rural community in Scotland. He comes from a farming family in Ayrshire, and this collection is a mixture of description, memory and elegy for a way of life that is changing and quite probably dying out. Parallels with Heaney and Clare come to mind here. His poems are as full of affection, observation and lyric description as Heaney’s, and there is a similar sense that he is heir to a way of life that isn’t for him in Into the Blue, where the poet
Was supposed to
Knock an old soup can off the fence post
But winged a cloud and brought down the sky
with the gun that was an intrinsic part of his father’s identity, or The Trouble With Ploughing, where the young Jim has proved so inept with a tractor he isn’t allowed to try it, and the sense of his vocation as a poet in Searchlight:
I look for them still, listen for their returning voices;
I will them back into the light.
But Heaney’s poetry starts very much with his own relationships, his memories and the way his past, his family, his community and landscape have shaped him – and then becomes his own way of looking at the wider world. Carruth’s is about something else. His complicated relationship with his origins comes through – as how could it not? but it isn’t the focus. The focus is on those people,that landscape, the way those communities lived, in all its beauty, crushing hard work, isolation and anxiety, its particular skills and cherished traditions and its eclipse.
Carruth’s poetry is like Clare’s or Burns’ in that it is not (like Heaney’s or Wordsworth’s for instance), a poet’s detached observation of another way of life, but is instead embedded within that life. It’s an issue often misunderstood. Clare himself was conscious that he was a poet and a scholar, and if not a gentleman, then not a simple peasant either, and I can’t be the only one that finds the epithet ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ thoroughly patronising when applied to Burns. The difference between Wordsworth and Clare isn’t education or art or craft versus genius, or culture, it’s a point of view. I don’t want establish a hierarchy of poetic style and intent, nor to trespass into Jim Carruth’s private or professional life, but simply to say that, like Clare’s, his poetry is from the ground up, not the desk down.
I love it. It has wit and affection and humour – how many jokes can you make about silage? It has a disenchanted eye, as in Drowning Kittens (be warned, this will upset you) but isn’t cynical or despairing, even in the bleak Farm Sale. And although it is elegaic, it also has a strong sense of continuity and tradition, that something can be kept from the wreck of a way of life that will enrich future generations if they remember it honestly.