I’d raised a few eyebrows among other writers I know when I said that I didn’t find the “genius” in Raymond Carver’s short stories. Of course, they took that to mean that I didn’t like him. On the contrary: I liked his stories a lot. I just didn’t see what the “big deal” was about them. But I tried. Believe me, I tried — just about read all of them at this point. I do love his minimalist style and some of his stories were absolutely outstanding. Others...well.... after a while many of them seemed the same to me. Carver, known best for his short fiction, began his career as a poet and this collection, All Of Us, is an anthology of all his published poetry plus some (then) unpublished work.
It was a wonderful read and I found his poetry to be much better than his fiction to be honest. While there may have been some personal and autobiographical elements to his fiction, I felt his poetry gives more of a glimpse of who Raymond Carver the man was. A lot of these poems are deeply personal and they do give insight into the way he viewed the world and especially those around him: his wives, his children, his parents, friends and neighbors, not to mention the environment in which he lived.
Born and raised in the pacific northwest, many of these poems beautifully describe the landscape that surrounded him. Despite this idyllic landscape, many of these poems deal with his struggle with alcoholism and they often reflect the loneliness he felt throughout most of his adult life. They also reflect the existential crises of those around him as well. But not all these poems are dour and bleak. There are some more romantic and lyrical works here.
While most of the poems read like his short fiction in miniature, there were some absolutely amazingly lyrical poems within the mix — those that reflect his love for his wife Tess, his travels, and especially his love for fishing (there many poems about fishing and being out in the wilderness).
I enjoyed these poems very much. Not every one of them worked for me, of course (in a collection this large, there are bound to be some that won’t resonate with every reader) but that didn’t take away from the overall effect of these poems, their style, approach and what they had to say to the reader. For anyone out there who had never read any of Carver’s works, I would recommend starting with this collection of poetry, then move on to his fiction. A highly recommended read.