Remembering Raymond Carver by Dale Wilson

Republished from July 2017.

“Where ever two or more are gathered, in my name, there shall I be also.”-The Bible

It would seem Raymond Carver was in town recently. At least his spirit hovered over the town he loved and where he is laid to rest. Beginning this year, the week of May 25th, Carver’s birthday, will now and forever be known as Raymond Carver Week in Port Angeles, according to a Proclamation presented at City Council by Mayor Pat Downie.

In honor of this event and in celebration of his life, and work, dozens of admirers gathered around his black marble tombstone overlooking the strait he loved so much. Many brought their memories of Carver either in reminiscences of being in his presence or others who got to know him well through his poetry, short stories and essays. This is the 5th year of this traditional celebration of Carver’s life and work.

Several from the Peninsula College English Department brought well-worn volumes of Carver’s stories and poems, each reading passages they say become more meaningful over the years.

‘And did you get what you wanted from this life? Even so, I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth:’ -Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver fans gather at grave site to honor his birthday, May 25th.

Carver certainly got what he wanted as those gathered expressed their love for the man and his work now available in 50 languages and retold in several motion pictures.

Carver was born on May 25, 1938, in Clatskanie, Oregon. He was reared in Yakima, in a middle class home, son of a saw-mill worker and a waitress. His travels, writing and teaching carried him around the world and across America. Much of his subject matter is inseparable from the state where he grew up, especially western Washington.

His books and poems reflect those he met in his life—a life littered with menial jobs and empty bottles.

Ever challenged with making enough money to care for his family he moved around a lot until taking a writing course in 1958 under the tutelage of John Gardner. From this his literary life began to blossom.

In 1984 his short story, “Cathedral” marked a turning point. It was selected by John Updike for inclusion in his, “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.” Carver saw Cathedral as a crossroad in his career as he shifted to a more optimistic style of writing. That same year Carver was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters. According to conversations ongoing in small groups clustered around the crypt, Carver wrote, fished and explored the Olympic Peninsula much of the last decade of his life in Port Angeles. It shows in his most favored poems. This precious time he shared with poet, essayist and short story writer, and later his wife, Tess Gallagher.

Hailed as the “American Chekhov” for his short stories Carver was also a poet of great renown.

According to an article in The New York Times, His first published piece and his last book, A New Path to the Waterfall, were poems.

Carver died in 1988 at the age of 50 and is buried in Ocean View Cemetery overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Port Angeles. His collected poems, All of Us, published posthumously in 1996 included an introduction by his widow, Tess Gallagher. His legacy lives on. Janet Lucas, an instructor of Literature at Peninsula College regularly teaches his work on campus and also at the Clallam Bay correctional facility. “They just love his work,” she said. As the waves of the strait lapped gently against the toe of the bluff–like a steady heartbeat–one after another admirer delivered their favorite Carver poems, mostly from memory.

Mark Valentine, English instructor at Peninsula College, delivered a moving performance of “The Far Field” never looking at the paper clutched in his hand. He made it so immediate it seemed as if it was being spoken aloud for the first time. His broad sweeping gestures took in the far reaches of the ‘field’ in which Carver lay.

Jim Jones read “Happiness in Cornwall,” Debbie Hanson read “The Waking,” Laurie Lane, “The Haircut,” Howard Chadwick “Venice,” Holly
Hughes, “At Night the Salmon Move,” Janet Lucas “The Cougar,” Alice Derry, “Meditation at Oyster River,” Kate Reavey, “Locking yourself Out Then Trying to Get Back In,” Tim Roos, “The Painter and the Fish,” Peter Stein, “My Work,” Kathryn Hunt, “Another Mystery,” and Tess Gallaher, Carver’s widow and accomplished poet in her on right, read the proclamation presented by the city along with “Late Fragment” and “Where Water Comes Together with Other Water.”

In many articles written about Carver he is linked, at least in subject matter, to another Washington poet, Theodore Roethke, Poet Laureate of Washington. It is natural, they share the same birthday, May 25th.

After the celebration it is time for another tradition, a 5-year tradition, the cutting of the pies.

Everyone gathered around a table packed with pies of every description made from local apples, cherries, and every imaginable taste combination.

There was talk among the celebrants about developing an annual “Raymond Carver International Writers Conference” in Port Angeles.

It would seem appropriate. Just before the celebration began a car full of Italian tourists drove into the cemetery. They were looking for Carver’s grave site. When it was pointed out to them they gathered around it with Italian-language versions of Carver’s books in hand. They did not know the celebration was planned.

“At night the salmon move out from the river into town they avoid places with names like Foster’s Freeze, A&W, Smiley’s… They swim close to the tract homes you can hear them trying doorknobs…” –Raymond Carver

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