Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin

Hayden Carruth

This is an intimate portrait of one of the 20th century’s most influential publishers, as only a great poet can see him. It is impossible to imagine what American poetry in the twentieth century might look like without the magnanimity of the late James Laughlin, poet and publisher of New Directions. The list of authors first discovered, nurtured, and championed by Laughlin is breathtaking: Vladimir Nabokov, Ezra Pound, Tennessee Williams, Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas, and William Carlos Williams. The list goes on remarkably. Among Laughlin’s closest friends was poet Hayden Carruth, who served as author, editor, clerk, and typist for New Directions, and as “poetry doctor” for Laughlin himself. This utterly candid memoir chronicles the complex friendship between these two influential literary figures.

ISBN: 9781556590993

Format: Paperback

from Beside the Shadblow Tree: A Memoir of James Laughlin

Jas was tall. I don’t remember how tall, but I’d guess now he was 6’4″ or 6’5″, and like many tall people, especially then—i.e., before basketball became popular—he stooped a little when he was standing. When he walked he went slowly with a modified shuffle. He had injured his back rather seriously in a skiing accident in New Hampshire when he was young, which may have accounted for the stoop, though I’m inclined to think he would have stooped anyway; it went with his temperament. He deprecated his tallness, and complained because he couldn’t walk through a normal doorway or sit in a normal car. In the office he was a quiet presence, yet always noticeable if only because he smoked cigars. The aroma lingered in the rooms and halls, and the women said they liked it. He preferred a Cuban cigar, double claro with a candela wrapper, such as could be obtained easily in those days before the embargo, good cigars that I generally couldn’t afford; but from time to time he would give me one. And to tell the truth, when I was working late I sometimes stole a cigar from the box on his desk, though I was primarily a cigarette smoker.

About the Author

Hayden Carruth (1921–2008) lived for many years in northern Vermont, then moved to upstate New York, where he taught in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Syracuse University. He published twenty-four books of poetry, a novel, four books of criticism, and two anthologies. He served as the editor of Poetry, poetry editor of Harper’s, and for twenty-five years as an advisory editor of The Hudson Review. The Bollingen, Guggenheim, and Lannan Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for …

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“A merciful antidote to the rash of ‘memoirs’ that have been besetting the publishing industry. Cranky, funny, and gracefully written, this is a revealing look at Laughlin.” —San Francisco Examiner

“There may be another such book that recounts a literary friendship in such depth and candor, but I do not know of one. Carruth is a fine poet, and this book will be of great interest to anyone who cares for his work.” —AGNI

“Carruth’s engaging humility makes Beside the Shadblow Tree a treat.” —Publishers Weekly

“An essential, beautiful, and moving document.” —Booklist

“Besides being a renowned poet, Carruth is a top-drawer storyteller.” —Library Journal