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Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories

by Raymond Carver

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479440,560 (4.05)2
More than sixty stories, poems, and essays are included in this wide-ranging collection by the extravagantly versatile Raymond Carver. Two of the stories--later revised for What We Talk About When We Talk About Love--are particularly notable in that between the first and the final versions, we see clearly the astounding process of Carver's literary development.… (more)
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“That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”
― Raymond Carver

Back in the 1980s when this collection of essays, poems and stories was first published as part of the Vintage Contemporaries series, I read again and again. And after reading yet again this past week, I must say Carver's words get even better with age.

This book collects seven stories told with such care and tenderness, it is as if Raymond Carver lets us hold the warm, beating heart of each of his characters, woman or man, girl or boy, in our trembling hands. Crafted in clear, clean, sparse prose, one wonders how Ray can pull it off, but he does, his writing possessing that special something, that distinct, singular voice, that . . . well, let’s just call it Carver magic.

And for those readers who enjoy poetry, there are fifty-two Carver poems collected here, my very favorite poem capturing an evening with Charles Bukowski, where 51-year old Hank rants on about being madly in love with a 25-year-old beauty, a sassy lass who calls him Bukowski in her little voice; rants about how he’s the only one in the room who knows anything about life, about love; how he’s the one and only true living poet; how he shouldn’t start drinking the hard stuff or else he’ll throw everyone’s no-talent ass out the window. To be sure, a Raymond Carver poem worth the price of admission.

Thirdly, there are four short Carver essays: on life, on inspiration, on writing, on teaching. To provide a small taste, below are several quotes from John Gardner, Writer as Teacher along with my comments:

“I had this very strong desire to write, it was a desire so strong that, with the encouragement I was given in college, and the insight acquired, I kept on writing long after “good sense” and the “cold facts” – the “realities” of my life told me, time and again, that I ought to quit, stop the dreaming, quietly go ahead and do something else.” ---------- Unfortunately, when our lives becomes overwhelming, the first thing that tends to go is our writing. Raymond Carver urges us to keep at it, not to quit, no matter how much the odds are stacked against us. Even if we only write a few lines in our diary or notebook once, twice, thrice every day, our dedication and perseverance will pay off.

“The truth is, in those days he looked and dressed like a Presbyterian minister, or an FBI man. He always wore a black suit, a white shirt, and a tie. And he had a crew cut. I’m saying that Gardner looked very square.” --------- Art and literature transcend haircuts, clothing, regional twangs, foreign accents and other such superficialities. When dealing with teachers and peers, let all these distracting inessentials go and focus on the writing.

“He knew I had a young family and cramped quarters at home. He offered me the key to his office. I see that gift now as a turning point.” --------- Very important to have a space where you can write undisturbed. Doesn’t matter if the space is small or even if the space is public, say, a quiet spot at your local library or neighborhood coffee shop, but you definitely need a space. If you don’t have one, find one.

“He believed in revision, endless revision; it was something very close to his heart and something he felt was vital for writers, at whatever stage of their development.” ---------- Do you revise your writing as many times as needed to make every word as clear and elegant as you possibly can? If you do, that’s tremendous – your readers will appreciate your diligence and, in turn, take delight in reading.

“Any strategy that kept important and necessary information away from the reader in the hope of overcoming him by surprise at the end of the story was cheating.” ---------- Raymond Carver has stated repeatedly how he hates tricks, any time he senses a writer attempts to trick the reader in any way, he runs for cover. I agree. Over the past weeks I’ve read a number of first rate American novels written back in the 1980s, authors such as Jay McInerney, Robert Russo, Richard Ford, Nicholson Baker, Andre Dubus, Fredrick Exley, Harold Brodkey. In all those hundreds of pages I’ve read, not one single trick.

“It was his conviction that if the words in the story were blurred because of the author’s insensitivity, carelessness, or sentimentality, then the story suffered from a tremendous handicap.” ---------- This statement underscores how a writer who takes the craft of writing seriously will care enough to be as precise as possible. Recall Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

“A young writer certainly needs as much, I would even say more, encouragement than young people trying to enter other professions. And it ought to go without saying that the encouragement must always be honest encouragement and never hype.” ---------- If you are a writer and meet up with anybody who discourages you, doesn’t matter if that person is a teacher, peer, family member or friend (so called), make it a point never to share you writing again with that person, no exceptions. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
FINAL REVIEW

“That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”
― Raymond Carver

Back in the 1980s when this collection of essays, poems and stories was first published as part of the Vintage Contemporaries series, I read again and again. And after reading yet again this past week, I must say Carver's words get even better with age. This book collects seven stories told with such care and tenderness, it is as if Raymond Carver lets us hold the warm, beating heart of each of his characters, woman or man, girl or boy, in our trembling hands. Crafted in clear, clean, sparse prose, one wonders how Ray can pull it off, but he does, his writing possessing that special something, that distinct, singular voice, that . . . well, let’s just call it Carver magic.

And for those readers who enjoy poetry, there are fifty-two Carver poems collected here, my very favorite poem capturing an evening with Charles Bukowski, where 51-year old Hank rants on about being madly in love with a 25-year-old beauty, a sassy lass who calls him Bukowski in her little voice; rants about how he’s the only one in the room who knows anything about life, about love; how he’s the one and only true living poet; how he shouldn’t start drinking the hard stuff or else he’ll throw everyone’s no-talent ass out the window. To be sure, a Raymond Carver poem worth the price of admission.

Thirdly, there are four short Carver essays: on life, on inspiration, on writing, on teaching. To provide a small taste, below are several quotes from “John Gardner, Writer as Teacher,” along with my comments:

“I had this very strong desire to write, it was a desire so strong that, with the encouragement I was given in college, and the insight acquired, I kept on writing long after “good sense” and the “cold facts” – the “realities” of my life told me, time and again, that I ought to quit, stop the dreaming, quietly go ahead and do something else.” ---------- Unfortunately, when our lives becomes overwhelming, the first thing that tends to go is our writing. Raymond Carver urges us to keep at it, not to quit, no matter how much the odds are stacked against us. Even if we only write a few lines in our diary or notebook once, twice, thrice every day, our dedication and perseverance will pay off.

“The truth is, in those days he looked and dressed like a Presbyterian minister, or an FBI man. He always wore a black suit, a white shirt, and a tie. And he had a crew cut. I’m saying that Gardner looked very square.” --------- Art and literature transcend haircuts, clothing, regional twangs, foreign accents and other such superficialities. When dealing with teachers and peers, let all these distracting inessentials go and focus on the writing.

“He knew I had a young family and cramped quarters at home. He offered me the key to his office. I see that gift now as a turning point.” --------- Very important to have a space where you can write undisturbed. Doesn’t matter if the space is small or even if the space is public, say, a quiet spot at your local library or neighborhood coffee shop, but you definitely need a space. If you don’t have one, find one.

“He believed in revision, endless revision; it was something very close to his heart and something he felt was vital for writers, at whatever stage of their development.” ---------- Do you revise your writing as many times as needed to make every word as clear and elegant as you possibly can? If you do, that’s tremendous – your readers will appreciate your diligence and, in turn, take delight in reading.

“Any strategy that kept important and necessary information away from the reader in the hope of overcoming him by surprise at the end of the story was cheating.” ---------- Raymond Carver has stated repeatedly how he hates tricks, any time he senses a writer attempts to trick the reader in any way, he runs for cover. I agree. Over the past weeks I’ve read a number of first rate American novels written back in the 1980s, authors such as Jay McInerney, Robert Russo, Richard Ford, Nicholson Baker, Andre Dubus, Fredrick Exley, Harold Brodkey. In all those hundreds of pages I’ve read, not one single trick.

“It was his conviction that if the words in the story were blurred because of the author’s insensitivity, carelessness, or sentimentality, then the story suffered from a tremendous handicap.” ---------- This statement underscores how a writer who takes the craft of writing seriously will care enough to be as precise as possible. Recall Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

“A young writer certainly needs as much, I would even say more, encouragement than young people trying to enter other professions. And it ought to go without saying that the encouragement must always be honest encouragement and never hype.” ---------- If you are a writer and meet up with anybody who discourages you, doesn’t matter if that person is a teacher, peer, family member or friend (so called), make it a point never to share you writing again with that person, no exceptions.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
The bibliography of the late great American short story writer and poet Raymond Carver is a confusing one. He revised his own previously published stories for the "Where I'm Calling From", re-titling them in some instances. Having, I think, read the at least one version of the contents of his easily available work, I asked my local library to seek out an out of print collection for me called "Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories".

There's actually not much here that can't be found elsewhere. The posthumous "Call If You Need Me", which I own but haven't read, also has in it the essays that appear here. All the poems are in "All Of Us", his collected poetry volume.

Of the stories bought together here, "Distance" and "So Much Water So Close To Home" two of Carver's best, appear in "Where I'm Calling From". The rest were new to me and my often faulty memory.

"The Lie" is a peculiar little fragment of dialogue that moves from a domestic argument into a discussion of Tolstoy.

"The Cabin" is the tale of a man leaving behind his disintegrating marriage and retreating on a fishing trip where he has a disconcerting encounter with some young hunters, subject matter which is Carveresque to the point of cliché.

"Harry's Death" is better, where a man, now resident in Mexico, looks back upon the initial unexpectedly beneficial effects for him of a good friend's passing, although there's a twist - this is Carver's world, and things rarely end happily here.

"The Pheasant" relates the ramifications when a bird hits the car of a quarrelling couple and has the undercurrent of dark humour one can unexpectedly find in Carver's stories.

The essays are certainly worth a look too, especially "My Father's Life", in which we learn as much about Ray Carver Jr. as we do Senior.

I read extremely little poetry and only dipped into the poems on offer here. The ones I looked at had the observational acuity that make his short stories so special.

All are united by Carver's lean, meticulously crafted prose and eye for the telling detail. Hardcore Carverphiles will be rewarded if they decide to track "Fires" down - as well as getting re-acquainted with some old favourites, they'll find some neglected gems here too. ( )
  Grammath | Aug 3, 2009 |
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More than sixty stories, poems, and essays are included in this wide-ranging collection by the extravagantly versatile Raymond Carver. Two of the stories--later revised for What We Talk About When We Talk About Love--are particularly notable in that between the first and the final versions, we see clearly the astounding process of Carver's literary development.

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