Raymond Carver, author of Where I'm Calling From, is widely considered one of the great short story writers of our time. A New Path to the Waterfall was Carver's last book, and shows a writer telling the truth as best as he knows how in the time left to him. The sixty-odd poems in this collection are linked by Carver with selections from other writers, most notably Chekhov, whose work was an inspiration and a guide, and by the cumulative force of the life and death questions he poses in them. As Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet guided countless readers discovering their true love and work, Carver's book will guide those in the process of celebrating a limited life and mourning the inescapable end of it. A New Path to the Waterfall is an essential book for those who admire Carver's work, and testament to the transcendent strength of the human spirit. In her introductory essay, Tess Gallagher, Carver's companion and fellow writer, lays out the circumstances of their last years together with matter-of-fact grace.
Perhaps the best review of this piece is in the poem "Ray" by Hayden Carruth which appears in Carruth's collected shorter poems. He nails it and reading Carruth's poem after reading Carver's book led me right back into Carver's book again. It's just tremendous writing to which I return again and again.
But that's just it: it reads fast, and it's short, but there's a lot packed in there. It would ruin the experience for me to analyse it too closely, delve into the layers. But simply to read it once means I'll miss a lot. Some of the layers are thematic (linking historical readings of Alexander the Great or the siege at Thermopylae to everyday personal interactions), some are aesthetic (putting a poem about self-analysis and psychodynamics in a section devoted to fishing, or the mutual commentary of poems suggested by placing them near one another in the book). Multiple readings would help surface these layers without ruining the great conversational style, the easy flow.
And what's with the recurrent excerpts from Chekhov and Milosz? (I suspect Tess Gallagher gets to that in the introduction, but I'll read that after finishing the book.) They're brilliant, and are one display of the wide and historically deep reach of Carver's thinking.
I was first introduced to Carver when watching Altman's The Player, apparently loosely based on Carver's short stories. It took years before I realised that, though I'd become interested in Altman's work since. I've read one selection of Carver's short stories, and they're also deeply affecting. These poems distill a similar take on life, but in even pithier form.