Excluding Constance Carrier’s time at Smith College as an undergraduate student and some adventurous travels around the globe, the poet lived her entire life in New Britain, Connecticut. Born in July of 1908, Carrier graduated from Smith in 1929 and became a teacher in her hometown during the Great Depression. She also briefly taught high school in Hartford and at Tufts University as a Classics lecturer later in life. Carrier was a lover of languages—she taught for forty years: French, English and, most notably, Latin.
During this time, Carrier pursued her personal writing ambitions as well. In 1940 she completed a Masters in English at Trinity College. Before this, she claimed never to have written anything creative “except jingles,” though her gift must have been gestating for years. As is true for many students, Smith’s environment had fostered Carrier’s early creative growth. A piece in the Sophia Smith Collection on Carrier’s residencies at Yaddo (an artist’s retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY) tells of her discovery in the Neilson stacks of Louise Bogan’s first book of poems, Body of This Death, which Carrier read “cover to cover.” She cited both Bogan and Emily Dickinson as literary role models.
Bogan turned out to the one of the judges (among other notables such as May Sarton) of the Academy of American Poets Lamont Prize (now known as the James Laughlin Award), who chose Carrier’s first book, The Middle Voice, as the 1954 winner. Carrier went on publish in esteemed literary journals such as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, the New York Quarterly, Poetry, and The Atlantic, and she also found great satisfaction translating Latin literature, completing two books of poems and several plays.
Carrier’s second collection, The Angled Road (title taken from a Dickinson poem), published in 1973, includes both new poems and work from The Middle Voice. In her own words, writing poetry “is like translating from another language, but you are translating from something much more ephemeral, and you want to be as faithful to that as you would be to the ‘translatee.’” Carrier’s last book, Witchcraft Poems, Salem 1692, arose from a fascination with her ancestor, Martha Carrier, one of the women accused and hanged in the notorious Salem Witch Trials.
While Carrier’s New Britain address was listed in Sylvia Plath’s address book, she was also the founder of a Writer’s Group in her home town—facts that testify to her influence on both the global and local scales.
Bland and supple under the summer sun,
a bronze-green sea beneath the hull of the wind,
the meadow moves: the meadow, a lazy wave,
takes the shadow of bird, of tree, of cloud.
There is another meadow farther under,
inverted—the crawling quarreling seething roots,
strangers to wind and light, alive in the damp,
threading the darkness, troubled by worm and mole.
All the long spring the stalks were busy growing,
while the moods of the spring moved over. Now they rise
to their true symmetry, grace from hidden distortion,
from the sucking filaments, crabbed and unappeased.
Fed by their appetite, the field, translated,
responsive, calm, lies ready to receive
the wide-winged shadows, the weight of the wind, the sunlight—
this field that the other, in darkness, keeps alive.
From The Middle Voice