In November 2003, almost unnoticed, one of Maine's most influential literary figures of the
previous 40 years slipped out. In the past decade his name seldom appeared in university press
releases, and he never made the billboard of Maine's po-biz theatre, but on his death at the age
of 86, University of Maine Professor Carroll F. Terrell must be recognized for the energy and
intelligence he brought to Maine and, indeed, international letters.
Professor Terrell made two important contributions to literature: In 1971 he conceived,
organized and subsequently ran the National Poetry Foundation at UMaine; and he was the
central figure, both in the United States and abroad, in refining the study of Ezra Pound's
poetry and poetics. The NPF over the past three decades has been the stablest, most consistent
and highest-profile promoter and publisher of poetry and its study in Maine. Its publications
list includes volumes of poetry by Maine and other poets; many widely cited books about
poetry; and two internationally circulated literary periodicals, Sagetrieb and Paideuma, the
latter of central importance to the study of Ezra Pound.
So bound up with Pound's ideas were Professor Terrell's work and his own poetry and life, he
will not have minded a bit if I say something about the older poet. Although not exactly a
household name, Ezra Pound during the first half of the 20th century changed the course of
poetry written in English. He was the driving force in the radical shift from the use of
conventional poetic forms of the 19th century to the modern forms of the 20th, and every
competent poet now writing in America and Europe gained most of his or her understanding
of verse, either directly or indirectly, from Pound. Pound's own poetry is extremely difficult
to read, but because of the power and influence of his ideas, extremely important. In the 1970s
Terrell took up the task of annotating and explicating Pound's vast and complex writings.
Professor Terrell became one of the principal guides through some of the most important
literary territory of the last century. He made the NPF, and Orono, its center, and his energy
carried forward through Burt Hatlen.
Beyond these outward achievements, Professor Terrell is remembered also as a superb and
well-loved teacher, and he was a skillful poet in his own right. And then, the key to all his
work - as a literary critic, as manager of the NPF, as teacher and poet - was the fact of his
down-to-earth humanity. His sense of humor was multidimensional, from Shakespearean to
silly; he saw all his work, not as factory toil, but as the essence of his time and energy; and he
was, in my experience, generous with it. When I was a student of his in 1979, I told him I
wanted to continue my graduate study in a big New York City university. He raised an
eyebrow, then looked away with a characteristic wry gleam and said, "Well, I'll help you if
you want. But why do you want to go down into that rat race?" With Down East emphasis on
the phrase rat race. He helped me get accepted, but later I thought better of it and didn't go
In his classes his abundant knowledge and understanding of literature bubbled over in
fascinating monologues comprising anecdotes, facts, insights and - dare we say it? - wisdom.
He influenced, for the better, many Mainers' ideas about what poetry is, what it does, and how
it works, not least of whom has been Stephen King.
We can only hope that Terrell's own poetry eventually gets more attention. His three books
"Smoke and Fire" (1985), "Rod and Lightning" (1985) and "Dark and Light" (1986) are
generally neglected in Maine letters. But beyond his influence on Maine and international
writing, his poetry reflects a key but closeted aspect of his vision of the world, which might
be the engine that drove his impact on us: He had a profoundly mystical sense of the universe.
His poetry evokes his intuition, as the mystics for millennia have said in different places and
ways, that love and compassion are the heart of reality. It is the central theme of the most
powerful, constructive and enduring projects in human history, and it was C.F. Terrell's
central theme. One of his fictional poetic characters brings it into focus:
"Nothing new. An old, old story.
Christ had it right. And St. Paul.
Love is a many-dimensional
thing: it flows from dimensions beyond
this world and can sound depths
no anchor line will ever reach."
This is a shout into the depths, nonetheless. Carroll Terrell should be remembered as one of
Maine's important literary figures in the last half of the 20th century. As our colleague Robert
Creeley urged: Onward.
Carroll F. Terrell: A Remembrance
© Dana Wilde 2007; Bangor Daily News, 2003.