Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jim Harrison

Since I'm at a writer's retreat primarily to work on a new collection of poems, I've also been reading poetry as well.  Just finished Jim Harrison's In Search of Small Gods (Copper Canyon, 2009).  It's not a perfect book, but perfection is not what one looks for from Harrison. 
Sometimes it feels more like prose than poetry--there are quite a few very long prose poems in the book that I felt got more of their energy from prose than from poetry.  Too, sometimes he wanders very far afield and one loses a sense of where the poem is, as if he started with one thought then was interrupted and decided to go with the interruption.  It's always interesting, but some of the pieces feel like they could have done with another level of revisioning.  

Having said that, I LOVE this book.  There are some real gems in the midst of the prose stuff, and a gruff and tender and soul-searching, nature loving spirit underneath it all.  Here's an excerpt from the first poem, "I Believe":

I believe in steep drop-offs, the thunderstorm across the lake
in 1949, cold winds, empty swimming pools,
the overgrown path to the creek, raw garlic,
used tires, taverns, saloons, bars, gallons of red wine,
abandoned farmhouses, stunted lilac groves,
gravel roads that end, brush piles, thickets . . . .

What I love about Harrison is that he never takes himself too seriously, and he is generous and unpolitical about what he loves.  Too often 'nature poets' bore us with their serious and often sterile separation of nature from the wilds of the human spirit.  Not so Harrison, who loves used tires as well as thunderstorms, wounded things like stunted lilac groves as well as things that are not so good for the environment (used tires) or the spirit (gallons of red wine).  I love the ending to this poem as well; in typical Harrison fashion he reminds us of how he fits in with all this--nature is never just nature without us in it:

. . . the fluttering unknown gods that I nearly see
from the left corner of my blind eye, struggling
to stay alive in a world that grinds them underfoot.

Also see 'The Quarter" here, one of my very favorite poems from the book:

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