jim harrison remembered

David – Jim Harrison

He is young.  The father is dead.
Outside, a cold November night,
the mourner’s cars are parked upon the lawn;
beneath the porch light three
brothers talk to three sons
and shiver without knowing it.
His mind’s all black thickets
and blood; he knows
flesh slips quietly off the bone,
he knows no last looks,
that among the profusion of flowers
the lid is closed to hide
what no one could bear –
that metal rends the flesh,
he knows beneath the white pointed
creatures, stars,
that in the distant talk of brothers,
the father is dead.

jim harrison

The unanswered question is why a poet transforms experience, not so much to make it understandable, but to make it yield its aesthetic possibilities
— Jim Harrison

This is one of the quotes I carry with me from notebook to notebook as a reminder of why I write and what’s at stake. Pushing words to not just describe but to evoke life for others is a worthy endeavor, and one that the late Jim Harrison worked at book after book.

The poem above is a good example of what is meant in the quote. The poem describes one person’s experience of grief after a death. Yet, rather than being elegy, the poem gathers its human details (parked cars; shivering) and sets them against memories that keep edging in on the person grieving. The calm juxtaposed against the violence is where the son lives now, and is part of the new world without the father.

Another example of this kind of transformation of human details into aesthetic possibility is found in the following poem by Ted Kooser. Kooser and Harrison were friends and co-authored the book Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry. The poem below, which does a great job of turning over a human moment of grief for what it can further say about living, shows Kooser to be also working at the worthy endeavor Harrison will be remembered for.

Mourners – Ted Kooser

After the funeral, the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves.
White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:
highlights on deep green water.
They came this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello,
peering into each other’s faces,
slow to let go of each other’s hands.

*

Happy handing!

José

p.s. For more Jim Harrison, check out these previous posts, one featuring a poem, and another featuring some notes on his novel The English Major.

* throwing things on the floor with Jim Harrison & John Keats

In reading Jim Harrison’s novel The English Major last month, I came across the following and it brought tears – I have been much for tears these days – and mainly because I have been slowly going over poems I have memorized, seeing what stuck and what fell off, and was suddenly surprised to recognize the poem referenced below:

I was saddened by the idea that I might not finish the work before I died, a natural enough fear.  Keats wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…”  That was throwing the raw meat on the floor in a lovely way.

That phrasing throwing the raw meat on the floor – that’s it isn’t it – what it is a poet does no matter the how we use to do it.  We are not in the business of poetry if the raw meat isn’t on the floor.

Realizing I had let the poem slip after a few years, and then coming back to it, memorizing it again – more than an old friend, I felt like a piece of myself was returning, that something understood once was being reconciled in a big, new way.

There’s a lot of history in the poem too: Yeats borrowed the phrasing of high romance, and John Berryman references the end of the poem in the title of his book Love and Fame.  I myself am tempted to borrow and manipulate the phrasing for something called: The Fool-ripened Grain.

Here is the poem below – you can see for yourself how awful and sacrilegious my idea is.

* you let the meat fall where? *
* you let the meat fall where? *

When I have fears that I may cease to be – John Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to  be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;

And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love – then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Til love and fame to nothingness do sink.

***

Happy sinking!

Jose

* rivers, Jim Harrison & you

In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it; you can’t figure out a banal game plan applicable to all situations; you just have to go with the “beingness” of life, as Rilke would have it.

Jim Harrison

*ain't life Rio Grande*
*ain’t life Rio Grande*

Jim Harrison is one of my gurus.  His work opens me up every time I return to it.  There is a directness to his writing, a feeling of having whittled one’s self down to the essential.  Being a poet of rivers myself, his words above are kindred.

He may also be the closest we have to that other great poet of rivers, Li Po, who, legend has it, died embracing the moon – at least the reflection of it he saw one night on the face of a river.

In the following poem, from his book Saving Daylight, Jim takes us a littler further down the river, to where we may have been all along.

Water – Jim Harrison

Before I was born I was water.
I thought of this sitting on a blue
chair surrounded by pink, red, white
hollyhocks in the yard in front
of my green studio.  There are conclusions
to be drawn but I can’t do it anymore.
Born man, child man, singing  man,
dancing man, loving man, old man,
dying man.  This is a round river
and we are her fish who become water.

***

Happy watering!

Jose