I’m a late-comer to reading Jim Harrison. I encountered a rave review in 2007 of his novel, Returning to Earth, when it was first released. Reading the book I was captivated. In a subsequent interview, I learned he identifies himself as a poet. With some few exceptions I had not really “gotten” poetry at that point in my evolution as a reader, and I couldn’t understand why on earth anyone would choose to be a poet when clearly they were adept at the novel form. After all, isn’t that the pinnacle of storytelling?*
Then I started reading Harrison’s poetry. The man really knocked down some doors for me, and now I make a point to read poetry every day, even as I must admit I could probably read and re-read his over and over for the rest of my life and be satisfied.
When I read the last few poems of this book and closed the cover I sat back in my chair and looked around. The sun was shining brighter than it had for days. I could see through my window several house finches at the feeder hanging from the branches of the tree out front. My dog slept on her cushion, back-to-back with a bitter old cat. They used to be mortal enemies, but both now find themselves too old to expend the energy for animosity. Reflections like these seem the soul of what Jim Harrison writes about, at least to me. Few enough are the books I decide to keep beyond a culling or two. Barring fire or flood, Dead Man’s Float will be in my library for the rest of my life. If it’s the last poetry collection we get from Harrison—and I hope it isn’t—it is as fine an example of his efforts as any.
Here is one of my favorite poems from the book, this one called “Apple Tree.”
Sitting under the apple tree on a hot
June day harassed by blackbirds
and a house wren who have nests there.
I’m thinking of the future and the past,
and how the past at my age has become
obviously so much longer than the future.
The feeling always precedes my sense
that severe weather is coming. I don’t believe
in doom or destiny — I believe in turmoil,
thunderstorms in the head, rolling lightning
coming down my brain’s road. As an artist
you follow the girl in the white tennis dress
for 25,000 miles and never close the deal.
You’ll be hearing a lot about Jim Harrison on this blog in the coming months, I believe. I’ve dedicated myself to reading as much of his work as I can find, and I’ve found much of it.
* That’s a rhetorical question, of course