I began to read Jim Harrison when one of my college professors came in to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Wolf. This was about the time that the movie of the same name, written by the same author, but having nothing to do with the book, was in the theaters.
So, being fresh enough out of college that I still wanted to read everything the professors were reading, I picked it up. Since then I have read just about everything Harrison has written, and even attempted to read things others have written about him. The latter tend to be kind of shallow and boring. There are two collections of his articles and essays currently in print, and some collections which contain his work.
Harrison has a new book out – a conversation in verse with longtime friend Ted Kooser, called Braided River. The conversation takes the form of short verses – three to six lines, usually, which can easily be imagined scribbled on the back of postcards in the midst of cross-country drives. The tone of the verses, which alternate between Harrison and Kooser, feels like gentle jazz riffs on traditional haiku:
We flap our gums, our wattles, our
featherless wings in non-native air
to avoid being planted in earth,
watching the bellies of passing birds.
On its stand on the empty stage
the tuba with its big brass ear
enjoys the silence
The verses alternate between authors, but there is no mention of who wrote what. The back cover of the book says
When asked about attributions for the individual poems, one of them replied, “Everyone gets tired of of this continuing cult of the personality… This book is an assertion in favor of poetry and against credentials.”
Having not yet read any of Kooser’s individual work I can’t say for certain which verses are his, but many of Harrison’s are obvious, and read like inside jokes to his old friend.
Braided Creek is a thoroughly enjoyable read. With so much of what is published today relying on pop culture references and turgid vocabularies, the simple, real verses within are a refreshing change, like cold water on a sunburned scalp.
The one-eyed man must be fearful
of being taken for a birdhouse.
What is it the wind has lost
that she keeps looking for
under each leaf?
To have reverence for life
you must have reverence for death.
The dogs we love are not taken from us
but leave when summoned by the gods.