Example poetry

“Complete” Beauty: The Poetry of Jim Harrison Collected in Its Full | Arts & Theater

CHRIS LA TRAY for the Missoulien

When the book arrives in the mail, I look at him a little stunned for a moment. It’s beautiful and it’s huge. In the warm light of my desk lamp, the painting by Russell Chatham used for the cover image – titled “Spring Moon Over the Marshall Ridge” – is reflected, as in the golden light of the sunset at the end of the night. one of those first and happiest days. , a perfect and dreamlike atmosphere for what the book contains.

Painted in 2018, the landscape was certainly one of the last works of the great painter. Fits, as Chatham’s work has graced the covers of Jim Harrison’s books for decades and contributes significantly to everyone’s overall glow.

This is Harrison’s “Complete Poems”. Assembled by its longtime poetry editor, Copper Canyon Press, the tome brings together the 14 books of poetry published by Harrison. He weighs over 3 pounds. Not including endnotes and index etc., it is 899 pages long. This is not the kind of book that one holds in one hand, regardless of size, while resting on the side of the bed or, as is probably the case in my case, lying on the floor. from my office.

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The next day I carried it north with me to the Flathead Indian Reservation. I teach poetry to fourth and fifth graders there. At the start of each of the four lessons, I held the book up for everyone to see. We passed it around so everyone could feel its weight, see the photo on the back cover of the grizzled poet, eyes downcast, drawing on the ubiquitous cigarette. I have described it as a physical representation of a life devoted to poetry and how wonderful it is. I was asked how long it would take me to read everything. “One life,” I answer.

I also use examples from the book. We write poems about the place, and I open up to a poem called “Portal, Arizona”. It’s from “Saving Daylight” (2006). The opening line – “I’ve been separated for too long / from this life that we have” – sets me in place, and as the poem ends: “What beauty / can I imagine beyond these vast walls rocky / with wind-carved caves where maybe / Geronimo slept quite innocent from the TV / and when his three year old son died | waged a war that these crows still talk about “I’m rubble.

Harrison is larger than life in my universe. I wouldn’t be here at this desk, writing these words, without the influence of his work. I recovered “In Search of the Little Gods” from 2009 around the time it was published. I was already familiar with Harrison’s fiction and wanted to try his poetry after reading that he identified himself as a poet above all else. Unfortunately, like many of us, until then poetry had been something for me that I had never given a great chance to. I had only seen it as an example of a high school torment in which I had been forced to read only the most obtuse of poets writing in a language that seemed nothing like anything I could ever understand. Why would I care?

Until I open “Small Gods” and read the poem “I Believe”. This is the first time that I have been struck by a single poem. Here is my language, the language of the natural world, of smells, sounds and tastes, and the bitter struggles against the efforts of a society determined to conform to me. I devoured the book and was not the same afterwards.

A few years later, I had a similar experience again when I read “Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry” (2003), which Harrison wrote alongside former American poet laureate Ted Kooser. In this collection, we read an assemblage of short poems that the two wrote to each other (with no attribution as to who wrote what) and delivered via postcards in the mail. In their work, I found a solution to how I might manage some personal efforts at the time, the direct result being a book of my own that again changed my life.

Harrison is certainly able to write that I’m just not smart enough to understand. Yet more than any other, the work of the “old poet” links his experiences of the world in a way that I can relate to my own. It’s as simple as that. Joy and loneliness, love and frustration, beauty and sorrow. Dogs. And oh, so many birds.

I discovered Harrison’s poetry during what is considered his “last” period. I didn’t read his early works until I had already devoured the new stuff. I’m grateful for this, because I came to poetry during what I consider to be my “later” period as well. What Harrison’s poetry often does for me is provide mentorship to grow older as a creative person, especially in one area – poetry – which, like so many others, is primarily focused on celebrating the new work of young and beautiful. Especially the final collection, “Dead Man’s Float”. What a beautiful testimony of a man living with chronic pain in the face of his age and his mortality.

Harrison died at his desk, writing a poem, on the Saturday morning before Easter in 2016. I heard the news on Easter morning, sitting at the same desk as now, and cried. The poem appears on page 891, but it was first published in the paperback edition of “Dead Man’s Float”. I knew it was going to show up there. When this book came out, I was working in a bookstore. The day it arrived was also the day more copies of my first book arrived, and there was a queue of signature requests on more copies than I imagined selling. Seeing the two books there side by side, one a beginning and the other an end, I could no longer contain myself. I went to the back room and cried ugly tears over everything that poet meant to me.

In closing this review, I originally intended to quote this last poem. Instead, I’ll quote the epigraph:

“It is up to the poets to revive the gods. – Jim Harrison “

Chris La Tray is a Métis writer and storyteller. His first book, “One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays From the World At Large” (2018, Riverfeet Press) won the Montana Book Award 2018 and a High Plains Book Award 2019. His next book, “Becoming Little Shell” , will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2022. Chris is a member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives near Missoula. He publishes his work on chrislatray.substack.com.

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