What a pleasure to read Jeffrey Harrison’s plain but pur language. He strikes the right notes without pretension, but certainly with craft. There are tones of regret, mourning, whimsy, celebration, lust, humor, nostalgia, hope. Two examples of many possible:
“…she’s collecting leaves: the yellow mittens
of the sassafras, the burgundy oaks,
the lemony ovals of the beeches baking
to brown, and the maples’ red flamelets
scattered on the path, their backs a pale violet.”
(from “Walking with Eliza”)
If a poet’s job is to pay attention, really pay attention, and then find the right words, this shows Harrison doing that job well.
Here he recalls in his son’s drinking directly from a faucet the image of his brother who had committed suicide 10 years before:
“…and I like the way my son
becomes a little more my brother for a moment
through this small habit born of a simple need…”
I must admit a guilty pleasure in reading from “On Bitching”:
“And stop bitching about editors
who keep publishing each other’s poems…
“…And there’s no point
in envying the poets who swagger into rooms,
charging every molecule with their need
to be important. So, let them be important….
“…but it’s exasperating to listen to you
after you’ve had a few too many cups of wine
railing against the zealously self-promoting
postmodern obfuscators, the hip ironists revved up
on their own cleverness, the tedious fundamentalists
of rhyme and meter, or the one you call
the formalist narcissist Stalinist surrealist.”
“You wanted to write poems. So, write them.
And the next time some self-satisfied preener
wins a prize, don’t dwell on it, but remind yourself
of all the poems that didn’t get away, the poems
of your friends and how they’ve borne you up
and spurred you on to better envy…
and thank the gods to the end of your days
for the time they’ve granted you to spend
on making poems, even if they come to nothing.”
It is a neat twist how he allows himself to bitch publicly, while in the pose of complaining about such bitching. And it is probably to himself he says “So, write them.” But his words certainly ring home to me.
So, read him.