Jim Harrison: The Essential Poems

Jim Harrison: The Essential Poems


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"An untrammeled renegade genius... Here is a poet talking to you instead of around himself, while doing absolutely brilliant and outrageous things with language."—Publishers Weekly

Starred Review in Booklist: “[C]hoices of poems from each of Harrison’s books are passionate and sharp… Of special note is a section from Letters to Yesenin, a book-length poem, and the title poem from The Theory and Practice of Rivers , which contains these echoing lines, 'I forgot where I heard that poems / are designed to waken sleeping gods.' Reading this essential volume, one might imagine that the gods are, indeed, staying up late, reading lights on, turning the pages.”

Jim Harrison: The Essential Poems is distilled from fourteen volumes--from visionary lyrics and meditative suites to shape-shifting ghazals and prose-poem letters. Teeming throughout these pages are Harrison’s legendary passions and appetites, his meditations, rages, and love-songs to the natural world. The New York Times concluded a review from early in Harrison’s career with a provocative quote: “This is poetry worth loving, hating, and fighting over, a subjective mirror of our American days and needs.” That sentiment still holds true, as Jim Harrison’s essential poems continue to call for our fiercest attention.

"In this unforgiving literary moment, we must deal honestly with [Harrison's] life and work, as they are inextricable in a way that is not true of other poets...These poems bear-crawl gorgeously after a genuine connection to being, thrashing in giant leaps through the underbrush to find consolation, purpose, and redemption. In his raw, original keening he ambushes moments of unimaginable beauty, one after another, line after line...The Essential Poems demonstrates perfectly why we should turn to Harrison again. He lived and breathed an American confrontation with the physical earth, married himself to a universe of bodies and stumps and birds, did not try to shuck his grotesque masculinity and stared hard with his one good eye (the left was blinded when he was seven) at the inescapable, beckoning finger of death." --Dean Kuipers, LitHub

"It is hard-boiled poetry, some of the best of its kind, and one is not surprised to know that Harrison has written very tough novels... His poetic vision is at the heart of it all."—Harper's

"Jim Harrison's latest collection, The Essential Poems, contains...engaging and enlightening poems [that] should be taught, learned, and loved. Remember this."—New York Journal of Books

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556595288
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 05/28/2019
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 119,224
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Jim Harrison (1937-2016) was the author of over three dozen books, including Legends of the Fall and Dalva,
and served as the food columnist for the magazines Brick and Esquire. He published fourteen volumes of poetry, the final being Dead Man's Float (2016). His work has been translated into two dozen languages and produced as four feature-length films. As a young poet he co-edited Sumac magazine, with fellow poet Dan Gerber, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007, he was elected into the Academy of American Arts and Letters. Regarding his most beloved art-form, he wrote: "Poetry, at its best, is the language your soul would speak if you could teach your soul to speak." Jim Harrison certainly spoke the language.

Read an Excerpt

I wanted to feel exalted so I picked up
Dr. Zhivago again. But the newspaper was there with the horrors of the Olympics, those dead and perpetually martyred sons of David. I want to present all Israelis with .357 magnums so that they are never to be martyred again. I wanted to be exalted so I picked up Dr. Zhivago again but the tv was on with a movie about the sufferings of convicts in the early history of Australia. But then the movie was over and the level of the bourbon bottle was dropping and I still wanted to be exalted lying there with the book on my chest. I recalled Moscow but I could not place dear Yuri, only you Yesenin, seeing the Kremlin glitter and ripple like Asia. And when drunk you appeared as some Bakst stage drawing, a slain Tartar. But that is all ballet.And what a dance you had kicking your legs from the rope – We all change our minds, Berryman said in Minnesota halfway down the river.Villon said of the rope that my neck will feel the weight of my ass. But I wanted to feel exalted again and read the poems at the end of Dr. Zhivago and just barely made it. Suicide. Beauty takes my courage away this cold autumn evening. My year-old daughter’s red robe hangs from the doorknob shouting Stop.


Most of my life was spent building a bridge out over the sea though the sea was too wide.
I’m proud of the bridge hanging in the pure sea air. Machado came for a visit and we sat on the end of the bridge, which was his idea.

Now that I’m old the work goes slowly.
Ever nearer death, I like it out here high above the sea bundled up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred-foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music over which you can hear the lightest music of human behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.
So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above the abyss. Tonight the moon will be in my lap.
This is my job, to study the universe from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea, the faint green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.


To remember that you’re alive visit the cemetery of your father at noon after you’ve made love and are still wrapped in a mammalian odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable surprise, the unexpected death of their biology that struggled hard as it must.
Now go home without looking back at the fading cemetery, enough is enough,
but stop on the way to buy the best wine you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture out the window and then begin sweeping.
Sweep until you’ve swept the walls bare of paint and at your feet sweep the floor until it disappears. Finish the wine in this field of air, go back to the cemetery in the dark and weave through the stones a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

Table of Contents

Plain Song (1965)
Sketch for a Job-Application Blank
Northern Michigan
Fair/Boy Christian Takes a Break
Lisle's River
Dead Deer

Locations (1968)
Suite to Fathers

Outlyer & Ghazals (1971)
Drinking Song
Ghazal 1
Ghazal 2
Ghazal 3
Ghazal 10
Ghazal 11
Ghazal 23
Ghazal 24
Ghazal 26
Ghazal 36
Ghazal 52
Ghazal 55
Ghazal 56
Ghazal 59
Ghazal 62
Ghazal 65

Letters to Yesenin (1973)
Letter 1
Letter 2
Letter 3
Letter 5
Letter 8
Letter 16
Letter 20
Letter 21
Letter 26
Letter 29
Letter 30

Returning to Earth (1977)
Returning to Earth

Selected & New Poems (1982)
Gathering April

The Theory and Practice of Rivers & New Poems (1989)
The Theory and Practice of Rivers
The Brand New Statue of Liberty
My Friend the Bear
Counting Birds

After Ikkyu & Other Poems (1996)
After Ikkyu 1
After Ikkyu 6
After Ikkyu 11
After Ikkyu 12
After Ikkyu 13
After Ikkyu 14
After Ikkyu 15
After Ikkyu 18
After Ikkyu 24
After Ikkyu 29
After Ikkyu 37
After Ikkyu 39
After Ikkyu 40
After Ikkyu 50
After Ikkyu 57
The Davenport Lunar Eclipse
Return to Yesenin

Shape of the Journey: New & Collected Poems
Geo-Bestiary 1
Geo-Bestiary 7
Geo-Bestiary 10
Geo-Bestiary 11
Geo-Bestiary 16
Geo-Bestiary 29
Geo-Bestiary 34

Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry (2003)

Saving Daylight (2007)
Mom and Dad
Night Dharma
Adding It Up
Angry Women
Flower, 2001
Mother Night
Birds Again
103 Poem of War (i)
Fence Line Tree

In Search of Small Gods (2009)
I Believe
Larson’s Holstein Bull
New Moon
Early Fishing
Cold Wind
Eleven Dawns with Su Tung-p’o
The Quarter

Songs of Unreason (2011)
Poet Warning
A Puzzle
Blue Shawl
River ii
River v
River vi
Grand Marais
Death Again

Dead Man's Float (2016)
Solstice Litany
Another Country
Seven in the Woods
The Present
A Variation on Machado
Lorca Again
Apple Tree

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