Friday, December 11, 2009

Kudos for Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison is one of my favorite authors. The following was lifted from today's The Writer's Digest, by Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion. His collection of short non-fiction, Just Before Dark, is
fantastic, and his other novels, including Woman Lit By Fireflies, Brown Dog, The Beast God Forgot To Invent, were introduced to me by my good friend Lee Meekombs a year or so ago and since I have read everything Harrison has written. He is a man's man, outdoorsman, hunter, yet a sensitive poet and his stories touch on the edge of darkness yet reflect a kind of hope that by reaching into that shade he may draw back light. In read searchers this morning without realizing it was by him, and felt this familiarity and a kind of longing that linked his reaching to mine and then only after reading the bio did I realize it was really Jim Harrison. The only problem with Jim is that his searches for what he was seeking led him into psychotherapy to which he refers from time to time, which to me is the evil of our times and of all times through what ever priest of bone rattler has has proffered disaster in the name of help.

Perhaps that is the reason Jim never emerged as the real spiritual being he
really is--let one in and he will, like a rapidly spreading cancer, first
destroy your hope and then your very spirit will turn inward---look at
Hemingway, et al. Don't get me started. I see a great spirit in Jim Harrison
that I am sure was suppressed by them. This is speculation, but like something
dead, I can smell it overpowering the desperately seeking spirit of this
I grieve over such great spirits never knowing Mr. Hubbard, my guide and mentor.

by Jim Harrison
At dawn Warren is on my bed,
a ragged lump of fur listening
to the birds as if deciding whether or not
to catch one. He has an old man's
mimsy delusion. A rabbit runs across
the yard
and he walks after it
thinking he might close the widening distance
just as when I followed a lovely woman
on boulevard Montparnasse but couldn't
equal her rapid pace, the click-click of her shoes
moving into the distance, turning the final
corner, but when I turned the corner
she had disappeared and I looked up
into the trees thinking she might have climbed
When I was young, a country girl would climb
a tree and throw apples
down at my upturned face.
Warren and I are both searchers. He's
looking for his dead sister Shirley, and I'm wondering
about my brother
John who left the earth
on this voyage all living creatures take.
Both cat and man are bathed in pleasant
insignificance, their eyes fixed on birds
and stars.

"Searchers" by Jim Harrison, from Saving Daylight. © Copper Canyon Press,

It's the birthday of Jim Harrison, born in Grayling, Michigan (1937). He had a
happy childhood in Michigan, growing up in a big family of people who liked to
read. But when he was seven years old, he was playing doctor with a friend and
she cut his face with a jagged piece of a glass beaker and he went blind in his
left eye. He said, "Ever since I was seven and had my eye put out, I'd turn for
solace to rivers, rain, trees, birds, lakes, animals."
Even though he liked to read as a kid, he wasn't particularly interested in writing, and in fact was
more interested in religion. He said, "I finally realized that writing, or
art as I'd just as soon call it, had absorbed the transference of all my
religious impulses at age sixteen. Up to sixteen I wanted to be a preacher, and
then one day I did a whirlwind: I jumped from Jesus to John Keats in three
So he set out to be a poet. He went to school at Michigan State
University and married his high school sweetheart. And he got a master's degree,
even though he hated grad school, and published his first book of poetry, Plain
Song (1965), and got a job teaching in New York. But he didn't really care for
the East Coast or for teaching, so he moved back to Michigan and made $2.50 an
hour as a construction worker and wrote some more books of poetry — Walking
(1967) and Locations (1968). And he liked being back in Michigan. He said, "I
figured out that my main obsession is freedom, and if I didn't have the freedom
of close access to the natural world, I wasn't going to survive." And he said,
"If things are terrible beyond conception and I walk for 25 miles in the forest,
they tend to go away for a while. Whereas if I lived in Manhattan I couldn't
escape them."
Then, in 1970, he was hunting and he hurt his back so badly
that he had to stay in bed for months. His friend Thomas McGuane told him he
should try writing a novel, so he did, and it was Wolf: A False Memoir (1971).
It didn't do very well, and neither did his next couple of novels. Then he was
visiting the set of the movie The Missouri Breaks, because Tom McGuane had
written the screenplay, and he became friends with Jack Nicholson. Jack
Nicholson wanted Harrison to keep on writing, so he ended up lending him a chunk
of money to get through the project he had started. And that was Legends of the
Fall (1979),a collection of three novellas, and it sold well and got good
reviews and made Jim Harrison famous. He's continued to write novels and poetry,
most recently his novel The English Major (2008) and his poetry collection In
Search of Small Gods (2009), his 12th book of poetry, which came out earlier
this year.

"They made the world
round, so you could not see too far down the road."

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a
good poem, see
a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable


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