Books I Love

Dead Man's Float March 31 2016, 0 Comments

"Conversing with the poet-novelist is somehow akin to watching his dogs work the cover for birds. They race off on tangents, describing broad loops and arcs, or tight circles, always returning in a controlled, if circuitous, pattern that is at once instinct, training, ritual, and play.

Harrison is a man of prodigious memory and free-wheeling brilliance and erudition, as well as great spirit and generosity, lightness and humor; so the reader should imagine wild giggles and laughter throughout, and supply them even when they seem inappropriate—especially when they seem inappropriate. Imagine, too, the sounds and the textures in the background of the tapes: the easy talk of friends and hunting cronies; the light, cold drizzle of the wettest fall in Michigan history; sodden leaves and branches underfoot; and always the ringing of the dogs’ bells, sometimes nearby, sometimes barely discernible, fading into the woods."
Jim Fergus, The Paris Review

"It’s the origin of the thinking behind The Theory and Practice of Rivers. In a life properly lived, you’re a river. You touch things lightly or deeply; you move along because life herself moves, and you can’t stop it; you can’t figure out a banal game plan applicable to all situations; you just have to go with the “beingness” of life, as Rilke would have it. In Sundog, Strang says a dam doesn’t stop a river, it just controls the flow. Technically speaking, you can’t stop one at all."
Jim Harrison, The Paris Review

When I heard of Jim Harrison's passing last Saturday, my heart broke in a million pieces. I broke down in tears in front of my mother-in-law who probably thought that I was downright crazy. Some people will never be able to understand how you can sustain an imaginary conversation with a writer for half your life and consider them your family. Jim Harrison was one of those writers for me.

Above my writing desk in Canada, I had four photographs of writers pinned under glass like butterflies: Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Richard Ford and Jim Harrison. I talk to them when I'm distraught. I sit with them in Adirondack chairs at dusk and watch rivers go by in the roaring silence. I ask myself what they would do in certain situations. I stare at their faces as if they contain all the secrets of the universe, but mostly of a life well-lived, my elusive holy grail.

I cannot think of anyone whose appetite - his celebratory and constantly renewed hunger for life is legendary - is more contagious and more exquisite than Jim Harrison's. The joy he finds in the world, in the wilderness, in birds, in a dog's personality, in movement, in the passing of seasons, in the bodies of women, in the company of dead poets, in tree logs, in fly-fishing, heats up your heart like a floating sun.

The poems in Dead Man's Float are full of mortality and aging and grief and melancholy and yet you won't find more life and vigor and tenacity and attentiveness in any other book you've read recently. Jim Harrison talks to his own beloved poets (Garcia Lorca, Mandelstam, Rimbaud) the way he has his entire life and ends the book sitting with Machado at the edge of a suspended bridge above the sea. This poem both floored me and filled my heart with an animal pulse.

Bridge
by Jim Harrison

Most of my life was spent
building a bridge out over the sea
but the sea was too wide and it didn't
go anyplace. 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
but the material keeps coming as I hang
here in the air. 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
which imitates the sky's thunder
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, the fatal plummet. 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.

Now go and read him.