Jim Harrison: Complete Poems

Copper Canyon. Nov. 2021. 944p. ISBN 9781556595936. $40. POETRY
Harrison (Legends of the Fall) will always be better known as a fiction writer than a poet, but the sheer scale of this massive collection (over 900 pages) gives ample testimony to his lifelong dedication to poetry. Harrison belonged to the honorable American tradition of tale-teller rather than intellectual laborer; his poems, while they don’t spin the narratives his novels and novellas do, share with them a deep grounding in landscape and geography. Harrison did not quite have the flawless ear of his hero James Wright, and his lines move along with a certain prosiness, but he had wit and feeling, plus a good eye: in “Reading Calasso,” he writes, “I’m the pet dog of a family of gods / Who never gave me any training.” Certain themes persist: the fascination of the natural world and an awareness of human life’s troubles and limits, the latter colored at times by Harrison’s Zen practice. In a collection that spans decades of living and writing, there are poems of every character, many of them superb.
VERDICT This immense volume will bring great pleasure to readers of James Wright and John Haines and may be the perfect lure for ardent readers of Harrison’s fiction; they will find many poems to cherish.
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