Reading for National Poetry Month
April is National Poetry Month, the 20th anniversary of this event. So, should you wish to dip into a volume of verse this month, you might want to check out the following recent publications.
Jim Harrison, who died two weeks ago, was one of our most acclaimed fiction writers. But most folks don’t know that he was also an accomplished poet, the author of some thirteen collection of poems including “The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems,” which was published in 1999.
His final volume of poems, “Dead Man’s Float” (Copper Canyon Press) came out earlier this year. The title alludes to a survival technique frequently used by long distance swimmers. And, as is to be expected, we find the author confronting the end of days, the ravages of time and more than a few indignities.
The poems are simultaneously tough, hard-minded and quietly elegiac evoking the wonders of birds, his favorite hunting dogs while also recognizing the truth that “at my age you don’t think about the future because you don’t have one.”
Although he is very aware that the “cost of flight is landing” he’s also capable of seeing that even though time might rush toward him without breaks, there is some respite in the pleasures of small things like the fact that “the radishes are good this year/run them through butter/add a little salt.”
Frank Stanford committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 29. He’d published six small, short collections of poems while in his 20s, becoming with the passing of time something of a cult figure in American letters.
His works have now been compiled in “What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford” which is also available from Copper Canyon Press. The 750 page volume collects poems published and unpublished, poems that are raw and direct, drawing upon the irrational and an avoidance of punctuation to conjure the interior life of a damaged soul fighting with the ghosts of his life.
It’s a kind of more than usually off-kilter surrealism and to say that the poems are “all over the place” is not a disingenuous statement, but they are also dispatches of great feeling that conflate fact and fiction, honky-tonks and harsh light, the imminent violence that has not yet, but certainly will, occurred.
In his long poem “The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I love You” the poet notes “so far I am the only poet of my kind in this country/though you have probably noticed by now that I am from another country.”
These works of a true American original are worth dipping into again and again.
Kirk Robertson covers the arts and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org