Thus my life draws fuel ineluctably from triumph.

It’s National Poetry Month, and given my love of poetry I feel compelled to post something about poetry. I have always been a fan of Jim Harrison. I’ve often quoted his writing on this blog. But a few weeks ago I saw on Poetry Daily one of his poems that boldly spoke to me – titled simply “27“.

First I have to explain Poetry Daily. I confess I’m a little reluctant to admit its the start page on my browser, my “home” page. I guess I’ve always found bite-size morsels of poetry unsatisfying, not engaging enough, a little too stranded out there in the world without context. Poetry Daily seems like it should be too least-common-denominator to be satisfying. But in fact, I frequently find it satisfying. Whoever picks those poems has taste similar to mine at least part of the time.

So a few weeks ago Harrison’s “27” showed up. It was such a sharp, hard-edged poem, with a narrative force to it and more than a bit of mystery. I loved it, even with its bleak, dark commentary. I looked up the book, Letters to Yesenin. A new one for me. Hmmm. I ordered a copy.

I love reading an excellent book of poems, one that holds together and has a narrative force to it. It has been a while since I’ve read a book of poems that held together so tightly, with such a taut and compelling emotional thread driving it along. But Letters to Yesenin is exactly that sort of book of poems – one long poem, really. So good I couldn’t stop reading it and re-reading it. It’s dark, to be sure – Harrison wrote the book when he was a younger man, in the 1970s, when he was probably close to my age (30). He’s living as a hard-scrabble farmer, with his wife and small children, and is full of despair at the dead-end his life seems to have found, a dead-end without the excitement and engagement of the literary life he desires. Harrison writes the poems in a deep depression, as intimate letters to the Russian poet Yesenin (who wrote his last poem in his own blood and hung himself at 1925). Curiously, I had a hard time finding much Yesenin’s work online. But Harrison’s poems begin in the darkness of real despair, considering suicide like Yesenin, and ultimately through the letters to Yesenin, Harrision talks himself, ever so slowly, out of his depression and back into a love of life again.

It is a compelling and intense emotional journey. Hayden Carruth called it “one of the best [books of poems] in the past twenty-five years of American writing”. I’m forced to agree. It was fine. Thus my life draws fuel ineluctably from triumph.

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