The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Jim Harrison’

Jim Harrison, 1937–2016

March 29, 2016 | by

Photo: Wyatt McSpadden.

The arts are our wild edge, the wilderness areas of the imagination …
—Claude Lévi-Strauss

Jim Harrison gained international renown as a storyteller of literary genius, but through all the novels and novellas and films that made him a celebrity, he remained a poet. His first book of poems, 1965’s Plain Song, came out a half century and a year ago. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his poetry in 1969—before he began writing anything else. That “anything else” turned into twenty-one volumes of fiction, two books of essays, a memoir, and a children’s book; and there were fourteen books of poetry, too. During some weeks and months of his life, he wrote poetry every day. Read More »

Malthusian Flotsam and Unspeakable Jetsam, and Other News

March 28, 2016 | by

Photo: Kirk Crawford.

  • Jim Harrison has died at seventy-eight. “You don’t write—an artist doesn’t create, or very rarely creates—good art in support of different causes,” he told The Paris Review in 1988. “And critics have an enormous difficulty separating the attitudes of your characters from your attitudes as a writer. You have to explain to them: I am not all the men in my novels. How could I be? I’m little Jimmy back here on the farm with my wife and two daughters, and, at one time, three female horses, three female cats, and three female dogs, and I’m quite a nice person.”
  • Fact: you, too, can enjoy Aldous Huxley waxing lyrical about a controversial Los Angeles sewage treatment plant. “One day in 1939, Aldous Huxley, Thomas Mann, and two women walk along the shore south of Los Angeles. The weather is beautiful, the beach is empty, and Shakespeare is debated. Then the group realizes that something’s funny about the beach. As Huxley put it in the essay, ‘Like Hyperion to a Satyr,’ they are suddenly walking among ‘ten million emblems and mementos of Modern Love … Malthusian flotsam and unspeakable jetsam.’ The four had found themselves among a sea of used condoms that ejected by Los Angeles’s Hyperion sewage treatment plant. Huxley returned to those shores a few years later, after LA upgraded the plant in 1950. He was overjoyed with what he saw, and what he thought the vista suggested about the city: ‘Another torrent, this time about 99.95 percent pure, rushes down through the submarine outfall and mingles, a mile offshore, with the Pacific. The problem of keeping a great city clean without polluting a river or fouling the beaches, and without robbing the soil of its fertility, has been triumphantly solved.’ ”
  • In America, Joseph Brodsky is often held up as “the poster boy for Soviet persecution,” as Cynthia Haven writes—but a new biography is trying to change that perception: “Ellendea Proffer Teasley, in her short new memoir, Brodskij sredi nas (Brodsky Among Us), offers a different view of the poet. It’s an iconoclastic and spellbinding portrait, some of it revelatory. Teasley’s Brodsky is both darker and brighter than the one we thought we knew, and he is the stronger for it … According to the leading critic Anna Narinskaya, writing in the newspaper Kommersant, Teasley’s memoir had been written ‘without teary-eyed ecstasy or vicious vengefulness, without petty settling of scores with the deceased—or the living—and at the same time demonstrating complete comprehension of the caliber and extreme singularity of her “hero” ’ … Even so, the book has yet to find a publisher in English, the language in which it was written.”
  • Do you want Saul Bellow’s desk? He sat there, wrote some books. And it’s nice—a mahogany roll-top job dating to the Victorian era. A steal at ten thousand bucks. Please buy it. Please, please buy it. No one else is buying it, Bellow’s son told the Wall Street Journal: “I guess space is expensive on the Upper West Side. Nobody’s got room for a giant piece of furniture … I thought, well, this will provoke discussion. But it really didn’t … I’m moving to a smaller place and the desk just isn’t fitting into the plan.”
  • Problem: a staging at the Park Avenue Armory of Louis Andriessen’s 1988 avant-garde opera, De Materie, calls for one hundred sheep. Solution: get the fucking sheep. “Simply getting hold of so many stage-ready sheep was an exceptionally difficult bit of opera casting … The bane of international opera stars is a visa system that can be difficult to navigate. For opera sheep, it is getting the right veterinary certificates, exhibiting permits, humane handling paperwork and the like … Then there was the question of where to house them. The ovine troupers could not sleep at the Armory; could not commute from Pennsylvania; and would not have been welcome at the hotels that usually cater to visiting sopranos. So accommodations were found at the Bronx Equestrian Center, which has stables in Pelham Bay Park. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which has jurisdiction over animals in performances, issued a permit to allow the project to go ahead … Then the Armory had to be readied. A backstage paddock was built and soundproofed … ”

Town of Marvels

June 27, 2013 | by

Image via oxfordmississippi.com

Image via oxfordmississippi.com.

The boy and the girl were engaged, driving to California, where the girl wanted to make costumes for the movies. The boy planned to study Native American archaeology; he was just out of the Navy. They were the sort of young people I felt accurate calling beautiful—good-looking, around twenty years old, in love. But it was more than that. The fact is, it’s sustaining, getting older, to meet young adults who are hopeful and naïve, just enough.

They had a car, a dog, a vision. But they didn’t have a book. Leaving New England, they’d heard about a certain book on NPR, and the girl thought it sounded just right. The boy said they’d find a copy on the road somewhere. They drove for days, heading south from New Hampshire: Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee. No book. The girl pressed. The boy promised. Bookstores don’t exactly dot the American highway in the grand manner of Sbarros. Finally, driving through Mississippi, seeing a sign for Oxford, the boy suggested they stop, stretch their legs, find the damn book. Oxford was a university town, there had to be a bookstore somewhere.

They parked in the tiny main square. A bookstore stood on the corner under a sign for Fortune’s Famous Ice Cream. The girl walked the dog, the boy went inside. He asked, Do you have this book?

We do, the clerk said. And there it was, right next to the register, a stack of them. The clerk said, Do you want a signed copy?

I guess so, the boy said.

Wait, but you do know the author was here tonight, right? He just did a reading, the clerk said after a moment. It was about seven P.M., the verge of dusk. The boy was confused. Suddenly, the clerk was pointing out the window, saying, Wait, that’s him going by right there.

No one really knows the value of book tours. Whether or not they’re good ideas, or if they improve book sales. I happen to think the author is the last person you’d want to talk to about a book; they hate it by that point, they’ve already moved on to a new lover. Besides, the author never knows what the book is about anyway. Read More »

4 COMMENTS

Being Dalva Northridge

October 12, 2010 | by

Jim Harrison's portrait of Dalva Northridge.

It wasn’t my idea to have sex while the dog watched. It was Jim Harrison’s.

I was reading a scene near the end of Harrison’s novel Dalva, when Dalva Northridge meets a Native-American cowboy named Sam Creekmouth and ends up having bourbon-fueled trailer sex with him. During their rib-bruising lovemaking session, Dalva’s pup howls along. “That dog music’s a real mood swinger,” says Sam.

I had discovered Harrison during a lonely summer abroad. His novel Returning to Earth, sent by my mother, was comfortingly American—full of Michigan glacier lakes and complicated delinquents. Now back in the States, I was reading everything he had written. He was a master of the unconventional character, and Dalva was queen among them.

I very much liked the idea of being entangled with a shirtless horseman who fried up post-sex bacon before skinny-dipping in a pond and said things like, “If I see another oilman, I might shoot the son of a bitch.”

There were some challenges: I was not a grand, reckless, independently wealthy beauty who rode bareback over the plains; I gagged at the smell of brown liquor, and grass-chewing rodeo riders were hard to come by in New York.

But I did have a dog. And from now on, I would not shut her away in another room during relations. This was potentially the first step to becoming as brave and earthy as Dalva.

Immediately, there were problems. Read More »

6 COMMENTS