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Reviews 183 After Ikkyu and Other Poems. By Jim Harrison. (Boston: Shambhala Press, 1996. 94 pages, $10.00.) Jim Harrison is the last unabashed romantic of American letters. This small, ele­ gantly edited collection of poems, with a beautiful cover illustration by Russell Chatham, maycomeasasurprisetoreadersbetteracquaintedwithHarrison’srollicking fiction. The writing here is quieter, more introspective: Its Zen influence, attributedto friends and fellow artists Jack Turner, Gary Snyder, and Peter Matthiessen, says much about Harrison’sownartistictrajectory. “I’veenteredmythirdact,”hewritesin“Return toYesenin.”Allthepoemsinthiscollectionreflectthis,combiningconfessionwithcom­ passion, powerfullyevoking the poet’sowncoming toterms withhis life and work. YetAfter Ikkyu, likeall Harrison’swriting, finds itsbrilliance in struggle, not reso­ lution. Inthepreface, thepoet admitsthatheisnot averyaccomplishedBuddhist. “Iam still a fool,”he writes. But Zen does help him get closer to reality, to “the heart of the matter.”Thirteenth-century Japanese monk-poet Ikkyu Sojun thus serves as the perfect emblem for this collection. He is eccentric, passionate, andcritical ofall hypocrisy. He is also imperfect. Harrison’s verse, like his mythic character, Brown Dog, blunders along, clumsy attimes, light-footedwhenleast expected, always vivacious. After Ikkyu contains fifty-seven untitled paragraph-long poems loosely based on Ikkyu’sfour-line model, andeight longerpoems. There is no narrative sequence in the Ikkyu poems, only sudden illuminations. Some of his favorite themes, bird-dogs, the West, and food reappear often. There is much humor, most of it black, as in “the vast asteroid on its way toward L.A. goes unmentioned,” or the more heavy-handed “the city’sairheavywiththefatofcountless dieters.”Onealsofindsthe slightlysophomoric iconography ofhis previous poetry: Germanic folklore about the death ofthe Gods, his fascinationwithRussianpoetSergeiYesenin’ssuicide, sex-symbolLucreziaBorgia. But the theme that foregrounds all these poems andgives thempoignancy ishis self-admittedlyProtestant obsession withdeath. “Timeeats us alive,”he writes. It is in the longer poems that Harrison’s newfound Zen wisdom really shines through. “Coyote No. I” and“Bear” aretersenature lyrics closely resembling Snyder’s work. Both“Time Suit”and“North”arelongermeditations on ourtransitory yet delec­ tablecondition, validated bythose “events that arethe marrow ofthe gods.”“Return to Yesenin” refuses the suicide suggested in the last Ikkyu poem: “The dogs don’t need another/ weeping Jesus on the cross of Art.” The collection ends with a long, superb poem entitled “Sonoran Radio,” which most successfully embodies Harrison’s unique intelligence and sensitivity: “Just over the mountains/this other country, despised/ and forsaken, makes more sense./It admits people arecomplicated.” PATRICKVINCENT University of California, Davis The Yellowstone Meditations. By James Magorian. (Erie, Pennsylvania :Poetry Forum Press, 1996. 8pages, $3.00.) If you like to read funny poetry loaded with irony, consider the works of James Magorian, a Nebraska poet whose masterpiece, The Hideout of the Sigmund Freud 184 Western American Literature Gang, has the only “Automotive Interlude” I’ve ever seen in a collection of poems. Magorian’s latest chapbook, The Yellowstone Meditations, consists of forty four-line haiku-likepoems that make us rethinkourviews ofwilderness and national parks. I find striking imagery, satire, irony, and poignancy woven into most of the forty poems, usually with one of those qualities dominant in each individual poem. Irony marks the opening poem: “I. The geysers, moody/ as old high school classmates,/ wait toerupt/until yourbackis turned.”The weakestpoemsinthecollectiontendtohavethe most satirical thrust, as inthispredictable attack: “XVII. Leaning onhis squadcarfend­ er,/the sheriff—cowboyboots, glintybadge,/avalanche ofbellyoverbelt—Igunsdown strangers with his stare.” More successful areimagistic gems such as this: “XXIV. Like a shoplifter,/ lightning strolls/ nonchalantly/ around the lookout tower.” My favorites have a bittersweet/funnysad poignancy, as in the last poem: “XL. In the dump/ another generationofbears/pauses toread/your checklists.” Most of Magorian’s four-liners lack the lyric intensity ofEmily Dickinson’s short poems, but he shares Dickinson’s ability to surprise us into new ways of seeing the world. Like Zenkoans, TheYellowstoneMeditations tickle themind’sfunnybone. JAMES H. MAGUIRE BoiseState University TheBookofYaak. ByRickBass. (Boston: HoughtonMifflin, 1996. 190pages, $21.95.) I’ve finally finished reading Rick Bass’s The Book ofYaak. It took me a while. It wasnottoughreadingordullorunimportant. Ijust didn’t wanttoleave it—andbecause I wasinvolvedinmyownattempttosaveasacredplace, it spoketomeinaspecialway. I’d heard Rick speak at a seminar on nature writing last year in Key West. He’d servedon apanel dealing withart and advocacychaired byTerryTempestWilliams, an artful advocate herself. The question seemedtobe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 183-184
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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