Jeffrey Harrison is the author of four full-length books of poetry—most recently Incomplete Knowledge (Four Way Books), which was runner-up for the Poets’ Prize in 2008—as well as of The Names of Things, a selection of earlier work published by the Waywiser Press in the U.K. in 2006. His fifth book, What Comes Next, won the Dorset Prize competition and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2014. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, he has new work in recent or forthcoming issues of The Yale Review, The New Republic, American Poetry Review, The Hudson Review, AGNI, and elsewhere. For more information please go his website, which can be found here.
“The late year has grown fresh again and new
I took a walk with Edward Thomas
across the hills of Gloucestershire,
still green in mild late December,
the Sunday before Christmas.
His language as fresh as water,
as clear as birdsong or the bells
that drifted up from a village,
was what I seemed to need that day;
and I liked the way he pointed out
with quiet enthusiasm
a bird’s nest wreathed into a hedge
or a wildflower still in bloom.
The beaters pacing a muddy field
of turnips, cracking their white flags
to flush partridges and pheasants
over a grove where hunters hid,
turned our talk to distant wars.
We heard faint shots and saw birds drop,
and cheered the ones that made it through,
winging their way to farther fields.
That was where we headed, too,
“nearly regardless of footpaths,”
getting lost to make a game
of finding our way back again.
“Pure earth and wind and sunlight,”
were the elements he said he loved.
Then he grew quiet, as if to become
“nothing but breathing and seeing,”
and by the time I took the lane
back into town, I was alone,
though in the pocket of my coat
my hand still held his book of poems.
The Critic Who Writes Poems
None of us know for sure if what we write
Is any good, but he knows even less.
So many poets are afraid he might
Review their books, they give his poems a pass.
As in the adage that the safest place
For the fly to land is squarely on the swatter,
They aren’t going to tell him to his face
What they think, if it’s easier to flatter.
Oh, pity the poor critic, who’s deprived
Of the criticism on which poets depend—
Not what we get from him but what we give
Each other: the honest, sometimes painful kind
Whose absence makes it perilously easy
To avoid the thought that one’s poems might be lousy.
Poetics 101 Revisited
Keats could never have foreseen,
and might view with some uncertainty,
how often we would end up quoting
his letter on Negative Capability.
And I wonder if Eliot would object
to the zillions of times we’ve cited
the term “objective correlative,”
a phrase he used exactly once.
What’s the opposite of an epiphany?
That’s what poor Joyce would undergo
if he knew what a cliché
we’ve turned that word into.
And perhaps even Dr. Williams would prescribe
some ideas other than in things,
though Pound might stubbornly insist
that “make it new” never gets old.
But how long do we need to go
in fear of abstractions? Is a century enough?
Is fear the proper emotion to be feeling
while composing a poem?—
maybe so, as long as it is
recollected in tranquility
and then spontaneously overflows
in powerful etc.
Beginning in delight seems right,
but whether it ends in wisdom,
a bang, a whimper, despondency, or madness,
or is never finished, only abandoned,
depends upon a red wheel barrow,
a piece of ice on a hot stove, a pheasant
disappearing in the brush then taking off
the top of your head.