As a young poet, Jim Harrison became enamored with ghazals—a poetic form rooted in seventh-century Arabia which became popular in the United States through the translations of Rumi, Hafiz, and Ghalib. While he ignored most of the formal rules, within the energized couplets he discovered a welcome vehicle for his driving passions, muscular genius, and wrecking-ball rages. The year Harrison’s Outlyer & Ghazals appeared, The New York Times honored the book with inclusion on their coveted “Noteworthy Titles” list, provocatively noting that these poems were “worth loving, hating, and fighting over.” Collected Ghazals gathers all of Harrisons’s published ghazals into a single volume, accompanied by an afterword by poet and noted ghazal writer Denver Butson, who writes that with this collection, Harrison’s ghazals “are ours to witness again in all their messy, brave, honest, grieving, lustful, longing humanity.”
Listen to Denver Butson read Jim Harrison’s poem “Drinking Song” from Collected Ghazals:
What will I do with seven billion cubic feet of clouds
in my head? I want to be wise and dispense it for quarters.
All these push-ups are making me a muscular fatman. Love would
make me lean and burning. Love. Sorry the elevator’s full.
She was zeroed in on by creeps and forgot my meaningful glances
from the door. But then I’m walleyed and wear used capes.
She was built entirely of makeup, greasepaint all the way through
like a billiard ball is a billiard ball beneath its hard skin.
We’ll have to leave this place in favor of where the sun
is cold when seen at all, bones rust, it rains all day.
The cat is mine and so is the dog. You take the orchard,
house and car and parents. I’m going to Greenland at dawn.