Sergei Yesenin was a Russian poet who, in 1925, hanged himself after writing his farewell poem in blood. Jim Harrison’s gorgeous, desperate “correspondence” with Yesenin is an American masterwork.
In the early 1970s, Harrison was living in poverty on a hard-scrabble farm, suffering from depression and suicidal urges. He began to write daily prose-poem letters to Yesenin, confiding to his unlikely friend about sex, drunkenness, family, politics—about living for another day. Although “the rope” remained ever present, Harrison listened to his poems: “My year-old daughter’s red robe hangs from the doorknob shouting stop.”
“[T]he way Harrison has embedded his entire vision of our predicament implicitly in the particulars of two poetic lives, his own and Yesenin’s, is what makes the poem not only his best but one of the best in the past twenty-five years of American writing. It does one of the things that art must do: unflinchingly, it gives us our own image, and it does so in superbly controlled and concise language.” —Hayden Carruth
“These timeless prose poems, reissued as part of a new classics series, prove that the chains that bind the poet are also the chords that release him… [The poems] are texts for an inner strength found when a lone voice reaches out to the invisible many and a lethal and heavenly dialogue is found.” —Bloomsbury Review
“Harrison inhabits the problems of our age as if they were beasts into which he had crawled, and Letters to Yesenin is a kind of imaginative taxidermy that refuses to stay in place up on the trophy room wall, but insists on walking into the dining room.” —American Poetry Review
“The sequence of poems is a powerful plumbing of how to live in a world that says no in 10,000 ways, yes in only a few.” —Lahontan Valley News