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Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison (1937-2016) was the author of over three dozen books, including Legends of the Fall and Dalva, and served as the food columnist for the magazines Brick and Esquire. He published fourteen volumes of poetry, the final being Dead Man's Float (2016). His work has been translated into two dozen languages and produced as four feature-length films. As a young poet he co-edited Sumac magazine, with fellow poet Dan Gerber, and earned a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007, he was elected into the Academy of American Arts and Letters. Regarding his most beloved art-form, he wrote:  "Poetry, at its best, is the language your soul would speak if you could teach your soul to speak." Jim Harrison certainly spoke the language.

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Jim Harrison Has Let Go of the Goose
by Eb "Walrus" De Ice

He sits upon the edge, his wagging feet above th' abyss,
the moon is in his lap; he gives it one, long, last, big kiss.
This is his job, to study, from his bridge, the universe.
He has the sky, the sea, and now he reaches for the curse.
Jim Harrison has let go of the goose up rising fast,
his head back flat against the ground, wings beautiful flap past.
The faint, green streak of forest trees on Canada's far shore
looms just above the stark horizon for him nevermore.
The dead man floats away upon the sea too big for him;
and any of us, anyway, so wide, and so long, Jim.

E De Ice

This is the saddest I will ever be for the passing of a voice. I grew up in the UP which is largely dull and monotonous to the eye until you hit the Lakes. But Harrison braided the places and peoples with his never dull and particular vision so that even a raven on the ice opens doors to doors. He said that you only get from nature what you bring to it. And, for many readers I'd guess, what he gave us to bring to it.

Dan Fahrbach

I've read all of Harrison's fiction and most of his poetry. He was a singular talent, prodigious in his appetites, his literary output and his love of life and nature. I wrote to him in 1999 (before he stopped responding to his avalanche of letters) asking, naively, if he had read A.J. Leibling's "Between Meals," since it focuses on food. Harrison wrote back and said he'd read all of Leibling [surprise!] and added a PS that he'd recently walked around Paris visiting the places mentioned in the book. Harrison's life was a triumph.

Marty Jourard

His work, especially "Braided Creek" always made me wish I was a poet......

Kevin Krause

Long ago, when I was still a young pup, and finding myself, and my way into the world, I discovered your poetry, and writings.
Because of your poems ,and prose I felt encouraged to express myself through the writing of poetry.
It didn't seem unmanly.
It was as if a veil had been lifted and I had been giving permission to write.
I didn't come from a scholastic world, and from my view,and I didn't seem to fit the mold of the other smart guy, witty, poets and eloquent writers.
You have left behind a treasure of poems and writings that I and the world, will forever cherish and be grateful.
I wish we had crossed paths my friend, see you on the other side.
Thank You, Jim Harrison, I'll miss your daily/current contributions to my life.

Stan Nassano

LAST DREAM OF AN OLD POET (In Memory of Jim Harrison)

Bruise deep blue morning
colored by the fading bloom of
one last dream and the awake world
of crows outside my casita
calling out to one another
and to me, but I am all too human
to translate their dawn salutations;
or were they warnings?

The old poet died at his desk
with a dried grizzly bear turd,
a coyote skull, a wild turkey foot,
and a crow wing among the other
silent, insentient witnesses.

Outside the window of this
fitting if not final resting place,
the natural world he made his muse
did not mourn, but went about
its business; the old poet's last dream
the same as the splash of Sonoita Creek,
the spring blooms of the brittlebush,
the crow conversations
he translated so effortlessly.


James Goertel

Mr Harrison had a profound effect on me as to what it meant to be a man in this modern world. I am not sad as much for his passing over to the mystery, but that once he and our other grandfather's of the spirit past , so many young men will be lost. I cry for his loss and the loss so many will never feel having never known his energy and life. I cry for the future passing of the other grandfather's who I have never met but shaped me as a man as well...Gary Snyder, Red Pine...our spiritual grandfather's who will never occur again on this earth.

Kenn Bear Hiser

I spoke with Jim Harrison today
He wants me to
And drive him to his favorite thicket in Grand Marais where he
intends to offer up
to his birds
the remains
He would like to smoke one more cigarette.
He said that the
is close enough
I could roll him over the bank
Into the water
and he would
on his back
out to Superior

Dave Nelson

Grande tristesse.
Paris. France

Astrid Pesez

I first discovered Jim Harrison through his fiction, which I loved, but he truly came alive through his poetry. As a rule, I'm against unnecessarily flowery language that "stirs my soul" or "speaks to me," but his work was anything but flowery or pretentious. It didn't pretend to be anything. And I loved it. I regret the fact that we will have no new work from Mr. Harrison. More importantly, I regret that such a distinctive person, with a truly unique way of looking at and understanding the world, is no longer with us. Thank you, Mr. Harrison, and thanks to Copper Canyon and Grove Atlantic for sharing his work with the rest of us.

William Donahue

I reside in northern Michigan not far from where some of Jim's poetry and prose was centered. He is a kickass writer. No one has written of northern mich and the UP as Jim. He captured the essence of the independent and crazy nature of the "almost Canadian" culture. He took me on rides through Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Arizona, California. Across France and into very strange and foreign places like Los Angeles and New York all the while exposing the arrogance and sordid souls of the residents of those sour cities.
Jim is now On the Road Home. He enriched my life. I weep for the grandeur of rebellious poets. God love you Jim.

Don Samardich

We speak of those we know or love too often?and too early?in the past tense, lamenting our culturally induced blindness. The characters in our stories, however, we speak of in the present tense. They remain forever alive. Harrison?s characters live yet, treading the boggy landscape threading tragedy with comedy. Thanks for the landscapes and the characters, Jim.

Glen Young

What a great talent. He will be missed.
I hope Copper Canyon reissues "Plainsong".

Edd Tury

"The river is not where it starts and ends", a favorite Jim Harrison line. His family is in my thoughts. I will be rereading his books for years to come...

Mark Senkus

For J. H. when learning of his death

The sea runs red
The color of Yessenin's jacket
When you refuse to think
Of your own death
And the sky laughs
Its blue, thinking
How American
The valleys and cliffs join in
Did you think we would gyp you?
Oh, no, you must think it
Of adding this last layer
Tri-folding the cornices
Between ravage and dismal and sea.

Steven Hartung

Like Raymond Carver he pulled off the seeming impossibility of writing amazing prose but even better was the poetry. A rare creature indeed.

Brian Stillman


"Its hard to think about, but by the time I die, if I make it another twenty years, wouldnt it be wonderful to stand out here, hidden from view, in this big jungle of bushes and wildflowers? Thats my idea of, a nice thing." - Jim HARRISON

Jim Harrison is not dead. He is simply, hidden from view, in a big jungle of bushes and wildflowers, where he came from to begin with. The American Author, originally from Michigan, but eventually adopted, around the world, is not the type of guy who will die. He will not go softly into the night, nor will he squeak and moan under the wheels of a government tractor. Jim Harrison is currently soaring high above the river of life, that uncontrollable force of nature, that can sometimes be damned, but never controlled. Jim Harrison came from a family that adored and revered Literature: "My Family were obsessive readers" The famous story goes, that, at a dinner table discussion, his family were talking about Norman Mailer's first success on the world stage and his book, entitled, " The Naked and The Dead, " young Jim responded to the conversation with the quick and curious question, "Does it have Illustrations ?" Laughter ensued and the beginning of his particularly curious, yet grounded, stoic, although humorous, celebratory whilst at the same time cautionary literary style is born. He explains years later that, "So much of my material comes from generalized wandering around the U.S. Travel, and walking, I never get an idea standing still." Jim Harrison was first published as a poet in national magazines such as NATION and POETRY and later by Denise Nembertoff at W.W. Norton in the 1960s/ Harrison wrote the now classic Book, "Legends of the FALL," in nine days, and later changed only a single word. When pondering that experience, decades later, he could not remember what Word had been changed.

The author of thirty some books of Prose and Poetry, often written concurrently, had a deep understanding of the process of writing, of nature, of tribal law and of humanity at large, was truly the best teacher to writers, although, he found it impossible to do so officially. Having once tried to teach at Stoneybrook, with the likes of fellow writers such as the great Philip Roth, Harrison did not have the temperament. He ultimately did not believe in many of the College programs and famously railed against the, 'safety,' and 'comfort,' of the Universities. Harrison was a fan of Katherine Ann Porter early on and found great strides in short novels throughout his entire career. "I don't like needless expansiveness," he exclaimed. While the Publisher's often thought that if many of his novellas had been longer, he may have become a wealthier writer. Though Harrison preferred a dense, short form style, as opposed to the long-winded form, and felt that it gave his audience room to participate in the reading. "I don't know where, 'The Voice,' ever comes from, Ya Know ? Every book is quite different, but maybe not stylistically," he pondered over a glass of red wine some years ago. Harrison was revered in France, had nine best seller's there, and had grown up with good french literature: Flaubert, Baudelaire, Maupassant. Some had been passed down from his father's library, others having discovered early on in high school.

When asked by fledgling writers what was the secret to good writing ? Jim often replied, "You have to give your entire life to it." After years of Book Touring, that often included 23 cities in 29 days with 30 interviews a week, he gave that part of the business up. Explaining, "I like what Miles Davis said: 'It's All In my MUSIC. What Do I have To Say About IT?' Jim Harrison enjoyed medium sized cities such as Seattle, which he likened to, "San Francisco back in Nineteen Sixty-Eight," he also admired Minneapolis and Chicago. Harrison thought that young men and women should see and live in the big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, early on in life, but that nature was where, 'ITS' at. He often quoted author's philosophy's first hand. The French Poet, Rene Char, speaking to the mysteries of writing with the Muse, "You have to be there, when the bread comes from the oven." Jim Harrison's influences are vast and varied, he preferred Faulkner over Hemingway, read French, Chinese, Zen and Native Literature, all the while, he wrote American stories that were translated into International languages of all sorts. He loved the works of his friends and fellow writers such as Ford and Matthiessen as much as he revered and honored Herman Melville and Walt Whitman.

When it came to writers who happened to be women, Jim Harrison explains, "I dont think of women novelists, but writers. Who do I read when they have something coming out ? Denise Levertov, Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Diane Wakoski, Renata Adler, Alison Lurie, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Ellen Gilchrist, Anne Tyler, Adrienne Rich, Rebecca Newth, Rosellen Brown, Gretel Ehrlich, Annie Dillard, Susan Sontag. Those come immediately to mind. Also Margaret Atwood. " The beauty of Jim Harrison is that he is the tough guy who is not an asshole. He is the rugged individualist who has deep knowledge of the tribe. He is a man, with all his flaws and desires, yet openly honors and reveres women. He is a learned seeker of knowledge yet shuns formal education and its weaknesses. Jim Harrison is that great and original writer who reveres others who have walked the path. As he explains about Henry MILLER, " Miller was Very Valuable to Me, a Force in nature, Extremely Powerful." Harrison goes onto explain that he and Miller subscribed to the patterns of napping and refreshing the muse several times a day, through sleep. Something they probably don't teach in College.

Harrison's mother, many years later, while close to death, took him aside and, giving him a compliment, in the great Swedish style, that was her way, "You made quite a Living out of your Fibs." Speaking to her son's career and notoriety as a Novelist and fiction writer. His grandfather had emigrated in the 1880s from Sweden, to become a cowboy and settled on farming. While many other writers would seek false knowledge from Native American ways, practices and adornments, Harrison did nothing of the sort. He understood early on that Experience and Voluntary Energy donated by The Author, were truly the only way to true experience, that can later be reflected upon, and offered to the reader. He railed against false new age practices that appropriated exercises from native tribes and he understood clearly, that there was no such thing as a Native American belief system, there were Hundreds of Tribes, each with a name, each with a language, each with an originality. That is one of the reasons why the Lakota and other tribal members respect Jim Harrison. He spoke directly to animals and nature, and in turn, animals and nature, spoke to him. "You have to EARN Knowledge from Nature and it's Ancient culture's," he explained, time and time again, "You can't get more out of nature, than you bring to it yourself."

Jim Harrison's time in nature brought him closer to the fine arts, "The more time I spend in Nature, The More I like Mozart, Shakespeare, Stravinsky." How could a man so deeply ingrained in Native American ways, also love and be loved by European Culture ? Because, we as writers, bring who our ancestors are, without denial of our roots, and along the journey, we also learn about those who once walked, where we walk, and in doing so, we bridge the gap, between past and present, between truth and fiction, between poetry and politics. Jim Harrison did just that. He did it with humbleness, with style and with bravado. His work is bigger on the page, than it is in real life and so, he avoids the celebrity personality that sometimes dogs other writers of his stature, Charles Bukowski for instance.
In his admiration for writers who could speak about everything, all at once, Jim Harrison admired Saul Bellow and went onto explain, "The most sophisticated people are the most primitive, they release their energy in such a way, like Picasso and Matisse, very basic people, with an enormously profound esthetic sense," he added, "I basically write for esthetic reasons."

aesthetic | esˈTHetik | (also esthetic ) adjective / concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty: the pictures give great aesthetic pleasure. � giving or designed to give pleasure through beauty; of pleasing appearance. noun [ in sing. ] a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement: the Cubist aesthetic. DERIVATIVES : aesthetically |-ik(ə)|adverb [ as submodifier ] : an aesthetically pleasing color combination/ ORIGIN late 18th cent. (in the sense / relating to perception by the senses/ from Greek /perceptible things/ concerned with beauty/ was coined in German in the mid 18th cent. and adopted into English in the early 19th cent., but its use was controversial until late in the century.

This is why, I Exclaim to you, on this day, that, Jim Harrison is Not Dead, he is quite simply, " hidden from view, in a big jungle of bushes and wildflowers," where he came from to begin with. And, I ask you, with the life you are now living, the way you are now thinking, the things you are now seeing, the way you are now walking, Are You Dead ? If so, Please purchase a Book by my Father in Literature and Life, The Great, But Never Late: Mister Jim HARRISON.


Joshua Triliegi

Is ortolan on the menu tonight?
(In memory of Jim Harrison 1937-2016)

Are you sharing tea with Li Po and Yesenin
With the coals glowing for a hunter?s supper?

Or, has Lucullus paid for dinner and asked Jayer to pick the wines
With Rabelais and Zola invited and Welles if he has slimmed down?

Can you let us know whether enlightenment or abyss waits?
We will keep wondering until you do.

Ralph Long

Absolutely my favorite writer of all time. I discovered Jim's work several years ago after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations". Growing up in a small Michigan town, 20 miles north of his birthplace and my lifelong love of the outdoors made me feel a distinct connection with him. I am well on my way to reading everything he has written and can't put his work down when I do. One of my most prized possessions is my poetry trifold with poems and autographs by Jim, Clemens Starck and Dan Gerber.

"Jim Harrison listens to music that no one else can hear." is one of my most memorable quotes, and it is descriptive of his life and writing.

RIP Mr Harrison, your memory and legacy will live on through your writing and we loyal fans of your life and work.

John Snyder

An amazing force in American letters has moved on. But the light hasn't dimmed one bit. So much left for us to love and remember. For him, Peace.

Philip Shaw

May you meet all your dogs in heaven! I will raise a glass of Cotes du Rhone in your honor. I am reeling that we won't have a new book from you next year. (Did you leave any behind for us?) Enjoy the fishing down the river.

Bill Bridges

What sadness and what loss! There was never anyone quite like him. Who is there out there in the American republic of letters who can take his place? I hope someone will, but I'm not optimistic. Bravo to Copper Canyon for publishing Jim all these years.

Bob DeMott

Very sad to hear him gone. Was a huge fan since Letters to Yesenin in the 70's and was lucky to spend a day with him when he came to a Writer's Festival in Toronto. No one was like him--he was a wonderful force of nature and gifted storyteller.

michael williamson

I don't usually get too affected by these things, the death of poets. I stumbled across this one after having loved all the movies that were made from his work, the fascinating part is that they were all novellas. Compact intense works of fiction. The poetry is intense
and biographical. They have power. Anyone who is a "searcher", reading for more than just entertainment, will know what I mean. He had an opinion on the grand scheme of things. He put it into his writing. That's s just what a writer of his caliber would do.

Miles Thompson

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