Harrison, Jim (2016). Dead Man’s Float. Fort Townsend, WA.
Copper Canyon. ISBN 978-1-55659-445-8. Hardcover.
Dead Man’s Float is Jim Harrison’s most recent book of poetry and one of his best. At first glace, the poems in the book might seem like stereotypical death poems from some self-pitying poet who sits around feeling sorry for himself. They are not that. Instead, the poems illuminate the existential quality of the human condition as it can be lived by an individual who possesses a powerful, moving voice.
Throughout his career as a writer, Harrison has demonstrated that he is fully human, but also fully aware. There is not a great distance between his novels and his poetry; his novels always seem poetic and his poems always tell the most poignant of stories. The poems in Dead Man’s Float are no different, except that Harrison, like all of us, is aging. Yet, as he moves through live he is able to offer us observations and comments that rise squarely from his own experiences and ideas. In no way could the poems in Dead Man’s Float be considered stereotypical or characteristic of a common view.
Instead, Harrison’s poetry here gives the reader uncommon views and insights into both the thinking and feeling that help create the human who is doing the living. As a poet, Harrison comes across as one who can feel and express something uniquely human. It is both dread and appreciation. Grief and hope. It is not that he operates “all over the map,” but that the territory he lives in is so large.
One of my elderly friends recently told me that he no longer cares about the mundane verbosity in everyday life. He said what he longs to hear is honest and accurate ideas about what everything might mean. He told me that when he feels particularly isolated, he reads a couple of Harrison’s poems and remembers who we are. It would seem that Dead Man’s Float is there to remind us of that and of who we might be. Harrison is above all else a storyteller. In this new book, he tells magical stories about himself and about us. Again, he shows that it is the human spirit that rises to endure.
In a poem commenting about the earth, Harrison says “…you wonder whether God lit the wrong end of a cigarette, tossed it away.” In another he says that “Pain guides our lives very well.” Such lines lead us to understand that we are part of life’s complexities that mix birds, poems, dogs, stars, pain, life, and death into one large soup through which we all must swim. Or sometimes float. Harrison is the more experienced swimmer who has taken note of the journey.
- Hardcover: 156 pages
- Publisher: Copper Canyon Press; 1 edition (5 January 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1556594453
- ISBN-13: 978-1556594458
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 272 g
- Customer Reviews: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 471,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)