It occurred to me some years ago that a poet or a writer, wherever he is, should know it biologically, botanically, historically, geographically. On my aimless aim of non-directional driving all over the United States, which I did for years to refresh myself, part of the fun was to research or really look into different places. I wrote a couple of novels based in Nebraska, for instance. It was really quite overwhelming to learn that area, where the last of the great conflicts between cultures, us and the Native American, took place, sort of ending with Wounded Knee. But understanding where you are, it’s a little more difficult now for many poets because so much of poetry I would have to say has become somewhat suburban. I’ve never cared for the suburbs. I like the country and I like the city. The in-between, it kicks your ass. But once you really look into a place, in my case it was northern Michigan, or wherever I travel. If you go to Toledo, for instance, in Spain it’s much more interesting if you know a lot about the history. If you’re in Seville walking the Guadalquivir River that’s exactly where Garcia Lorca walked a hundred years before. That adds resonance. Or if you’re in Paris, you think of Rilke walking in the Luxembourg Gardens. We absorb each other that way.
- Jim Harrison