"I am not one who was born in the custody of wisdom. I am one who is fond of olden times and intense in quest of the sacred knowing of the ancients." Gustave Courbet

31 October 2018


Imagine: A used paperback of Jim Harrison’s Selected and New Poems sitting zazen on a shelf inside Moe’s Books, the legendary bookstore in Berkeley, California. Meanwhile, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, inside a modest cabin near Grand Marais, a one-eyed poet opens his notebook and writes:

It is not so much that I got 
there from here, which is everyone’s 
story: but the shape 
of the voyage, how it pushed 
outward in every direction 
until it stopped

The poet looks out the window toward the Sucker River and decides it’s time to brave the weather and visit the Dunes Saloon for a drink and some whitefish. At that exact moment: the paperback copy of Selected and New Poems is pulled from the shelf by a young man who has never owned a book of poems.

I have carried that book with me for over thirty years. It is a sacred text, held together with duct tape, stained, creased, bent, ripped, and teeming with handwritten notes and markings. This beat-up paperback, which would be hard to sell for fifty cents at a rummage sale, is one of my most beloved objects on planet Earth. It is the copy I used as a reference guide when I worked with Jim Harrison in the late 1990s to compile the manuscript for his collected poems, Shape of the Journey. On the inside front cover is a to-do list that begins, “Write John Harrison about other poems not published in books.”


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