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Sometimes I Dream That I Am Not Walt Whitman

Joseph Harrison


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Poetry. In his sixth book of poems Joseph Harrison further refines his already agile art. His characteristic metrical and syntactic ingenuity are on display here again, as is the surprising capacity of his figurative imagination. Poems in a variety of forms, some elaborate and nonce, display a range of mood, mode, and matter: there are political poems, ekphrastic poems, poems on the metaphoric implications of scientific terms. At the heart of the book, though, is an astonishing advance in Harrison's explorations of intertextuality: these poems risk a kind of poetic shamanism, a lyric ventriloquism that channels the voices of precursors American and English. The uncannily resonant music that results is both his and theirs, contemporary and traditional, idiosyncratic and familiar. Joseph Harrison has written a book that challenges our notions of poetic identity, a book where the present and the past sing to each other, and to the future.We are at a moment in the history of literary culture when traditional standards of clarity, eloquence, aesthetic splendor, refined comedy, and civilized pathos have been set aside. I read a great deal of contemporary poetry. Not many volumes hearten me, Joseph Harrison's new one does. The Walt Whitman poems catch him as only Pessoa / Campos does. The Charles Dickens poem brilliantly exemplifies what John Ruskin meant when he talked of Dickens' 'stage fire.' 'Mark Strand' returns me to my own dreams about my late friend. Best of all is 'Shakespeare's Head, ' an achieved phantasmagorial of permanent power.--Harold BloomIn his brilliant, entertaining, dark, and companionable new book, Joseph Harrison, one of American poetry's best kept secrets, channels the voices and spirits of dead poets as wide ranging and diverse as Mark Strand, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens and Walt Whitman himself. But Harrison never merely ventriloquizes; or if he does, the ventriloquism ... is reciprocal--such that--'every transformation / becomes another act of self-creation' ... Harrison has written a book that engages the particularities of our moment with a hawk's eye view of linguistic, metrical and cultural history. The imagination that animates these poems is intimate and vatic, prophetic and mundane, scientific and fantastic; the music is all his own yet everyone's, 'dark and deep / and cold as interstellar night' while unforgettably humane. I love this book.--Alan ShapiroIn Joseph Harrison's hands, verse is an art, a living art, and a generous one. 'The dead keep singing, ' he writes in 'River of Song, ' and they do in the lyric ventriloquism through these pages: Frost, Auden, Stevens, Dickinson, Baudelaire, Hardy, Shakespeare, and most surprisingly, Whitman. Harrison's tight forms gesture toward psychic volcanos and hurricanes, and his rhymes deploy lethal wit, as in 'Runaway Blimp, ' about a militaryindustrial boondoggle where 'a multi-billion dollar clusterfuck' clicks with 'run amok.' His dexterities don't just serve satire; the poems play a wide scale of feelings: tenderness, wonder, wry meditation, indignation, and fury. A selfless book, in the best sense.--Rosanna WarrenHis suite of cannily resonant imitations of the good gray poet notwithstanding, Joseph Harrison is indeed not Walt Whitman, nor does he seek to be, but his verse responds eloquently to the ardent prediction in 'Democratic Vistas' that the 'highest poems' to come would spring from 'the assumption that the process of reading is ... in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle.' Harrison's intensely wrought poems reward the reader well beyond the demands they make. Ebullient yet concentrated products of an audacious prosodist and syntactician, an exhilarating logophile and a master of tone, they evince a maker's maker.--Stephen Ye.

Waywiser Press, 9781904130987, 104pp.

Publication Date: March 15, 2020