Braided creek

Take the wisdom-in-brevity of The Greek Anthology, combine using the renku verve of The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat, and season with the bloozy spontaneity of Lightnin’ Hopkins. The result should come out quite close to Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2003). I can’t describe it any better than the back cover blurb – which is the only word of explanation:

“Longtime friends, Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser always exchanged poems in their letter writing. After Kooser was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Harrison found that his friend’s poetry became ‘overwhelmingly vivid,’ and they began a correspondence comprised entirely of brief poems, ‘because that was the essence of what we wanted to say to each other.’

“In these epigrammatic, aphoristic poems, two accomplished poets explore love and friendship and their passionate search for a little wisdom, pausing to celebrate the natural world, aging, everyday things and scenes, and poetry itself. When asked about attributions for the individual poems, one of them replied, ‘Everyone gets tired of this continuing cult of the personality…This book is an assertion in favor of poetry and against credentials.”

I was reminded of this book, which I just acquired last year, by an interchange about Jim Harrison in a comment thread at Tom Montag’s blog. Since two of my most lyrical blogging compatriots think so highly of him, I guess I’d better hie me to the local university library and check out some of his other books.

In the meantime, I’m sure the best way to introduce Braided Creek to you all would be to reproduce a given section of four or more poems in sequence. But as I read around in it this morning, I kept encountering individual verses that reminded me of the blogs and bloggers I follow most faithfully, along with one or two of Via Negativa’s most patient readers.

This, for example, brought to mind a recent post of CB’s:

The one-eyed man must be fearful
of being taken for a birdhouse.

and this another (I’d link to the individual posts, but the links don’t seem to work):

Imagine a gallery
where all the paintings
opened and closed their wings!

For Tom Montag, Marco Polo of the Middlewest:

So the Greeks had amphorae
with friezes of nymphs.
We have coffee mugs with ads
for farm equipment!

Plus this one, surely written by Harrison up in Michigan:

The old Finn (85) walks
twenty-five miles to see his brother.
Why? “I don’t have no car.”

For the Zen dog-walker Lorianne – aside from the mismatched gender, this seemed perfect:

“What would I do for wisdom,”
I cried out as a young man.
Evidently not much. Or so it seems.
Even on walks I follow the dog.

For Helen and Harry, soldiering on through the night and fog at Unknown News:

DNA shows that I’m the Unknown Soldier.
I can’t hear the birds down here,
only politicians shitting out their mouths.

This one reminded me of Beth, the indomitable curator of the Cassandra Pages:

I might have been a welder,
kneeling at a fountain of sparks
in my mask of stars.

For Dale, whose often details the difficulties of precise visualization and other aspects of his Vajrayana practice:

Oh, to write just one poem
that would last as long as that rose
tattooed on her butt!

And in a slightly more serious vein:

The sparrow is not busy,
but hungry.

For Ivy, a real poet who uses emoticons in her comments, and ponders such practical issues as how to conduct oneself at a poetry reading:

The poet holds the podium
in both hands
like a garbage bag full of words.

I have mentioned several times my friend the Voudun initiate. He is also a self-styled wizard and – more to the point – the official archivist of this weblog. His name, too, is Dave. This one’s for you, old hound:

My wife’s lovely dog, Mary, kills
butterflies. They’re easier than birds.
I wonder if Buddha had dog nature.

Then there’s the blithe spirit who reads but rarely leaves a trace, my friend the Sylph. Our conversations sound a bit like this. She admonishes me:

Some days
one needs to hide
from possibility.

And I reply:

Turtle has just one plan
at a time, and every cell
buys into it.

But Caliban always thinks he can be Prospero, I admonish myself.

What prizes and awards will I get for revealing
the location of the human soul? As Nixon said,
I know how to win the war but I’m not telling.


Please support Copper Canyon Press – if you already own Braided Creek, buy some of their other titles. They’re doing it right.

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