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RIP Jim Harrison

By Harriet Staff

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Over the weekend we were saddened by the news of the death of poet and novelist Jim Harrison at the age of 78. The New York Times reports:

Jim Harrison, whose lust for life — and sometimes just plain lust — roared into print in a vast, celebrated body of fiction, poetry and essays that with ardent abandon explored the natural world, the life of the mind and the pleasures of the flesh, died on Saturday at his home in Patagonia, Ariz. He was 78.

His death was confirmed by his publisher, Grove Atlantic, which said the cause had not been determined.

A native of Michigan, Mr. Harrison lived most recently during the summers in the wild countryside near Livingston, Mont., where he enthusiastically shot the rattlesnakes that colonized his yard, and during the winters in Patagonia, where he enthusiastically shot all kinds of things.

In both places, far from the self-regarding literary soirees of New York, for which he had little but contempt, and the lucre of Hollywood, where he had done time as a dazzlingly dissolute if not altogether successful screenwriter, he could engage in the essential, monosyllabic pursuits that defined the borders of his life: to walk, drive, hunt, fish, cook, drink, smoke, write.

The result was prodigious: 21 volumes of fiction, including “Legends of the Fall” (1979), a collection of three novellas whose title piece, about a Montana family ravaged by World War I, became a 1994 film starring Brad Pitt; 14 books of poetry; two books of essays; a memoir; and a children’s book.

At NPR, Tom Vitale remarks on Harrison’s early life and an event that would come to shape a central theme in his writing:

A life in the elements echoed in Harrison’s rough-edged voice. He grew up in the farmlands of Michigan. When he was only 7 years old, a piece of glass blinded his left eye.

“That set me apart a little bit,” he said. “So it seemed altogether natural to become obsessed, or feel that you had a calling for an art form in which you were also set apart.”

“I always seem to be writing about semi-outcasts,” he added.

NPR also features Harrison reading his 2007 poem “Water,” a must hear. Over the years Harrison contributed many poems to Poetry, beginning with a collection of poems from the August 1965 issue, and most recently with poems featured in the November 2012 issue.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, March 28th, 2016 by Harriet Staff.