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An Ode to Jim Harrison

March 27, 2016


Jim Harrison died on Saturday, March 26, 2016.


Don’t let the innocuous name fool you; Harrison was an extraordinary man.


For those who watch the show Californication, consider Harrison, who spent a portion of his career in Hollywood working on screenplays, a more talented Hank Moody with a blind left eye (a girl shoved a broken bottle in his face when he was seven years old).


For those familiar with Thoreau, think Harrison similar, as he was a writer thoroughly concerned with the environment: the rivers, trees, fields, and mountains. Harrison’s landscapes did not serve as his plots, yet they were instrumental to them.


For those who enjoy the use of alcohol, sex, hunting and grit as literary touchstones, Harrison was a more naturalistic, more intellectually nuanced Hemingway.


For those who accuse Harrison of sexism or misogyny during his career—a career which produced 21 novels, 14 books of poetry, two books of essays, a memoir, and a children’s book—they are not wrong. He wrote three successive novels with strong female protagonists as narrators, silencing detractors with powerful prose.


For those who miss the days when unknown writers mired in poverty could rocket to a quality fortune and moderate fame based on a bit of luck and a loose end, Harrison is the last of a dead breed.


For those who saw Harrison as frivolous and obsessed with matters of the flesh, such as food and drugs, he was. But for those who want philosophical and moral rigor in the words they read, Harrison supplied that, too.


For those in search of an American truth—the shameful, systemic genocide of Native Americans—clearly espoused by a prominent writer, Harrison is one of a few greats.


For those who say Harrison was a fledgling writer due to his only modest fame, history will prove otherwise, and he probably wouldn’t care either way.


For those American authors who wish to have a cult French audience—study Harrison.


For those depressed or in need of incisive, hilarious, and desperate poetry, read Harrison’s Letters to Yesenin, where he writes to the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who committed suicide, in an attempt to keep himself from doing the same. It is an article of clothing that kept Harrison from enacting an identical fate.


“My year-old daughter’s red


robe hangs from the doorknob shouting Stop.”


For those lamenting the loss of Harrison, be glad he died doing what he loved: smoking an American Spirit and writing.




Read at the Long River Review.

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