Wednesday, 30 March 2016


My obit of Jim Harrison is up at the Guardian online, you can link to it here. It is pretty much as I wrote it (though a couple of literals have snuck in) which surprised me slightly as it was a bit longer than requested, but after trimming I didn't think I could lose any more.

I was fascinated by the whole Hemingway thing, perhaps because by some fine synchronicity, I'm reading Paul Hendrickson's wonderful Hemingway's Boat right now. I was struck by how closely Harrison echoed Gertrude Stein, but there is a further comparison that struck me this afternoon, too late to include: Hemingway had more discipline than Harrison, perhaps more restraint. I think it's telling Harrison may have, if anything, lived the more indulgent life, but remained married all his life. There's probably a good story to be written about all the shenanigans that went on around The Missouri Breaks and 92 In The Shade (Tom McGuane's novel which he directed himself).

Of course I don't believe Harrison is the writer Hemingway was. In fact one of the first comments on the Guardian's web site was someone saying they liked Harrison the man more than Harrison the writer, and I tend to agree. He is a tremendous interview--dropping in quotation of and reference to all sorts of writers and obviously completely enraptured with the art. He may have come off as raw, but he was definitely cooked. I probably should have mentioned he was, for a time, the poetry editor of The Nation; for a guy who, when asked by an interviewer for the (very New York) Paris Review if it was a problem to be a 'Michigan writer,' replied that 'the Upper East Side of New York was constitutionally the most provincial place I’d ever been,' that seemed a pretty neat trick.

I hadn't read Harrison in a while, but I pulled a copy of Letters For Yesenin out of a box and really felt the energy and despair in the poems. I suspect he wrote himself out of that.  He was a creature of his indulgence; just track his pictures in reverse. It was some life. And you can also take his food indulgence seriously: I still use his recipe for making meatballs and spaghetti sauce, and it's damn good. Needs a powerful lot of wine to go with it too. RIP Jim Harrison.


JonathanM said...

With respect, the novellas in Legends of the Fall are not 'connected'.

Michael Carlson said...

Youre right of course. I disremembered that....and the book's in storage.

John Harvey said...

The Hendrickson is just about the best book, all round, I've read in the last few years.