Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry: Expanded Anniversary Edition by Jim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
20th Anniversary Edition Release Date: August 15, 2023
This is a twentieth anniversary re-release of a collection of short poems — on the scale of haiku or tanka — exchanged between Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison over many years. The poems are unattributed and, famously, literary critics who boldly proclaimed they knew which poems were written by which poet have been proven wrong.
While the length of the poems is similar to that of haiku and tanka, if one were going to categorize them in terms of Japanese verse, most would be more like senryū or kyōka (the poetic genres that match haiku and tanka [respectively] in form, but allow for humor, humanism, abstract metaphors, and freedom to deviate from juxtaposition of natural imagery.) But even that categorization would be deceptive because these poems tend toward a uniquely American voice.
That said, there are a few that fit the Japanese style well, e.g.:
In the morning light, / the doorknob, cold with dew.
The cups of the tulips / tip forward, spilling their snow.
There are also a few that are more like ko-an than like poems. (A ko-an is a Zen “riddle” designed to help practitioners break the hold of logic and reason on the mind. Typically, the ko-an looks like a question, but it can’t be thought out to an intellectually satisfying answer as most questions can.)
Is this poem a pebble, / or a raindrop coated with dust?
My wife’s lovely dog, Mary, kills butterflies. They’re easier than birds. I wonder if Buddha had dog nature.
But one hears an American voice in such examples as:
On my desk two / indisputably great creations: duct tape and saltine crackers.
Rowing across the lake / all the dragonflies are screwing. Stop it. It’s Sunday.
There are philosophical pieces, such as:
Only today / I heard / the river / within the river.
How tall would I be without my enemies to measure me?
This anniversary edition has a beautiful introduction by Naomi Shihab Nye and a brief epilogue by Kooser, but is otherwise the same.
If you like light and whimsical poetry that can make you laugh, or – sometimes – make you think, you should check out this collection.
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