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Amber Paulen

Poetry Reading: Joseph Harrison

at John Cabot

Ignorance has held me away from poetry. I am confounded by rhyming meter. I shrink at all the various complexities that determine one kind of poem over another. I’m afraid Homer, Ovid, Virgil, will put me to sleep. I read a lot of Shel Silverstein growing up: wasn’t he a poet?

Really, it’s the smallness of most poems that gets me. Doesn’t a poet have more to say? And how do they confine it: discipline words and thoughts to an admirable conformity. I’m afraid that I would keep going on like I am now, regardless, shameless, unmetered, unrhyming.

So I learned a lot about poetry last night from Joseph Harrison’s poetry reading. I learned the difference between reading and reciting: to recite poetry is to unleash words from the mind, to read poetry is to have words fall from the mouth. Joseph Harrison is an excellent reciter. How to describe it? Like riding on gentle swells of words, maybe, and before I knew it I had traveled into the poem and had been brought safely back out. There was no way I could say which bits I liked best, or what a specific poem was even about: it flowed as a whole and the whole poem made sense, wholly.

Another thing I realized about poetry is that it predates prose as written expressive form; that poetry is a purer written expression than prose. And that I need to read more poetry, for out of it will surely come a more precise mastery, more discipline. To pour over lines, to weave the perfect metaphor isn’t that far off from what I envy to do with longer fiction. There is freedom away from the unnecessary; sparse language has more space.

I have already begun by reading some poems out of Joseph Harrison’s first collection called Someone Else’s Name. Even something as overdone as the seasons is, in the poem From the Songbook of Henri Provence, endowed with its own unique grace. Here’s the second verse, on summer:

The thick and sweaty air, the pounding sun,
The miasmal steam that rises
From asphalt, track and pasture, overcome
The simplest exercises,
Leaving us flopped on couches, listless, numb,
And stunned that spring’s surprises,
The miracles we numbered one by one,
Led to such strict assizes.


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