My friend Ed loses a little piece of himself each time a macho writer dies. The death of James Crumley was hard on him, and he still is grieving the 2016 death of Jim Harrison. My own feeling about the loss of these guys is more mixed. None of them wrote their best stuff in their later years, so part of me is glad that they are done. Jim Harrison’s last couple of novels were very good, but I felt a little bit that they were Jim Harrison trying to write like Jim Harrison. It is not that I worry about Harrison’s legacy. I doubt that he cared, so why should I? I just don’t like watching my favorite writers get old right there on the written page.
This whole topic came up because Ed just emailed me a poem by Jim Harrison. (He sent it because Facebook said that today is Jim Harrison’s birthday. I am writing this blog in March, and Harrison’s birthday is in December.) I generally don’t read poetry, but sometimes I encounter a passage that shows me why other people love it so much. This particle poem is titled Barking. The last line is “I was a dog on a short chain and now there’s no chain.” My mind flashed to the classic, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage,” but I think that I like the dog-on-a-chain metaphor even more.
I am going to point out one of my own shortcomings by admitting that, for me, poetry falls into three categories. Some of it is garbage, much of it is good but beyond my comprehension, and some of it is the most effective use of the written language that there is. Ed sends me outstanding verses he knows I will understand. I already have committed to memory “I was a dog on a short chain and now there’s no chain.”