PORT TOWNSEND — Jim Harrison lived a life fully loaded with his obsessions. In the memoir “Off to the Side,” he itemizes the top 10: “the road; hunting, fishing (and dogs); private religion; nature and Natives; alcohol; stripping [and] France.”
This Wednesday, Copper Canyon Press of Port Townsend intends to celebrate those passions — and then some — in an online party. It’s the book launch for the press’ largest publication, the 944-page “Jim Harrison: Complete Poems,” featuring a variety of guests: Harrison’s editor Amy Hundley, poet John Freeman and Seattle restaurateur Peter Lewis, who once accompanied Harrison to a 37-course French lunch.
To sign up for the free online gathering, set for 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, visit www.coppercanyonpress.org/heartswork. With more than 500 people on three continents registered, Copper Canyon has enlarged the event’s capacity, co-publisher Joseph Bednarik said in an interview Friday.
Bednarik was also Harrison’s friend and the one providing an editor’s note for “Complete Poems.” In it, he defers right away to Harrison’s words.
“Poetry, at its best, is the language your soul would speak, if you could teach your soul to speak,” said the writer, who died in 2016 at his home in Patagonia, Ariz., at 78.
Among his nearly 40 works was the novella “Legends of the Fall,” which became a cinematic epic with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins in 1994.
Tacked over Harrison’s desk, Bednarik notes, was a card reminding him to Make it vivid.
This new book holds the poems — roughly 550 of them — written in that spirit.
Titles go from “Exercise” to “Dancing” to “Counting Birds” to “Daylight” and “Moon Suite.” There are “Rich Folks, Poor Folks, and Neither,” “My Friend the Bear” and “The Idea of Balance Is to Be Found in Herons and Loons.”
In “The Whisper,” Harrison recalls that “birds lead us outside where we belong./Around here all the gods live in trees.”
The feeling of finishing this work, Bednarik said, is fantastic.
“We’ve been envisioning it for so long. It’s been a big goal we had as a publisher,” to collect all of the poetry Harrison published in his lifetime — plus the “Last Poems” section of previously unpublished work.
Bednarik asked activist and writer Terry Tempest Williams to compose the book’s introduction.
“Thank you for this gift,” she replied, as she turned reading Harrison’s poems into her winter project. Williams called her subject a man “in love with the world,” noting that poetry was his spiritual practice.
Harrison’s writing has been produced as feature-length movies four times. His piece for The New Yorker about the 37-course lunch is famous.
A biography and a documentary film about the writer, whom Publishers Weekly called “a renegade genius” who did outrageous things with language, are forthcoming.
And Bednarik, for his part, remembers how he felt as a young man discovering Harrison’s work.
“Something just opened up,” he said, “and it’s been that way ever since.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]