"He Died a Poet's Death"

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"He Died a Poet's Death"

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oct. 7, 2016, 12:33pm

Most LTers have read at least one of Jim Harrison's novels: Legends of the Fall, Dead Man's Float, True North, The Road Home, In Search of Small Gods, and The Farmer's Daughter, to name fewer than half of his literary output. I have read none.

To address that shortcoming, early this year when I resolved to make 2016 the year of "New-to-Me" authors, I put The English Major on my local library wish list with the intent of getting the book early last summer. This was no to be. I got distracted and involved in primary elections, the Olympics, and the presidential elections instead, and my interest in reading anything at all waned.

Now re-engaged in the quieter reading life, I looked up from the excitement of current events to learn not long ago that Jim Harrison had died at the end of March this year, aged 78.

His friend, Philip Caputo, was one of the first called to Harrison's home where he describes the scene.
"We found him on the floor of his study, where he'd fallen from his chair, apparently from a heart attack," Caputo wrote. "He'd died a poet's death, literally with a pen in his hand, while writing a new poem."

Another friend, Thomas McGuane, remembered him in The New Yorker "Postscript," describing what must have been a most suitable death.
On Saturday night, my oldest friend, Jim Harrison, sat at his desk writing. He wrote in longhand. The words trailed off into scribbles and he fell from his chair dead. His strength of personality was such that his death will cut many adrift. He was seventy-eight years old and had lived and worked hard for every one of those years. He published a book a month ago. His health had failed, he lost his wife of fifty-five years, and his shingles were a torment. Recent back surgery had made his beloved walks impossible and yet he was undefeated. He was active and creative to the end, but it was time to go: no one was less suited to assisted living.

I really know nothing about Jim Harrison, man or author, but I already believe that his stories, poems, and non-fiction will be rich with brio, force, and full of the simple pleasures of life found in our relationship with Nature. This Saturday I'm going to get that novel about the English major and find out if I do have ESP. But whether I do or not, I feel motivated to read the first book by Harrison, Wolf: A False Memoir published in 1971. In it, Swanson, the hero in search of an authentic life, says, "I don't want to live on earth but I want to live." Where does one go? Must it be to a poet's death?