A poem is not its words, but the ringing it leaves behind.
About Richard Harrison
Canadian poet Richard Harrison is a shrewd writer who is as much concerned with the question of poetry and its composition as he is personal histories; his poems are discursive and self-referential, yet never subordinated to the cerebral in a way that would interrupt the lyricism of his lines. This is clearly demonstrated in ‘Gone’, where Harrison writes that ‘American literature is about grief spread over space’, a resounding phrase that presages an extended meditation on the form and function of narrative. The idea of life as fiction alighted on here is further elucidated on in ‘Found Poem’, where, Harrison notes, ‘Every object is a kind of page, every life a kind of writing.’ To read such lines is to encounter a poet whose work gently teases a necessarily meaningful engagement out of each and every one of his readers.
Born in Toronto, in 1957, Harrison’s eight books include the Governor General’s Award finalist Big Breath of a Wish (1998) and, most recently, On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood (2016), which won both the Governor General’s Award and the Alberta Writers’ Guild’s Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry. Harrison teaches English and Creative Writing at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, a position he took up following his post as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Calgary in 1995. His poetry has been published, broadcast and displayed around the world, and translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic; his latest book was translated into Italian and published in 2018 as Sul non perdere le ceneri di mio padre nell’alluvione
The broad appeal of Harrison’s work – at once philosophical and rooted in the familiar, the everyday – might be in part attributed to the way in which his critical speculations are frequently disarmed by a wry humour: ‘Everything fell into place as if it had been written –/which does not mean everything went well’ (‘Gone’).
These recordings support the poet’s view that the oral performance of poetry is vitally important. Here we observe a speaker advancing his case, emphasising the swings of his arguments by attending vocally to their rhythms. But these readings also do well to emphasise the humanity of Harrison’s work, as in ‘Mulligan’, where a golf ball, misfired by the speaker during an attempt at impressing his father-in-law, is named, with great bathos, ‘the egg of shame’. Ultimately, Harrison’s readings find their way into the listener’s imagination, lodging themselves there for future reference through the virtue of their inherent memorability. As the poet writes in ‘This Son of York’, ‘A poem is not its words, but the ringing it leaves behind.’
Richard’s recording took place at Studio D Productions Inc. in Calgary on Monday 22nd October 2018.
Poems by Richard Harrison
Books by Richard Harrison
Fathers Never Leave You
Mosaic Press, 1987
Big Breath of a Wish
Wolsak & Wynn, 1998
Hero of the Play: 10th Anniversary Edition
Wolsak and Wynn, 2004
Worthy of His Fall
Wolsak and Wynn, 2005
On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood
Wolsak and Wynn, 2016
25: Hockey Poems New and Revised
Wolsak and Wynn, 2019
Harbourfront Discovery Prize - for “Origin of Species,” ”Verocchio,” “Iran Under the Shah”
Milton Acorn/People’s Poetry Prize, Silver Medal for Fathers Never Leave You
City of Calgary/W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, winner for Big Breath of a Wish
Writers Guild of Alberta/Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, shortlisted for Big Breath of a Wish
Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, shortlisted for Big Breath of a Wish
High Plains Book Award: Poetry, shortlisted for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood
City of Calgary/ W. O. Mitchell Book Prize, shortlisted for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood
Writers’ Guild of Alberta/Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, winner for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood
Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, winner forOn Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood