A poem is not its words, but the ringing it leaves behind.
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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
On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood - Richard Harrison
Poem in the Arms of Tyrannosaurus Rex - Richard Harrison
With the Dying of the Light - Richard Harrison
This Poem is Alive Because it is Unfinished - Richard Harrison
Books by Richard Harrison
Harbourfront Discovery Prize - for “Origin of Species,” ”Verocchio,” “Iran Under the Shah”Prize website
Milton Acorn/People’s Poetry Prize, Silver Medal for Fathers Never Leave YouPrize website
Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of CalgaryPrize website
City of Calgary/W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, winner for Big Breath of a WishPrize website
Writers Guild of Alberta/Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, shortlisted for Big Breath of a WishPrize website
Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, shortlisted for Big Breath of a WishPrize website
High Plains Book Award: Poetry, shortlisted for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the FloodPrize website
City of Calgary/ W. O. Mitchell Book Prize, shortlisted for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the FloodPrize website
Writers’ Guild of Alberta/Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, winner for On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the FloodPrize website
Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, winner forOn Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the FloodPrize website