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Letters to Yesenin

4.48  ·  Rating details ·  167 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
“The way Harrison has embedded his entire vision of our predicament implicitly in the particulars of two poetic lives, his own and Yesenin’s, is what makes the poem not only his best but one of the best in the past twenty-five years of American writing.”—Hayden Carruth, Sulfur

“Harrison inhabits the problems of our age as if they were beasts into which he had crawled, and L
Paperback, 60 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Copper Canyon Press (first published 1973)
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Mar 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, lost
I won't apologize for liking Jim Harrison. Anyone who doesn't like how much I like him can go for a stroll in an industrial metal compactor. This poetry, which addresses in mostly Northern Michigan colloquial dialect a minor Russian Symbolist and Slavophile poet who killed himself, is as skilled a piece of thinking as anything I've encountered. What I like about poetry that prose doesn't do, or doesn't always, is that it can (not to say should) mirror thought more closely without all the formal ...more
Here's a quick draught: Jim Harrison writes 30 letter-poems to a Russian poet named Yesenin who committed suicide at age 30 in 1925. Jim is at the beginning of his writing career, doing a lot of poetry writing himself, is a new father, and toys with the idea of suicide while writing a suicide. (Well, at least he's on topic.)

This might get morbid ipso fasto, but Harrison keeps it light with his constant self-deprecating (and often dark) humor. For instance, let's look at letter-poem #2 (note: the
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Horrifying and beautiful and, occasionally, easy to pass over without much feeling -- to be quick about it. Upon multiple readings, I'm convinced that some of the poems just require a little investment of horror and drunkenness from the reader to really shine (and these are truly [like, aaagghh!!] affecting in that state) while most of the others are sufficiently drilling to breach the average contentment or, if experiencing some serious fucking joy, still enough to make you remember and appreci ...more
Peycho Kanev
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry


I wanted to feel exalted so I picked up
Doctor Zhivago again. But the newspaper was there
with the horrors of the Olympics, those dead and
perpetually martyred sons of David. I want to present
all Israelis with .357 magnums so that they are
never to be martyred again. I wanted to be exalted
so I picked up Doctor Zhivago again but the TV was on
with a movie about the sufferings of convicts in
the early history of Australia. But then the movie
was over and the level of the bourbon bottle was dropping
Jun 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Knowing next to nothing about Harrison before reading this collection, I found the poems wonderfully revealing. The format of poem-as-correspondence with the dead (suicide) Yesenin was a remarkably effective vehicle for autobiography. Seeming to flirt with suicide himself (biography tells us this was a difficult time with too much alcohol), he rejects it (the wonderful third poem, quoted in its entirety here on Goodreads by Peycho: "My year-old daughter's red/ robe hangs from the doorknob shouti ...more
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'd just like to point out that my five-star review doesn't say much.

I love this book beyond all rationality. I don't care much for Harrison's other poems, except occasionally, but this is the real thing.
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A compelling one sided dialogue with the Russian poet. Moving from darkness to light it is a weave of immediate reports, remembered experience, meditations on death and a summoning of the spirit of the Yesenin. It's as moving as it is entertaining. My first Jim Harrison and I can't wait to read more.
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Letters to Yesenin is a collection of poems written by Jim Harrison and published by the Fremont Company in Sumac, Michigan in 1973. Each of the poems are nearly exactly the same length, only changing by a few words length each time, excluding two of the thirty poems. Although sometimes you will feel a sense of detachment from the poetry, because many of the poems reference foreign entities or people, they more than often need to be looked up for a better understanding of the poetry and its subj ...more
jim harrison's letters/poems to suicided russian poet yesenin, written in 1973, contemplating and trying to talk himself out of doing the same thing. women, food, booze, fish, trees, insects, mud, dogs n cats, birds, weather, desks, windows, snakes, art, travel, history, elephants... all conspired to 'talk' harrison out of roping himself to a tree limb, neck first. instead, his 'cat'....[Y]ou make me want to tie myself to a tree, stake my feet to earth herself so I can't get away. It didn't come ...more
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
In format, this is exceptional: Harrison, still early in his career and full of the uncertainties of the enterprise, writes 30 prose poems to Yesenin, a Russian poet whose suicide is fifty years in the past. Harrison returns again and again to that noose, always with a novel approach to the imagery and significance of the deed. Imagery is plentiful, but nothing recurs like that noose, which awaits the end of many of the poems. Harrison is a vivid writer who can succinctly capture mood and crisis ...more
David Gorgone
Jul 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Probably one of the best books of poetry I have read in a while. It was so heart breaking and accessable. These poems are letters to the Russian poet Yesenin who committed suicide after composing his final poem in blood. You see the phantom of suicide throughout these letters as he tries to deal with drug addiction and depression. Brilliant read! I am becoming more of a fan of his work each time.
Patti K
Jul 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This volume of poems was first published in 1973 and later republished
by Copper Canyon Press in 2007. It is an homage to the Russian poet
Yesenin who hanged himself in 1925. He was a distant relative to Harrison,
who in the early 70s wrote daily prose-poem letters confiding with the
ghost of his depression, drunkenness, family, etc. Powerful, scalding
words about both of their lives in these "letters" that startle the reader
awake with their sorrows.
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Would like to read this again and then again. Read it on my birthday and found myself propelled through it. Pulled by the rope that Yesenin dangled from and that finds its way in many of the poems as well as on the splendid cover of the book--a tether between Harrison and Yesenin and the reader, and a tether we each, perhaps, feel alone. Who has not contemplated suicide? But who actually does it?
Joe Pags
Some of the letters, deeply poetic and beautiful, some beyond me. An interesting concept, framing the death of a stranger that shares a craft, against a lived in another age halfway across the world.

Continue to enjoy all things Harrison and will delving deeper into his work.
Aug 04, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Laure-Anne, Tim Franz
I am halfway through this book and enjoying it, although Harrison's hardscrabble, Hemingway-esque persona can be a little trying from time to time. I like the leit motif of Russian authors he has woven through it a lot, though, and it's super readable.
Nov 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully arced collection of poems. Harrison writes poetry to Yesenin, ruminating on suicide and death in a way that is at times darkly funny and other times beautifully somber. Some poems I liked better than others but overall thought it was wonderful.
Nicco Mele
Feb 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An astonishing powerful sequence of poems - of which my favorite is "27": "Thus my life draws fuel ineluctably from triumph."
Feb 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
tragic beautiful poems.
Mike Essig
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Harrison is one of our greatest, living poets.
Sep 18, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Contains one of the funniest and truest poems I have come across.
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Jim Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers. He married Linda King in 1959 with whom he has two daughters.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

His awards include National Academy of Arts grants
More about Jim Harrison...

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