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BACK IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Poems by Neil Harrison

PRAISE FOR BACK IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

“Harrison’s poems derive from a curiosity and passion for the out-of-doors. The poems seek to answer questions that probably cannot finally be answered. Yet out of necessity Harrison perseveres. ‘I need to scent again / the mountain air // in that high camp / up on Cutthroat Lake,’ he writes. ‘I need that light, / that god, / the sun.’

His animal kingdom remains a mystery, but its ‘timeless burning / pulse’ conceals wildness beyond the reach of the human mind. Among these wonders are the great blue heron, the snowy egret, the coyote, the Canadian goose, the fence row ‘ripe with plums, grapes, sunflowers, coneflowers / and beyond, vast fields of golden corn and beans.’ A place where, ‘from high heavens a dark hawk / unlocks its talons teaching a snake to fall.’ This ‘glorious chain of mysteries goes on,’ and that, in itself, is perhaps the deepest mystery.

Harrison’s poems are beautifully crafted, with just enough rhythm to deflect the craft. Most of the poems are written in free verse, but from time to time he introduces a conventional form—as, for example, ‘Go Gently On,’ a strikingly lovely villanelle. Individually and collectively these poems offer a marvelous and compelling journey into the animal kingdom, a journey that ‘sets us spinning / out once more into the awe-filled everlasting . . .’

—WILLIAM KLOEFKORN, Nebraska State Poet

“A dog’s run leads us into an opening in the continuum, into wildness intercepted by man, taking us into the precise pulse of it all, in this wild place we all know. Whether ‘Under thrumming streets in the city of dreams,’ or ankle-deep in prairie grass, watching as ‘A spattered black iridescence / feathers each small body / floating / like a living heaven full of stars,’ we are changed and made over in this reading. There’s a bard on the river in this spectacular ‘dream-world built of words,’ this bridge between existences. Like Orion, he’s carrying a bow to feed us all, Sirius alongside. This book is nourishment. Take from it.”

—ALLISON HEDGE COKE, Reynolds Chair of Creative Writing; Platte Valley Review, Senior Editor; University of Nebraska, Kearney

READ AN EXCERPT:

Because.pdf

“each autumn she runs the yucca-clustered hills,

this ancient grassland full of prickly pear and prairie rose, . . .”

 

Old Habits.pdf

“Into the blossoming essence of April,

my twelve-year-old dog leads me out to the trestle, . . .

 

Their Days Began in the Dark.pdf

“Hoarse whispers, tired moans,

creak of bedsprings, . . .”

NEIL HARRISON has worked as a livestock-market yardman and night chute-man, feedlot worker, construction worker, house painter, machine-gunner in the 325th Airborne Infantry, casket bearer in Arlington National Cemetery as a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, farm and ranch hand, block-layer’s assistant, gas-station attendant, plumber’s assistant, masonry crew worker, and postal clerk, with various episodes of schooling scattered throughout. Among his most memorable experiences was a one-day excursion as a carpet cleaner, negotiating rush hour traffic in Omaha in a hot-pink minivan with the company’s proud logo, TICKLED PINK, writ large on either side.

At present, Harrison teaches English and Creative Writing at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, where he coordinates the Visiting Writers Series.

Back in the Animal Kingdom, is rooted in the immense landscape of the Plains. Harrison is attuned to nature and all living things, and draws us into the terrain he knows. He scans his memory for those moments that remain clear and shining years after they happen.  Above all, he sheds light on his past and ours in celebration and sorrow. These poems pay attention, and they force the reader to do the same.”

—MARIA MAZZIOTTI GILLAN, Winner of the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, 2011; American Book Award for All That Lies Between Us (2008)

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