Following my previous chronicle, I am done reading this collection of poetry, signed by that sweet Old Man Jim !
Jim Harrison is giving us his own “correspondence” with Sergei Yesenin, where he shows all his admiration for the Russian, and at one time, Soviet poet through poems, called letters. Sergei Yesenin had a terrible destiny. Famous during the Soviet Revolution, he married the American dancer, Isadora Duncan, who was 20 years older, leaving behind his first wife and their child. The two embarked on a long journey, but the poet, tormented, depressed, committed suicide in 1025 after writing his final poem in his own blood. He was 30 years.
In 1973, Jim is not yet published. He lives in poverty in a farm with his wife and little girl. Jim is depressed and has suicidal tendencies but doesn’t it. In Yesenin’s works, Jim finds his alter ego – a mirror to his own despair, where Jim keeps looking for his own reflect. In his poems, Jim praises his “friend”, his love stories, the Neva river but also his own life, the nature, the farm, his kid and all along his poem he keeps one dreadful and cold object : the rope. (Yesenin hanged himself).
The Russian poet, who in his short life, followed his instinct, his guts, leaving behind a few children and desperate wives behind, and gaining the admiration of our American friend. Jim Harrison saw a model in this passionate man, traveler, who lived his life as it was his last day on Earth.
What Jim didn’t see when he wrote his poems, was its own devil. Jim was going through an existential crisis. He was attracted, on one side, by the place Yesenin went the day he put his head through the rope, and on the other side, he’s close to his family, his kids, but also the first hours of the sun, the birds singing – life. It took him a few years to realise that his letters to Yesenin were a finding of victory over his own suicidal thoughts. It’s true and very clear when you read this collection – Jim was very much attracted to follow this poet whom he thought could have been “a great friend” with and even more “a brother gone too soon”.
Jim saw in the Russian Poet, a man guided by his own feelings, a grand poet and a life role model. But Jim, at that time, was already in love with les choses de la vie : the good food, the wine, the coke, the sex , the family ties and Mother Nature. Always Mother Nature. And to, it’s what probably kept him away from using a rope himself.
His poems are a true pleasure to read. I don’t feel able to write a thorough critic of these poems, I will let you read this extract instead :
This matted and glossy photo of Yesenin bought at a Leningrad newsstand – permanently tilted on my desk : he doesn’t stare at me. He stares at nothing ; the difference between a plane crash and a noose adds up to nothing. And what can I do with heroes with my brain fixed on so few of them ? Again nothing. Regard his flat magazine eyes with my half-cocked own, both of us seeing nothing. In the vodka there was nothing and Isadora was nothing, the pistol waved in New York was nothing, and that plank bridge near your village home in Ryazan covered seven feet of nothing, the clumsy noose that swung the tilted body was nothing but a noose, a law of gravity this seeking for the ground, a few feet of nothing between shoes and the floor a light-year away. So this a song of Yesenin’s noose that came to nothing, but did a good job as we say back home where there’s nothing but snow. But I stood under your balcony in St Petersburg, yes St. Petersburg! a crazed tourist with so much nothing in my heart it wanted to implode. And I walked down to the Neva embankment with a fine sleet falling and there was finally something, a great river vastly flowing, flat as your eyes ; something to marry to my nothing heart other than the poems your hurled into nothing those years before the articulate noose.