ReimagineReimagine by Richard Lee Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reimagine, Richard Lee “Dick” Harris’s debut culmination of poems is not just another full-length poetry book, it is a memoir of a well-lived life. Harris, a former teacher, psychologist and college administrator grew up in the Upper Skagit River Valley in northwest Washington State. Nature, family history, and travel inform his poems, as does the work of Gary Snyder, Robinson Jeffers, and Wendell Berry. Expect to find farmlife, rivers, prairies and snow in many of his selections.

Harris has written his entire life, but only came to poetry in the early 1990s (in his late 50s) through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival (Harris attended ten seasons of workshops between 1997-2008), Elderhostels, open mic events, and a weekly writing group he facilitated at Barnes & Noble. As a way to acknowledge his prose and teaching past, Harris offers his reader thorough end notes about each poem, as well as a biography that pinpoints his work in a time and place. I also appreciated at the end of every poem how he added the location and year the poem originated.

Reimagine is divided into four sections: “Places,” “Moments,” “Souls Now Departed” and “Voices.” One of the strongest poems that emerged from his “Places” section is “The Prairie Rolls On” about his grandmother revisting her former homestead site.

Grandma’s eyes livened, her countenance relaxed.
I saw the bride she was in September 1906.
I saw unfold in the afternoon haze,
the stories in her journal of
she and Grandpa claiming
this prairie as their home.

Harris uses simple, straight language to make meaning and to capture images, which is his strong suit.

In the “Moments” section, Harris corrals the image of a dead deer combining horror and empathy in “The Commute”:

During an early dawn commute
in the after-fog of a summer storm
north of Calgary
through a windshield blurred with road oil
I see tire skids in the gravel
plowing ruts in the brink of a ditch
a deer half-buried in turgid muck
belly up
neck twisted
one bulbous eye staring into cattails

I drive on

Death is a common theme in poetry as poets strive to be witnesses to those who have left us. Harris carries this torch as he devotes a section (“Souls Now Departed”) to those who have passed on. He is careful not to veer to the expected or the trite in most of this section, although the last lines of “February 3, 1959” did not surprise me.

On a farm-to-market road beyond grain bins north of town,
memorial flowers are scattered.
Across a farmer’s field,
three records and a stainless guitar shimmers in the sun;
inscribed “Peggy Sue, Donna, Chantilly Lace,”
and “Buddy Richie, The Big Bopper, 2/3/59

–a tribute to youthful fame
–an immortale claim.

Harris trusts his line and image in “The Pink Balloon,” about the funeral of an old friend where one of the released balloons lingers after the others float away.

All rose, except one,
drifting toward broken cumulus
gliding across an azure sky.
Hestitant, it hovered near the ground
unwilling to leave, to let go

Dick Harris is a lover of words and the consummate lifelong learner. He is an optimist and a beliver in the enduring power of the human spirit. Each of his poems in this collection is a glimpse into another life, country or time. To make his work even more immediate, I would have liked to have seen Harris turn some of his work into persona poems, since so much of his work involves the voices of others. I would have also liked to have more read poems about his own past of growing up in the midst of the Great Depression in a logging community.

This is a strong first collection and I can’t wait to experience more of Dick Harris’ quiet, yet powerful verse.

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