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Someone Else's Name

Authors: Joseph Harrison

Published by Waywiser

ISBN: 9781904130062

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Introduction by Anthony Hecht

Whose name is this? In the poems of Someone Else's Name, the names of the poets - Frost, Donne, Burns, Shakespeare - converge with names from the bizarre annals of contemporary Americana - Donal Russell, Larry Walters, Dewitt Finley. Both lost and found within the book's forest of surrogate identities, its poems about other people and poems about other poems, the poet names and unnames, is named and unnamed. Such metaphoric play turns out, moreover, to be the way the word works in the world at large, as the poetic imagination reads the surprising correspondences of the signs and figures it finds there.

The first section of Harrison's book, "Songs and Sonnets," starts with nine lyrics that take their promptings from spontaneous origins, meteorological, lexical, literary and emotional. These are followed by a sequence of sonnets, "As If," in which a conventionally and unconventionally hapless protagonist - not to be identified with or distinguished from the poet - pursues an ephemeral beloved, both real and imagined, through the turns and triangulations of a love affair and the endless echo chambers of the sonnet form.

The second section, "Stories," presents a series of poems, each based in part on a strange tale taken from the daily news: a robot named Dante sent down into an active Antarctic volcano; a man in California who attached a flotilla of helium balloons to a lawn chair and shot up into the jet lanes over Los Angeles; a man in Oregon who willed that, after his death, his skin be used to bind volumes of his poetry. In trials by water, earth, air, fire and ice, by law as well, these doomed questers seem, at moments, figures for the poet in his solitary enterprise, "As if the times gave us, in daily pages, / Untimely legends we're the fractals of."

"Signs and Figures," the final section, opens further to the figurative play Baudelaire called "correspondence," finding metaphoric patterns in the unwitting irony of roadside markers; in the juxtaposition of the nineteenth-century suburban landscape garden cemetery to the urban misery that encloses it in the twenty-first; in the mysterious and sporadic cornucopia of the fishes offered up, when conditions are just right, by Mobile Bay in Alabama. Some poems here consider the ways poets (Frost, Donne, Burns, Keats and Shelley) have been memorialized; others concern the survival of poetry in our checkered present, its persistence as "the music of whatever comes to mind."
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