Book Review: Braided Creek

Braided Creek:  A Conversation In Poetry, by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser

Your thoughts on this collection of very short poems will likely depend on two factors:  how low your expectations are about the nature of this conversation in poetry, and how much you agree with the comments made by the authors.  If you are expecting or hoping for sustained observations in the nature of Ted Kooser’s better work, that is not going to be found here.  On the other hand, if you are expecting the concise work to be as tightly organized as Kooser’s winter reflections sent on postcards to Jim Harrison, you will also be disappointed.  Rather, these books are a collection of short and witty comments made about a wide variety of matters, and this is less a collection of real conversations but rather a conversation of witty epigrams [1], of the sort of conversation that is expected out of cynical but intelligent people, the sort of conversation that happens on sitcoms.  To be sure, some people love that sort of conversation and some people hate it, but that is the sort of conversation we are dealing with here, and it should be recognized regardless of how it is viewed.

This short collection of poems lasts less than 100 pages, but some of the short sayings in here are deeply reflective on such subjects as death and aging, love and relationships, the nature of friendships, creation, and the search for wisdom.  Unfortunately, some of the poems are also somewhat judgmental and harsh.  One of the poems, for example, mocks Republicans and ascribes to them the thought that darker people are having more fun than them, which the author then affirms.  This sort of cheap shot is part of the reason why many leftist writers are viewed with some reason as the enemies of what is decent and good, and why our political battles have gotten out of hand in recent years.  Another aphorism on a woman’s perfect butt shows the adulterous longings of the poet, not understanding that it was entirely proper and not loutish at all for the woman’s husband to tell him (and others), that the enjoyment of his wife’s perfect butt was reserved to him.  To insult someone for telling you the truth is to be further away from wisdom, not closer to it.  This poetic collection, in other words, is definitely a mixed bag.

And perhaps it could not help being so.  As much as Ted Kooser is a poet whose thoughts and insights are worth taking seriously and who has a lot to offer as a writer, it is hard for me to be as charitable to Jim Harrison, who seems at times to be more of a cheap partisan hack.  Perhaps it was thought by the two friends involved that a collaborative effort would bring out the best in them, but that does not appear to have been the case, as this book is far from the best by Ted Kooser, the poet I am familiar with the most.  Whether or not it brings Harrison’s efforts above their level or sinks it as a result of the complacency these two seem to feel with each other is not for me to say.  At any rate, these two poets seem to be like two friends riffing in a bar while drinking various intoxicants and assuming that they are far wiser and more clever than they really are.  The end result is that what may be perfectly entertaining to an audience of people who are either paid to be kind or who are similarly inebriated is exposed before a sober audience that is likely to be at least somewhat less charitable, unless they too are intoxicated with the same leftist complacency themselves.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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