Leconte Editions has published an Italian bilingual edition of Billy Joe Harris's chapbook of poetry, translated by Nicola Manuppelli. The poems, as I read them in English, are koans--brief mind twisters that stay with me for days. The poet creates knife-sharp images with no extraneous verbage. The poem "No Delicate Flowers or Wild Geese" goes like this:
Our parting was not
Like a Chinese poem.
There were no
Delicate flowers or wild geese.
No chestnut horses.
No brush painted mountains.
This shows the homage to Asian forms as well as the adaptation to American experience. With minimal words, Harris evokes the genres of early Chinese poetry-and-painting. He also evokes the contrast between the real and the ideal. The carefully chosen emblems of flowers, geese, and "chestnut horses" suggests the range of romantic passions--the sweetness as well as vigor. The last line is the oblique reversal--also a negation, but also a generalization about human qualities that carries with it the connotation of insult: "No grace." This is a lover having the last word. This is a definitive negation of the lovers' previous joys.
The entire book is without inhibition. He writes of bestiality, racism, poignant romance, procrastination. He covers a lot of ground in nine brief poems. The title poem is oblique and ironic and smart. Personal questions --and sometimes questions can be but thinly veiled aggressions--are answered here by the poet with his own edge. This sampling of poems whets my appetite for more. A new-and-collected poems volume is in the works. For a video of Harris's poem "Practical Concerns," see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBhBVO-f_G4. the book is available at the Raven Bookstore, 7th and Mass., Lawrence KS 66044. Harris teaches English and creative writing at the University of Kansas. he has published Hey Fella Would You Mind Holding This Piano a Moment (Ithaca House 1974), In My Own Dark Way (Ithaca House 1977) and The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka: The Jazz Aesthetic (University of Missouri Press 1985).