Ode to Jim Harrison
Bednarik: Your first novel, Wolf, was subtitled “A False Memoir” and it was initiated as a challenge from Thomas McGuane, if I remember correctly. So, there you were a poet with three books under your belt and then faced with writing a novel.
Harrison: I was injured. I fell off a cliff above a river while bird hunting. OK, and you know where the clay looks like it’s dry but it’s not dry and you step on it and there you go. I had ripped muscles away from my spine. Tom—we talked all the time, I think he was out at Stanford at the time—so he said “Why don’t you write a novel?” I outlined the novel musically, first.
Bednarik: What do you mean by that?
Harrison: I outlined the structure of the novel, and I outlined the highs and lows like Yeats used to do with poems. He hears the rhythm of the piece first. And then I poured myself into this drawing of the structure. So it was basically a poet’s novel. That first paragraph runs two pages or so. And I was lucky they even published it. It had even been lost. The only manuscript had been lost in the mail for almost a month. There was a mail strike at the same time and I had sent it to my brother, because I couldn’t afford to have it copied. Sent it to my brother who was a librarian at Yale and he was going to copy it for me. But he’s a bully and he went down to the post office after about a month and he explained the situation and they let him dig through the packages. And he found the novel package.
This would be a tough go today. Harrison knows it, but that's what makes this word game so intriguing and worthwhile. Salud!