Saying the Necessary

ED HARKNESS GREW UP in Seattle and studied poetry with Northwest writers Richard Hugo and Madeline DeFrees. His poems evoke a familiar territory—from the Umatilla River to Aurora Avenue, from Yakima to the San Juans—filled with friends, travel, and colloquies with family and memory. The title of this book from a small, fine Bainbridge Island publisher reflects the tone and pace of its contents—easygoing meditation opening into insights that crackle and sting.

Saying the Necessary

poems by Edward Harkness (Pleasure Boat Studio, $14)

Harkness is most interesting when puzzling over the thinness of the wall between peaceful domesticity and massive political bloodshed. "History always comes home," he says, and war invites itself right into his book. He recalls the bayonets hung above the mantel with its "Christmas cards, candles . . . and two ceramic squirrels" at Grandma's house: "That's the blood gutter, this gray-eyed/lover of dahlias explained."

Indeed, women are equal players in the century's conflicts, like the fighter Hannah, who "tripped on a German mine and became a rose/opening forever in her father's palm" and the Spanish women herded against a wall, who laughed and lifted their dresses in defiance of the firing squad.

A few of the poems veer into sentimentality or flatness, but usually they're fresh and satisfying. The author can be funny, too, as when he opens his rain-soaked journal and finds that "the only legible word/is rapture./It might be/rupture."

Occasionally birds trill in this collection, but there's little music in its voice. Nor is there much of music's counterpart in poetry—the palpable tension that comes from speech pushing at the envelope of form. Harkness works with a trowel instead of a blade or brush. It's a good trowel. His materials are mostly gray and rough, such as the Great Wall of China that snakes its granite way through the book. Along uneven ground the poet has mortared a line of ordinary stones, then another line upon that one, and then another. The lines may not sing, but they're solid, and they stand.

 
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