ED HARKNESS
 

Edward Harkness grew up in Seattle's north end and has, with a few exceptions, including a year's teaching stint in the Peoples Republic of China, never gotten very far away from home. He holds degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Montana; at the latter he earned an MFA and studied with poets Richard Hugo and Madeline DeFrees. His poems have appeared in many periodicals, including American Review, Poetry Northwest, Seattle Review, Fine Madness, Portland Review, Northwest Review and CutBank. He is also author of several chapbooks, including Fiddle Wrapped in a Gunnysack (Dooryard Press, 1984) and Watercolor Painting of a Bamboo Rake (Brooding Heron Press, 1994). Saying the Necessary is his first full-length collection. He teaches writing at Shoreline Community College and lives with his family in Shoreline, Washington, which is an easy bike ride from his old north Seattle neighborhood.

From a review in The Temple:


The poems in Saying the Necessary include evocations of childhood, the rhythms and routines of family life, love for those who are dearest. Poet Edward Harkness set these themes in opposition - often within the same poem - to the darker edges of growing up, the quirks and burdens of history, the violence of our times. In "Black Butterflies," for example, the speaker is just another American on a guided tour in China, visiting a sacred mountain. He and his family break away from the tour and discover a hillside cave whose overgrown entrance leads to total darkness, then a lookout:

There's a glimmer, a niche,

and beyond - endless blue.

Sentries crouched here, spying

on enemy ships during the occupation.


The speaker then recalls the horrors of the Japanese invasion of China in the 1930s:


Old photos show Japanese soldiers

in Nanjing practicing bayonet drills

on bound Chinese prisoners.


The speaker and his family emerge from the cave "like newborns," back to the waiting tour bus, to the world of now, the China of economic reforms and failing memory:


Here, black butterflies whirl

like bits of paper,

harmless, their occupation

of the hill complete,

the small pages of their wings

chronicling the history

of life and death on earth,

in a language lighter than air.


In Saying the Necessary, the poet strives for an unadorned, understated poetic style. With a few exceptions ("Wild Flowers" and "The Man in the Recreation Room"), he generally writes in open form. But the tone he adopts often has a formal, contemplative quality, a sobriety. Some of the longer poems are narratives but employ standard poetic devices.

The poems in this collection reflect the ephemeral nature of time and memory, and the inevitability of loss. Each poem presents a personal utterance on the one hand and on the other reaches toward something larger - the world beyond the personal, which is the world we all inhabit. Harkness illuminates the elemental, the necessary. Thus the language is characterized by direct statement, clear description and a restrained music. These poems radiate outward from a solid central core, and truly succeed in that regard more often than not.


Note: This collection includes  the poem read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac, Oct. 23, 2000: "Kaylyn, Hermiston Elementary"


 

Dragon Kite

--Tianjin, China


They gather at the footbridge,

headed to market to buy rice,

a day's potatoes, or

a jin of slick black eels.

He arrives in his ancient

cotton jacket, same dark blue

everyone wears, padded, at least,

against a taut March breeze.

Today he brings his dragon kite.

Three boys carry its bamboo body,

down the canal, gently unfolding

its yellow paper wings. Shouting

commands, he feeds out line.

Stooped old women with lily feet,

young men smoking, coasting

on sleek Flying Pigeon bikes,

mothers hoisting the one baby

the government allows--they all

stop to break a day's routine.

He reels in slack, waves, yells,

and the boys let it catch a gust.

His dragon balks, sags, climbs

above the scummy ditch

glittering with glass,

above wires and a stark, half-

built apartment, same shape,

same red brick as the rest,

drab as a government decree.

High against ribbed clouds,

his dragon, fierce-eyed and

undulant, gives its colors

to a chilly morning, blue-tinged

with coal dust. Carrying our daily

bread, we gasp as his creature

leaps, snaps and gallops

headlong into the dirty wind.



Review by JUDY LIGHTFOOT (in Seattle Weekly July 20-28, 2000)

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. 

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.

 

The newest book by Ed Harkness, JUST RELEASED (December 1, 2010):


In Beautiful Passing Lives, Edward Harkness ranges freely in time and space, gleaning grace from moments small and large: from the weave of marsh grass to the ovens at Dachau. With an unflinching gaze, he
considers events in history we’d rather forget, recording with exacting detail and an alternately dispassionate and fierce voice “the dark we swim in.” In poems that take us on hikes to the duck marsh to overheard conversations in the Ozarks to middle-aged musings in La Spezia, Italy, he deftly describes “the sting of living/the kiss you don’t forget” with wry humor, honesty and compassion. These intimate poems, resonant with the voices of family, friends and mentors, lost and departed, chronicle all that is “seen, unseen and deep,” reminding us that redemption is everywhere and of the power of art to transform. Like the best sleight of hand, they “glitter still, and glide/offshore on nothing.”  -Holly J. Hughes, poet

Ed Harkness is very good at shining the poet's light on natural details and puts this to good use in poems that go outside his more familiar environs, such as looking at the English Channel:  "The Channel looks benign,/a road of hammered silver. Unglamorous,/windswept, this beach is no Riviera./Here you feel the slap of the beyond.";  and, looking even farther: "the Dog Star, lifting its drowsy head,//guarding the dog house of heaven/with its one yellow eye."  Harkness extends his range when addressing social issues: "but the horde of you—the majority—/have gone remote control,/ignorant of our sacrifices . . ."  Ed Harkness does not squint when he looks at the world and we are rewarded with a full and multi-leveled world in these poems. James Cervantes, Poet and author of Temporary Meaning