J.S. Harry is great. That is all.

JS Harry

IMAGE: J.S. Harry (photo by Edwina Pickles)

J.S. Harry was an exceptional poet – one of the most unique, endlessly innovative, intelligent, and at times hilariously wry poetic voices to have ever lived.

Her poetry celebrated nature, chased dragons, drowned towns.  It meditated on the subjective nature of existence – from our grammatical slip ups to the passions and beliefs that bind us or drive us apart.  It was political, serene, snarky, self-aware, and always beautifully, inspiringly curious.

She was a writer so skilled she could collide the hopeful inquisitive soul of Peter Rabbit with the unfathomable mire of language philosophy, and the result was sublime – a journey into what it means to be human filled with all the drama and fear and silliness that question demands.

In person she was also one of the kindest, most generous writers I have ever met.  I once told her that I adored her work and she went out of her way to send me original copies of her poetry – books that have been out of print for decades and that are now almost impossible to find.

There are too few words to describe how extraordinary Harry was, both as a poet and a person.  But perhaps that’s the point.  As Harry and her eponymous Peter Henry Lepus proved, words are magnificent, malleable things, but experience often slips between them, more wild and maddening and alluring than we can wrangle onto the page.  Nonetheless, that urge to continue trying to express and understand ourselves, that capacity to adapt and change – all of which is represented by our imperfect, ever-evolving language – are what define us as human beings.

And few artists have found the means to express that conundrum as eloquently, as playfully, as Harry did.

What follows is the first poem from her very first collection of verse, the deer under the skin.  Although her work would develop in exciting new directions over the following decades, it is striking how many of the themes and the tones central to her poetry are at least signaled in this elegant, whimsically soulful verse:

the what o’clock

 

A puff-ball

on a slim green stem

is more attached

to earth than I.

 

The wind will tear

its seeds away –

perhaps they’ll root –

Words root. My words? Mine?

 

Living all in your head

is a kind of thistle-madness,

anyway, but, close, grass is,

birds are –; the people

outside

seldom sing.

 

People in pain

I brush against;

I rip. And they hold me.

But, when I roll away,

in my mind I am a puff-ball

about to leave earth;

again,

the wind isn’t far away.

 

How?

Grown from a thin green shoot

with a root in earth

to this airy death?

 

Even as a child,

I could feel        for days on end

the isolating air, cool and strange,

around my head.

Sadly, Harry is no longer with us – although I am still awaiting the final collection of her Peter Henry Lepus poems to be published.

But her words, her seeds, took root, even before she was gone.

I heartily encourage you to seek out and read anything and everything she wrote.

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