Jerry Harp grew up in southern Indiana, where he studied English at St. Meinrad College (BA), a seminary run by Benedictine monks. He went on to receive degrees from St. Louis University (MA), the University of Florida (MFA), and the University of Iowa (PhD), where he specialized in Renaissance literature. He has taught at prep schools in St. Louis and at Kenyon College, and he currently teaches at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Mary Szybist, and their cat, Anime.
Spirit Under Construction by Jerry Harp
a clear, unsentimental lens on the past, Harp’s smart and captivating
poems dissect the remnants of time and what grief charges us with daily.
Lyrically powerful and unique in their stark American landscape, these
vibrating poems serve as ropes that pull us back into the river and out
again towards a safer shore."
Ada Limón, author of Bright Dead Things: Poems
ISBN 978-0-9975021-7-6 82 pages $14.95 5.5"x8.5" perfect bound, paper
They’ve been around in dreams a long time now, those houses where nobody lives, hidden along long stretches of field, accessible if you run alone down dirt and gravel roads
late in the afternoon when shadows start to sift like sand. I think you’ll know the place better than I. Maybe you’ll finish this poem. Here’s my attempt to hand it over to you.
The time. The place. The sound. They fade from me as my pen scratches across the ragged page and the cat lounges, observing every move. By the time I climb the stairs to sit before
my glowing screen, how many days and years will have gone by? But only you will know. Someone is sitting by an upstairs window, head bent beside a desk lamp, writing. You knock.
No other houses show. There is no answer. You cross the dusty living room. A grove of alder trees, entwined with vines, appears out back—on the mantle, a clock without a face. The crickets scrape their stridulation from the shade. The nighthawk with its plaintive cry and rush of wings appears at the right time. Nothing stirs upstairs. You look in every room.
The moonlight shines through a far window. Now the poem begins. The anticipated turn. The much awaited answer from the trees. Here is the moment when translation begins.
I really over-shared that night, with tinsel, trinkets, and strings— it all came out huddled beside that documentary about a lost boy
proving he was there all over again. It was a yard with screens, twitches, and blades, the springs and wheels running down that ran the mechanism running me,
a broken-livered rhythm coming on like the fog I breathed when I was six; I’m losing half an inch a year since then while others tick and trek along.
The soft-talker I followed all this time speaks long pauses over rice, and my longing never ends up belonging, nor does any other-where ever shine like foil.
Like the old man said: Never stay where you’re welcome. He was right on cue, his stupefaction coming on to me, so here I go off script.
I’m my own Linear B, which I can’t read. It was the moon-landing night, the old man shot cardiac sparks, and sure enough I was next, out walking fields in mud and rain
somewhere between God and none. What difference does it make, some transcendental desire suffering the universe while planets reel in empty space?
Either way, by the time those dots of light get here, their stars have moved or gone, and here I drag this thing I am along with shadows that are me and that are not.
“The only thing’s to go back where I came. / Trouble is,
that’s an expanding blank / with an even blanker blank inside”: thus does Jerry Harp’s Spirit Under Construction frame its challenge from its very first
poem. In this collection, the perilous
imperative to mark one’s life runs up against the expanding blanks of memory
and of the language in which we resign ourselves to recover it. The poems and prayers that fuse forth
poignantly acknowledge that they are both vital and shortfalling, “monumental
and impoverished.” Beneath the hum and
penance of the imaginable world and the loneliness of the unimaginable one,
these poems weather.”
Kimberly Johnson, author of Uncommon Prayer
“In Spirit Under
Construction, Jerry Harp makes room for “the monumental and the
impoverished.” These poems are beautifully strange and prescient, formally deft
and subtle. The poet attempts to read the world he encounters, to make sense of
its mystery. What is before him, he says, “illumine(s) into a script I cannot
read.” Yet in these poems, he transcribes and translates the world (and the
otherworldly) into all its complexity. When he turns his keen attention to the
ordinary, it transmutes before our eyes into the miraculous.”