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A cosmology of place written in the songs of whales and birds, folk tales, city streets, and the green glass sea
In her first book-length collection of poems to appear in the US, Lesley Harrison looks North to the sea, with the heat of the land at her back, to bring us meditations on whale hunts and lost children, Manhattan sky towers, and the sound of the gamelan in the Gulf of Bothnia. A poetry of spareness in multilayered depths, of textural silence and aural place, Kitchen Music plunges deep through the strata of language where “weather is body” and an Iceland poppy is “as delicate as birch.” In poems and sequences of poems, Harrison spins folktales into threads of family and gender, engages with the work of the artists Roni Horn and Marina Rees, transcribes John Cage and Johannes Kepler into song and litany, pens a hymnal of bees, and turns to storms, glaciers, and the lapwing life in a field of young barley. As the novelist Kirsty Gunn writes in the foreword, Harrison has “taken up the old white whale of the fixed and masculine narratives and made of its seas and weathers her own Moby Dick, a female poetry ‘in praises / repeated, repeating.’”
About the Author
Lesley Harrison, born in Ayrshire, Scotland, has published six collections of poetry, including the poetry pamphlet Blue Pearl, published by New Directions. She has lived and worked in Istanbul, West Africa, Mongolia, and Orkney, on Scotland’s northern coastline. Harrison has held writing residencies in Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and the Harvard University Center for Hellenic Studies. She lives in the small fishing village of Auchmithie on the Angus coast of Scotland.
Kirsty Gunn, born in New Zealand, is the author of several novels and collections of short stories, including the internationally award-winning novel about the Highlands of Scotland and the musical form of piobaireachd, The Big Music. She is Research Professor at the University of Dundee and Associate Member of Merton College, Oxford.
Praise for Blue Pearl:
It is full of whalebones and wind and melting ice, and it left me breathless.
— Nina Powles - Poetry
You cannot help thinking that this is what all poetry should do—find the truth in things, not beneath them—and how it should be produced: sensitively and with love.
— Andrew McCulloch - Times Literary Supplement
With meditations on whale hunts and lost children, Manhattan sky towers, and the sound of the gamelan in the Gulf of Bothnia, this collection is both expansive in scope and beautifully sparse in its language. Every word is savored, creating moments of stunning lyricism and powerful silence.
— Michael Welch - Chicago Review of Books
A book of poems, a book of voices. A book that is also a map, an almanac, a report - of histories, of stories, of lands and waters. A book of poems made and arranged in such a way as to create harbours and enclosures: the contained order of narrative brought to a wild scattering of events; a careful arrangement of whale bones on a gallery floor to tell the tale of that great singing creature now stilled to silence.
— Kirsty Gunn
This is a book of precise and uncompromisingly beautiful writing about northern place: Orkney, Iceland, far seas of the imagination. A few words, brilliant and disquieting in choice and cadence, transport the reader to distant islands and their weather. As you read, you are alone in a remote stone house at nightfall, with the wind rising from the sea below the windows.
— Peter Davidson
A great poem consists of alternate measures of words and silence; and in the greatest work the silence is as important as the words to which it gave birth. Lesley Harrison is a writer of consistent brilliance, who with just a handful of words can conjure song from silence. These are warnings, elegies and celebrations... Kitchen Music is a meticulously crafted Northern Hymnal...a brilliantly conceived orison to the flora and fauna of the higher latitudes. This collection is essential reading for anyone keen to understand why poetry remains a unique force for change on this planet.
— John Glenday
Her work exists on the border between language of natural clarity and human silence, where white space buffs against stanza to produce its own music. … Like the whale, which serves as the cetaceous heart of this book, Harrison’s primary mode of communication is sound, whether it be daylight or rain clouds, old prayer or the birth of a new island.
— Connor Harrison - Chicago Review of Books
The poems evoke a color palette of slate, sea glass, and silvered green, and float in a soft-focus reverie.
— Sylee Gore - Poetry Foundation