Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry

Two friends recommended Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser’s Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry. I’m glad they did.

These poems were written after Ted Kooser had been diagnosed with throat cancer, the same form of cancer I had, and I certainly identified with many of his feelings while undergoing treatment.

I also appreciated the haiku-like correspondence between Harrison and Kooser. In some ways the poems reminded me of another work I liked a lot and commented on earlier, Japanese Death Poems, a book I found quite inspiring despite the title.

It’s a short work, 85 pages long, with four three-line, or four-line, poems per page. In fact, my major complaint about the book is that I thought $15 was a rather exorbitant price for such a short paperback book.

Though it was possible to guess who wrote many of the poems, it was refreshing that no author was listed for any of the poems; the poems have to be seen as part of a conversation, not just the result of one person’s thoughts.

I know there’s a long Japanese tradition of linked haiku, but in the end most of the poems seem to stand quite well on their own.

Although it’s impossible to miss the underlying tone of sadness in these poems, in the end what makes them appealing is the gentle, self-deprecating sense of humor found in poems like this one:

When I found my tracks in the snow
I followed, thinking that they might
lead me back to where I was. But
they turned the wrong way and went on.

Now, I’ve actually done something very similar to this when out snowshoeing in very dense woods where I kept having to turn back because of a meandering stream, but I assume it’s really meant in a metaphorical sense.

Faced with painful treatment and the real possibility of imminent death, it’s hard not to get caught up in the meanderings of the mind, to forget who you are and question what you’ve always believed. Your body seems to have a mind of its own.

Another poem sounds like it was probably written by Harrison and suggests one of the greatest benefits of friendship:

You told me you couldn’t see
a better day coming,
so I gave you my eyes.

Though I believe poetry can effectively point out what’s wrong with the world, its greatest strength is its ability to add perspective to the world, to live beyond the moment, to touch truths greater than ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry

  1. I think I’ve given away at least three copies of Braided Creek. Someone comes to visit, and it just seems like the thing to put into their hands as they’re leaving. A wise book, and full of wit.

    And Japanese Death Poems was a favorite of mine the year after I finished college.

    I do see the connection between the two.

  2. I’ve been reading Harrison’s poetry and novels for many years, as many of us Michigan folk do, and was very glad when my sister gave me this book for Christmas. Haven’t had a chance to dig into it yet but I appreciate the primer. I’m not familiar with Ted Kooser, although Braided Creek is sparking some interest. That self-deprecating humor is unmistakably Harrison.

  3. I’m doing a school project on Ted Kooser, and the research I’ve been doing online led me to “Braided Creek”. I had no idea who Jim Harrison was before, I actually didn’t know anything about Kooser before this project either. But, through this project I’ve grown to really enjoy the poetry of both men. Their simple style, accompanied by such vivid images create the type of poetry that would read without being required to by the English Department. They seem like people who I would like to talk to, rather than the verbose, profound poets of the 20th century and today.

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