Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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292 words
SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

What Island
by P.K. Harmon

Reviewed by Renée Ashley

Serving House Books (December 2012)

Cover of What Island, by P.K. Harmon

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In poems as uncluttered and bright as the tiny island I imagine him living on, Harmon has layered description and experience, both so finely tuned that it’s difficult to separate the man from the place in which he finds himself living. What Island is alive with both past and present, with something like a trans-time consciousness—maybe it’s history, or maybe memory, perhaps homesickness—but it’s braided with a kind of joy that calms the soul. In “What Was What Is,” he says, “I used to be this old maple in front of this old house on a narrow drive in winter or summer or spring or autumn/But now I am that coconut tree and there are no seasons and the/only/road worth considering is salty and vast....”—one change of many that is so deep that it pushes him to the larger recognitions, as in “What Drama,” when he explains, “I wake to beauty writ so large/that the usefulness of the basic//elements are called into question.”

But he’s not all image and phenomenology. He’s story, as well, and delight. In “What Song,” he tells us:

There was a moment, very late into the party
in the yard between the door and the lagoon
when the host reached a sort of drunken
epiphany of performance by singing a song
about (while simultaneously drinking) tequila
then puking into his beer, still playing, even
adding a little verse about puking....

And then, after a devastating narrative and tonal turn in the poem, he comes back with, “But the song! Glorious!” It is then that we understand how he understands, that admixture of emotions and recognitions through which he gives us his voice and his poems, and they, too, are glorious.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Renée Ashley

lives in northern New Jersey and teaches in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Creative Writing and Literature for Educators programs. She’s the author of four previous collections of poetry as well as two chapbooks and a novel (Someplace Like This).

A portion of her poem “First Book of the Moon” is etched in marble in Penn Station Terminal in Manhattan, part of a permanent installation by the artist Larry Kirkland. She has received fellowships in both poetry and prose from New Jersey State Council on the Arts and a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury