P. K. Harmon

P. K. Harmon's What Island is available on Amazon.com.

What is it like to go abroad but not for vacation? What business do we have? What right-minded, haunted search for community, for family, for social justice takes us beyond our borders, domestic rooms, and familiar walls? What responsibility is there—those of us who’ve been to the two-thirds world, met the 99%, the uninsured, the impoverished—when we arrive and hear the planet’s last message: pay attention, live on me. What W. S. Merwin has done to elevate ecology to the poetic, P. K. Harmon now takes—without bravado, without exaggeration—to the source, the sun, the tropics we’ve wanted, adorned with fantasies of leisure, then ruined. But also, despite any American devastation, what we’ve loved and longed for: “how blue / and how we turned from one / another into blue—all so blue / those old beaks cutting ahead /the flapping somehow grace too // in the flight—those two into / a deeper and deeper blue and I / drifted closer and closer // to the rough and sharp until / finally the heavy air that is / coming into a lovely silence.” What island? The ultimate answer is earth.



What happens to a wanderer-poet's soul when the "lovely affliction" of personal drama is unexpectedly replaced with joy so serene it verges on boredom? "--I mean/ could I do without plot as well?/ I wake to beauty writ so large/ that the usefulness of the basic/ elements are called into question." In these poems of inverse exile, P.K. Harmon addresses this and other dilemmas of narrative philosophy after having stumbled upon paradise in the historically shadowed Marshall Islands. What Island is rendered in exquisite lyric tones and a bold, even lightly insouciant, voice: "I finally don't/ care there is nothing fancy/ in what I say." This is a marvelous book.

—Claire Bateman.

P. K. Harmon meditates on the limits of the rational mind in its encounters with the mysteries of Nature, Chance, and Time. As he contemplates human efforts to control the energies of life, his responses range from well-informed anger at society's destructiveness to a charming humility about the individual's power to resist the pressures of history. Harmon's poetry vibrates with the tension between dreaminess and responsibility; the theme is crystallized in these lines from the poem "What Foot": "I get way out there on the water in the sky / feeling pretty beautiful actually but then look down / to my foot and the print it inevitably has to make." Here is a poet who finds himself in a Micronesian world that is in some ways paradisal, yet threatened by economic and environmental forces that can't be escaped anywhere. Most of the time Harmon is both amazed and happy in the choices he has made -- though doubts can suddenly spring up, as we sense in "What Lagoon 3": "Lagoon brown lagoon blue. / I am not trapped I am not / trapped I am not trapped I am / not trapped I am not." Despite that fear, the keynote in Harmon's vision is an affectionate bemusement which at moments attains to spiritual peacefulness -- peaceful yet not sleepy -- alert, humorous, ever-ready to discover hope. Readers who love William Stafford, Gary Snyder or Galway Kinnell will find Harmon's voice charismatic, oddly authoritative, and salubrious.

—Mark Halliday

Information about the Author

P. K. Harmon is the Founding Editor of Al in Aelon Kein: the Marshall Islands Literary Review and former theatre director and Humanities professor of the College of the Marshall Islands. A graduate of Ohio University’s Program in Creative Writing, he was recently Visiting Professor of Creative Writing for the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He is currently a writing professor at the University of Guam. He has had individual poems published recently in Riverwind, The Marshall Islands Journal, and the Laurel Review.


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