A Simple Life, A Complicated Man: Finding Balance in Red Snow Fence
by Sanora Bartels
Cahuenga Press has just released Red Snow Fence by Harry E. Northup (Cahuenga is a cooperative press and Red Snow Fence is the 15th book they have published since their inception in 1989). The collection includes poems written from October 2002 through September 2005.
As I read Northup’s poetry I would have felt like a voyeur were it not apparent that Northup’s generous heart was inviting me into his private conversations about poetry, film and love, those most universal and thus most intimate themes. This is the delicate balance of Red Snow Fence, that tilted structure that holds the cold, harsh realities of the world at bay in order to allow us to live in a protected place. Artists like Harry E. Northup, gifted and yet generous with his gift, embody that structure. A constant theme in the book is his quest for a listening, open community of souls, willing to participate in a shared exchange as in past periphery:
communion requires depth,
mystery, respect, a listening to one
As I read and listened to his day-to-day life with his wife (poet Holly Prado) and his cats and his work, I could not help but weep at the simplicity, at the clarity of love, of passion and compassion that he embodies – just a man writing in the middle of the night with a cat on his lap and wife sleeping in the next room as in the night:
the night has always been a friend
& i am with cats, my wife sleeps
& i write, no longer alone
The book also chronicles his trials and triumphs as a working actor in Hollywood and in that world of material rewards, Northup reminds us that while some find only modest success and most grow bitter, there is something more important at stake in the reason heart:
& in 2 or 3 are there caring and comfort
& in most a desire to work, an uncaring
for films & directors i hold dear
& in hemmingway was the theme
of continuing life with grace & dignity
even though physical damage &
damage to the psyche has taken place
& the spiritual pain has an inner
indefinable reason to hope
& it is why i read & why i write
While the first two thirds of the book is grounded in the physical daily realities, the last third of Red Snow Fence takes us on a journey of night visions which seem to me to be part memory, part premonition. I was struck by the beauty in these abstract images and in awe of an artist who could go from the basic reality of everyday world to the surreal terror and hope and spiritual soaring of these poems. In particular, I responded to recluse of light, perhaps because the visions reminded me of my North Dakota roots, so similar to the earlier images of Northup’s native Nebraska:
seclusion, green valley & then a
rolling disc, giant wheels turn
golden wheat, grain elevator, moon
full & golden also, an eye above a
dark ship, pushing in the darkness
For me, it felt like passing memory but also spiritual awakening. Truth is buried deep within our subconscious and waiting for us just beyond our imagination at one and the same time. The simple truth is that Red Snow Fence by Harry E. Northup has deeply affected this reader and writer of poetry and will resonate with me for a very long time.
You can purchase Red Snow Fence at www.CahuengaPress.com.
If you purchase the book, I would love to know what you think, so please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Sanora Bartels