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Reviews of Random Unisons

Daniel Harris is a poetic shape shifter, articulating the world not through a single vision, but through many lenses. As explorer, anthropologist, lover, and scholar (among others roles), he deftly examines not unfamiliar territory but the complex layers of everyday experience, both present and past.

There is nothing random about Harris’ Random Unisons. He meticulously sifts through and studies the rubble of ritual, casual gestures, and banal acts (children learning to dance, a dog hunting for blackberries in the woods, washing dishes after dinner) and exposes the invisible, palpable, tensions that exist in each, thus building pressures of history, memory, and emotion.

The natural world figures prominently in Harris’ work, but nothing is simple, even in nature. It begins with the cover photo, a simple rock fissured down the center, and further dissected in the poem, “Chest-High Boulder, Split.” The two slabs are torn apart from a romantic whole, always reaching and yearning to become one again. The fractured boulder is described as “jigsaw edges of a broken eggshell groping / to lock once more. A stone kiss, kiss of craving stones.  Keats’s lover’s never had it so hard, their limbs/ chiseled to love whatever body’s on an urn.” These rock halves, like Harris, seek connection.

The poet carefully chooses his devices to make those connections. The language is visceral. He employs rough-edged tools to express the brutality of violence at home and at war. But his instruments can be tender, too, as when he’s watching a lover sleep (“Your cheeks in this dawning: chamois / Peach fuzz: filaments of halo”) or a fleet-footed toddler running in the grass “itching to soar unleashed into updraft, / fingers and arms spreading wide to ascend through resistless air.”

I recommend this book for readers who appreciate the power of language to stir us emotionally and intellectually. Harris has the exceptional ability to deploy words as the tools of discovery for re-examining relationships, re-interpreting landscapes, and re-telling mythologies so that, we, too, can ponder them beyond the limitations of our senses.

— Sandra Nygaard, writer and editor

Great art is often demanding, and Daniel A. Harris’s Random Unisons is certainly demanding insofar as the poems are intellectually and lyrically dense in the way that poetry aficionados tend to like. Each syllable is authentically fought for, and yet there’s also a wonderful sensuality of sound. I suspect some poems, like “Occasions of Mist,” may be truly great ones, no matter your yardstick: smart, historical, lyrically intense, and ultimately beautiful.

— Michael Jennings, author of Bone Songs and Sanctuaries: New and Selected Poems

Daniel A. Harris brings his encyclopedic knowledge of music, myth, literature and history to the forefront of this exciting collection of poems. The poems range from intimate romantic tributes for a beloved wife to epistemological meditations on liminal spaces between animals, humans, temporality, the visible and incorporeal world . Animal lovers will enjoy the poems about a favored dog that looms like Ovid’s Metamorphoses across pages of canine fantasy, homage, and mythic transformation. Many of the poems are about the making of form—the ways in which we see, wish we could see, or fail to see unless we risk losing everything to an unmitigated focus on objects, patterns, and questions that both hold us hostage to and liberate us from random observations—both bidden and unbidden. And some of these poems, like the elegy about the poet’s father, flicker, dazzle, and then stun like menorah candles melting.

— Roger Platizky, Professor of English, Austin College, author of A Blueprint of His Dissent: Madness and Method in Tennyson’s Poetry (Bucknell University Press)

I enjoy prose hugely but often turn to poetry for its simplicity and its ability, much like painting, to communicate sensitivities in a minimum of space. I also find, as Stephen Greenblatt wrote in The Swerve, that the power of [Lucretius’] poetry depended “… on personal circumstances– art always penetrates the particular fissures in one’s psychic life.” I recently had the pleasure of rediscovering these principles in Daniel Harris’ Random Unisons, a painting of the poet’s life and thoughts which often recall my own experiences. A comforting nostalgic tone and compelling irony is struck in its very first piece, “Mammals.” It begins with the poet “[f]oraging, “my dog for grasses she can’t find at home, I for this year’s blackberries” and ends, less nostalgically, with a groveling Nebuchadnezzar, perhaps to remind us of the less comfortable moments in our lives. In “Around Nine,” the poet, while “Washing the dishes last night, … glimpsed you as corn silk, filaments, your hair perfect floss … scintillant as a tall silver beech grazed by the sun . . . .” These images continue throughout, all within a unique visual structure, as well. Random Unisons is a wonderful break from prose.
— Michael Mazer, Artist, Washington, D.C.

Daniel Harris’s Random Unisons is a must for anyone who truly loves strong poetry. There is nothing at all random about the book’s consistent brilliance. The book is amazing on so many levels. Technically, it is unusually varied and masterful—metrically, aurally, compositionally, visually on the page. It constantly surprises—delightfully. The 56 poems are divided into four broad groupings spanning a wide range of themes and subjects, and display exceptional erudition—all the more impressively so for remaining altogether accessible. The narrative poems are poignant yet gritty (an very rare combination), and the imagery, which is often plain stunning, frequently springs from (and into) novel contexts, as might be deduced from the title Random Unisons and such grouping titles as “Milling the Wind” and “No Thicket for Shelter.” In short, the volume’s ideas, perceptions, and crystalline, hard-nosed beauty is, again and again, simply dazzling.

— Chris Snodgrass, author of Aubrey Beardsley: Dandy of the Grotesque (Oxford University Press)

Random Unisons is a treasure. In these poems, sounds of the purposefully chosen words combine in rhythms that make beautiful music of writing on the page. The subject matter goes beyond scenes of nature, challenging you to ponder:

“Hump of heron bunched and balanced dark as slate stone
On that far grey log in greying waters on spindles
The spear of beak anchored at rest in your skull
Clumped down between shoulders your body perched still
When I on my walk return this same way and hour later
As the first troops ship out for a stint overseas.”

Each poem takes you to a different world—a new situation observed and reflected upon with intimacy and deep thoughtfulness—from the gutsy realities of real life, to the moving emotions in personal engagement.
The book is also a treat for the eye; the cover and front pages are strikingly attractive, and enormous care has been taken in the layout of each page and the clarity of print. I look upon it as an art object I am thrilled to own, that I will take pleasure in returning to again and again.
— Marge Lewis

As in Loose Parlance, Daniel Harris is a poet intensely present to the world. With the respect and precision of a naturalist, he observes stones and roots as the  unfurlings of cosmic time. He brings the ephemeral pleasures of everyday life, like seeds, into the crucible of a memory haunted by the shadowings of ancient legends, old masters, and the traumas of history, and transfigures them, through syntax and sonorities, into “random unisons.” Each meticulously crafted poem yields shocks of recognition for what is at stake in our common humanity.

— Suzanne Nash, Professor Emerita of French, Princeton University, author of  ‘Les Contemplations’ of Victor Hugo: An Allegory (Princeton University Press) and Paul Valery’s ‘Album de vers ancien’: A Past Transfigured (Princeton University Press)

Random Unisons offers us vivid, compelling poems about our adult confrontations: urges of the aging body, memory’s sudden tricks, our needs for social justice. Daniel Harris’s poems tackle complication: they never take a straight route to where we think we’re going—whether out hiking, sharing a meal with friends, being conscious of loving. Safe territory easily turns violent—lifetimes or continents away, inflected by myth, music, art—as the grotesque borders the transcendent. His poems show special care for the arts of form, along with loving attention to line, rhythm, vocabulary.

— Maxine Susman, Ph.D., poet, educator,  author of Wartime Address and Creamery Road

Reviews of Loose Parlance

“There is nothing loose about Daniel Harris’s Loose Parlance. These tightly woven poems are intelligent and ambitious in their erudition, but thereis a tide of deep feelings here that will not be suppressed. The tension between the ‘tight’ diction and these humane concerns hooks the reader.”

— Jane Rawlings, author of Penelopeia: a Novel in Verse (David Godine, 2003)

“Daniel Harris’s poems sparkle with the energy that comes from the collision between seemingly disparate artistic traditions. He deftly turns classical and contemporary English poetic forms in a kaleidoscope of intersecting concerns: Jewish identity, Western aesthetic practice and sharp scrutinies of modern relationships. Engaging with this rich poetic tapestry—wrought from a musician’s ear, a painter’s eye, a scholar’s mind—offers deep rewards.”

— Cynthia Scheinberg, author of Women’s Poetry and Religion in Victorian England (Cambridge)

“The language of Loose Parlance is elegantly melodious. But do not be fooled by surface beauty: it hides dangerous depths, soaked with a sense of history and of the present. In [Harris’s] back yard we find the long-houses of the original Leni-Lenape Indians. . . . His Zeus brings us to Abu Ghraib. His speaker faces the cannibal sun-god of the Aztecs. . . . With its great variety and wide scope, this collection gives a unified vision of a thoughtful human being in complex times.”

— Enriquetta Carrington, author of Treasury of Mexican Love Poems, Quotations, and Proverbs (New York: Hippocrene Books, 2003)

“This is an extraordinary collection — wide-ranging and varied in form and subject matter but of excellent quality throughout. The poems are often gripping, gritty, and haunting, even while nuanced and of exceptional sensitivity. This is a stunning achievement. Very highly recommended.”

— Chris Snodgrass, author of Aubrey Beardsley: Dandy of the Grotesque (Oxford University Press)