Jim Dodge — Rain on the River: Selected Poems and Short Prose

Once and awhile if you’re lucky, you might have the privilege of running into someone who seems like they have it all figured out; someone who by virtue of example shows you another way of looking at the world and your place in it.

If you are very lucky (and that person isn’t driven by ego or fanaticism) and you mentioned that you might be tempted to follow his or her example—that person would look at you like you were crazy then maybe laugh and try to talk you out of it. That person might even explain to you why you shouldn’t write in second person narrative.

For me that person was Jim Dodge. I had the extreme pleasure of taking a creative writing class with him at Humboldt State back in the early ’90s, and in retrospect, I should have dropped all my other classes and just hung out with him all day. Oh well, live and learn—which is also the message of much of Dodge’s output: any one of his three novels or the flurry of chapbooks and loose poems that follow in his literary wake will teach you that.

Rain on the River collects Dodge’s short-form musings from the late ’80s through when it was published in 2002, and during which time, Dodge married his long-time companion and became a father. Many of the later poems deal with the incredible sense of wonder he seemed to be dialed into at that point in his life.

Dodge’s poetry combines the wonder of some of Richard Brautigan’s more innocent works and the natural familiarity of Gary Snyder, a fellow traveler who Dodge attributes with changing the direction of his life. Dodge, an HSU fisheries major at the time, soon went multi-disciplinarian after reading Snyder’s Hay for the Horses.

Dodge’s mixture of Zen awareness and working class perception mirrors Snyder’s own sensibilities. In Fishing Devil’s Hole at the Peak of Spring, Dodge relates an archetypical steep downhill battle through briar and bramble (and occasional unexpected flower-strewn meadow) to reach a secret fishing hole, only to lose his fish and end up ass-over-tit in the freezing water to which he exclaims:

Yes. Yes by everything holy, yes!
Even better.

He writes at his most beatific in a bone-deep closing triptych/manifesto, Holy Shit.

I believe every atom of creation
is indelibly printed with divinity.
I believe in the warm peach
rolled in the palm of my hand.
I believe God plays saxophone
and the Holy Ghost loves to dance.

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