Harry E. Northup's Red Snow Fence
Harry E. Northup’s newest collection of poems is called Red Snow Fence by Cahuenga Press, operated by fellow poet-members James Cushing, Phoebe MacAdams, and Holly Prado Northup.
Red Snow Fence looked like it would be a delight to read from cover to cover, and so I did, one day during the summer because, quite simply, I just could not put it down.
In the Los Angeles poetry community Harry Northup is known as an actor, often serving under of one of his favorite directors- Martin Scorsese. Northup has been in 37 films to date including The Manchurian Candidate, The Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and New York, New York. He has also appeared on television, 43 different shows, but my personal favorite is (think early 80’s evening soap opera… give up?) Knott’s Landing in a recurring role!
I believe he does his best work as a poet. Soft, emotional, and real, Northup the poet talks about things dear to my own heart: his love for his wife, a wonderful poet in her own right, family, finding yourself, losing yourself (even after years of looking), acting and cats.
The book is divided into five major sections, each spanning a different time period. In “Grave Marker: 10-5-02 through 2-5-03,” he talks about the various parts of his life and what is to come in the subsequent parts of his book; his upbringing delivering the Rocky Mountain News in “jobs”; acting and working with Scorsese in “his first six”; his wife Holly in “friday in ojai”; and his family in “nov. 12, 2002”, especially the part about his mom:
mother always put her family ahead of herself,
she let her teeth go
He continues with a poem about one of their cats in “to catch her sleep,” where he recalls the time she broke her leg and:
she moved quickly towards freedom,
dragging her leg like frankenstein.
In the section “A Country Away: 12-25-02 to 7-9-03,” one of my favorite poems, “today,” was written for his wife. He recounts a trip to the Farmer’s Market on Holly’s birthday and concludes:
our home; woman sleeping in bed
3 cats sleep on newly restored couch
1 female by my side
heat on, quiet, almost midnight
a thousand reasons to hold her hand
as we walk on grand
In the section “The Night Has Always Been A Friend: 7-20-03 to 11-26-03,” Northup covers movies in which he appeared, trips to New York for film productions, his father, family, and cats, and not being able to sleep at night. Northup shares insights about all sorts of people in his life and how he encountered each one: from meeting his first wife to meeting Holly, actors, baseball stars, working on The Manchurian Candidate and going to and coming back from jobs. I particularly enjoyed the poem “Meetings,” which describes Northup’s meeting Allen Ginsberg. In “Meetings” he describes sharing a cab with Ginsberg to St. Mark’s Place after his acting class. In the cab, he and Ginsberg discuss poetry.
Northup meets Ginsberg again on the Sunset Strip while working as a waiter and Ginsberg asks:
Are things beginning to break for you?
(Note: Ginsberg was with Timothy Leary at the time.)
The collection's title poem “Red Snow Fence: 12-31-03 to 7-27-04,” sums up the childhood experiences that shaped him
…nebraska, where dirt roads, farms, small
towns, boyhood friends, libraries, base-
ball diamonds, wheat fields, hide-outs,
fences, bikes, theft, snow, hot summers,
pepsies & peanuts, fried chicken, roast
beef, Sunday mid-day dinners, flags,
log cabin, silver dollar, brownson
tavern, kids, greenlee’s pip’s …”
...carl crouse telling us
to write our speeches ‘clear, consise
& to the point’
where I wrote 3 ‘I speak for democracy’
speeches & won all 3 high school
contests, 10th–12th grades
where I played baseball in the snow
outside on a dirt court
where I played basketball & baseball
team for s.h.s.
where I won & lost& dreamed of playing
In the major leagues
where I loved pretty small town girls
In the final section, “Recluse: 4-12-05 to 9-27-05,” Northup ends with some beautiful images in the poem “circle of flame on water”:
Earth, the river has fallen,
Golden wings- white blaze
Man on horse, all white, arrows
Stuck in his shield- light down…
Buildings, an arrow up, a large
Golden circle, white arrows up, rows,
Rows- face with helmet-fires of
Shadows resounding , tree & figure
Golden pipes, fire & cow, single flame
Say good night Harry..."
(Good night Harry...")
(Red Snow Fence, Harry E. Northup, copyright 2006 Cahuenga Press, 304 pp., $15.00, ISBN 978-0-9715519-5-4)