Harm’s Way


Poems by Eric Leigh
978-1-55728-930-8 (paper)
April 2010


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Finalist, Miller Williams Poetry Prize

“The past is a flame you must learn to hold / your hand above,” Eric Leigh writes in this stunning first volume of poems, a poignant meditation on the harm that we can and cannot keep from those we love, and the harm that cannot be kept from us. Taking place in both the rural and the urban, in fields and on sidewalks, in gay bars and in laboratories, with topics as diverse and powerful as a father’s suicide, a mother’s resilience, coming out, lost love, and the continuing plight of HIV, Leigh’s poems locate the heartbreaking music in these struggles. At the center of this profound book about loss—of family, of love, of immunity—lies the spirit’s ability to persevere. “My worst fear has come true, / and I am still here walking,” Leigh writes. Indeed, these poems are as assured and brave as those steps toward an unknown future. At turns beautiful, disturbing, mournful, and redemptive, Harm’s Way is an accomplished debut.

Harm’s Way is part of the University of Arkansas Press Poetry Series, edited by Enid Shomer.

Eric Leigh received his MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan, where he was honored with Hopwood Awards in both poetry and non-fiction. His recent honors include a “Discovery”/The Nation Prize, the New Letters Prize for Poetry, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, and a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. He has been a finalist for the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Samuel French Morse Prize, and the Walt McDonald First-Book Competition in Poetry. He lives in San Francisco.

“‘The country poor used to mark graves / with their best piece of china—chipped bowl, / butter dish,’ their tribute a form of ensoulment. And the poet who beholds this gesture in all its native eloquence has made of it an ars poetica. I know no writer whose vision is more generous, more inclusive than that of Eric Leigh. The thirteen-year-old girl who feeds a houseful of siblings on dandelion greens, the machinist working the midnight shift, the drag queen, the barman, the heroin addict on the bus: poetry cannot keep them from harm, but it can, in the deft hands of Leigh, endow them with mortal radiance.”
—Linda Gregerson, author of Magnetic North and The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep

“At one end of Eric Leigh’s world men come home from work smelling of oil and two guys who hit a deer know it has to be butchered immediately, ‘before the blood settles, spoils the meat.’ At the other end are drag bars, viral loads, the struggle of love, fleeting beauty: ‘That’s what we do, Dear. Some boys / shoot things; we dress windows.’ Throughout his remarkable range Leigh maintains traction on the tight curves and steep slopes of feeling, steering through disappointment and heartbreak to clearsighted poise and the fine lift of his endings. The poems of Harm’s Way have somewhere to go, and they know how to work to get there: they leave us convinced that they had to be written.”
—James Richardson, author of By the Numbers: Poems and Aphorisms

“Eric Leigh writes of loss in poems that are deeply moving and yet unsentimental. Reading his first collection, Harm’s Way, I’m struck by his intensity and eloquence. He has the charm of a storyteller with a wide range of settings, from an empty farmhouse in a factory town to a lively beerhall to a drag bar. A sequence, ‘The Dark-Light of Spring,’ courageously recounts a violent family death. The title poem has me enthralled.”
—Grace Schulman, author of The Broken String