The Soft Path by Joshua Harmon

Reviewed by Katy Scrogin

Genre: Poetry, Paperback 92 pages Published by The University Of Akron Press on September 17, 2019 Get your copy on Amazon here

The atmosphere of Joshua Harmon’s The Soft Path is heavy, hanging over a still-living landscape holding out against mechanical incursions and cheap plastics, sagging infrastructures and colonizing data streams. This three-part study stares hard at what we have become and continue to turn into, what we allow ourselves to inflict on souls and matter, human and non-. But this is not a predictable lament for lost places, or a plea to join with the feeling heart of nature. If this is a protest song, it has refused the ham-fisted lyrics and self-congratulation typical of the genre.

Along the soft, non-technical path, it’s evident that something else, something other, has absorbed what we still call living, and has done so thanks to our easy permission and submission to it, what Harmon calls our “unquestioned concession.” This is a world of one-time towns progress left behind, of massive roadways bounded by “monocrop chokepoints,” of clouds gutted and smeared by passing airplanes. It is a world in which a sentient being is unable to get its bearings, pummeled by forces bent on speed and fragmentation. The difficulty of the struggle to remain whole, to stand apart from so much virtual and material traffic, is evident in the line and word breaks found throughout the text, the work’s narrating presence often stop-starting amidst the confusing flux of sensations surrounding it.

In Harmon’s world, a particular being may insist on its singularity, but that assertion is already compromised when seeing and thinking take place in the language of conquering forces, when

the inexpressiveness of the world
as I see it on screen prevails

when aspects of creation are described as:

the 404 error of sky
-line at twilight

or as

a 2-D screenshot of a curved
world it seems less and less
possible to recognize: to inhabit.

When this blandly destructive something blankets and shapes and directs the world that was once familiar, it becomes difficult not to give in to its ways, to abandon mind and self to the ugly neuroses that are now the norm. We bend under the pressure, and

like everyone else,
I seek only the least inconvenience,
the least disruption,
a day defined less by what happens
than what doesn’t.

Standing upright under these conditions means striving always to remember that

I am merely a one –
time programmable: low
reservoir, lower sun,
zero vim: but the heart
still blisters its watt
and a half, its boot-code
logic unarguable.

In this account, nature seems still able to maintain this principled posture, stronger in its resolution than the lazy sapiens who are destroying it. Even broken and put-upon,

Anthemic pines this
morning frisk micro-
waved skies
rain audits all my ambitions.

And yet, this is no vision of good winning out in the end, of nature emerging victorious and (re-)instituting a harmonious reign of balance. Creation’s

of predictability’s

takes note of the continuing disturbances being wrought—and certainly, too, of the fact that the lines that began “Horizontal Dropouts” on a seeming note of defiance

—and I, in between, unreachable,
elsewhere, otherwise

return again to close the volume—this time as an acknowledgment of how difficult, how hard on the soul, is this world that is still loved, still wondrous, still in so much peril, where

the verbal
errancies coexist with
a twenty-minute downpour
that yields to isotropic
skybreaks and the remnants
of an internally combusted
I, in between, unreachable,

elsewhere, otherwise—

About Katy Scrogin

Katy Scrogin is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and translator. In addition to her most recent work at The Bookends Review, Bearings Online, and The Pangolin Review, she can also be found at katyscrogin.wordpress.com. She was especially moved and infused with determination by Harmon’s declaration in The Soft Path that “the heart/still blusters its watt/and a half, its boot-code/logic unarguable.”

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3 thoughts on “The Soft Path by Joshua Harmon”

  1. Did something happen with the editing here? I think Katy pulled a few quotations out, but the formatting looks like it got messed up.

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