by John Harvey
Smith/Doorstop Books, UK 1992, £5.95, trade paper [out of print]
Wrapping up National Poetry Month with a wonderful collection
I attended my first Bouchercon, and one of the Saturday 1:00 p.m. panels was “Music, Mystery and All That Jazz”, moderated by Bill Moody with panelists Linda Barnes, Ed Goldberg, John Harvey and John Reynolds. The room was crowded and Bill had a little trouble loosening up his panel until he got to John Harvey, author of the Charlie Resnick police procedural novels. Harvey talked for a minute or two about jazz and the music Resnick listens to in the books, then took out a slim volume of poetry, opened it and began reading:
“Chet Baker looks out from his hotel room
across the Amstel to the girl
cycling by the canal who lifts
her hand and waves…”
Maybe it was his soft English voice or maybe it was the rhythm in the words but the room grew hushed. He read two other poems, then Linda Barnes talked a little and then Harvey took out a comb and some waxed paper and rather adroitly accompanied Barnes as she sang a song she’d written. If you were there you won’t have forgotten it. Certainly for me it was a highlight of the ‘con.
I knew I had to have that book of poetry, but when I asked Harvey about it in one of those brief “escalator chats” one gets at conventions, he only said it was out of print. Some time later, when he was here in Southern California signing either Cold Light or Living Proof, I again asked him about his poetry and again he told me it was out of print, though some of it was available on cassette, him reading several of the poems from the collection. . Harvey is also a musician and the tape contains his small jazz group playing and accompanying his reading. I bought that tape and have enjoyed it.
Four years later…
I got the catalog from Thomas Books (sadly no longer in business) and there, near the back, was listed Ghosts of a Chance by John Harvey. I called and got it, a mint signed copy, and I have (carefully, carefully) read it through several times, most recently a few days ago.
There are 59 poems in 61 pages, so you can see the poems aren’t long, but they pack a lot of emotion. I’m a jazz lover and an admirer of Harvey’s novels and I find these poems, most of them with jazz themes, very, very enjoyable.
NOTE: I just took a look at ABE Books and they have 6 copies of this book listed, ranging in price from $7 to $43 plus shipping, all but one of them in the UK (and thus extra shipping costs).