At first glance, any similarities between Poet Jim Harrison and Novelist Rosalyn Drexler, the authors of the tandem articles that appear on page 68 under the title Arms and the Men We Sing, seem strictly coincidental.
Harrison was born in rural Michigan, Mrs. Drexler in the Bronx. Harrison claims prolonged exposure to city life gives him hives, while Mrs. Drexler says she finds being away from New York is like getting the bends. He is an assiduous hunter and fisherman; she thinks a nylon line is a stocking advertisement.
When we assigned Harrison to cover the Kalkaska ( Mich.) Trout Festival and Mrs. Drexler the Petaluma ( Calif.) Wrist-Wrestling Championship we saw no particular connection between the two pieces. But when their stories arrived, we realized we had sent a pair of soul mates to cover soul events half a continent apart, and that each had come up with complementary insights into America's festive spirit.
Jim Harrison's empathy with his trout festival was understandable enough. He has been an avid angler since childhood. "I am addicted to all forms of fly-fishing," he says. "If carp would rise to a fly I would probably try them." He goes to Key West every spring to fish for tarpon, bonefish and the elusive permit. He has never caught one of the latter, but is back trying his poet's best again this week. And every August when the trout go to the bottom in Michigan, he makes a fishing trip to Montana. His mentor both there and in Florida is Tom McGuane, the novelist and SI contributor, who went to Michigan State with Harrison.
When he is not trying to outsmart a fish, Harrison is likely to be writing poetry (he has three books out, including Outlyer, just published by Simon & Schuster) or working on a forthcoming novel that he calls a "false memoir" about a hunting accident he had last year. He has traveled and lived in San Francisco, Boston and New York, but keeps coming back to his favorite setting—rural Michigan. He and his wife and two daughters live there now on a farm near Traverse City.
Rosalyn Drexler got her assignment to cover the wrist wrestlers in Petaluma in part on the strength of her reputation as a talented and irreverent novelist (I Am the Beautiful Stranger, One or Another) and playwright (Home Movies, which won a 1964 Obie Award), but also because she had once toured briefly with a troupe of lady wrestlers—grunt-and-groan variety. She is now finishing a novel, To Smithereens, based on her wrestling interlude, being published next winter.
Rosalyn and her husband, Artist Sherman Drexler, live with their two children in a West Side New York apartment that may soon be going cooperative. She worries a little about the prospect of having to move, but mostly she's too busy thinking up new activities for herself. "I like to try things I think I can't do," she says.