Meet the Author: Michael Harty

Michael Harty
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Apr 14, 2016

Michael Harty will read his poetry at Johnson County Library on Tuesday April 19th at 6pm. Poetry and Prose is presented by the Writers Place and Johnson County Library.

If you could begin the interview, what question would you ask yourself?

I’d ask myself, how does it happen that you started writing poetry when you were old enough for Social Security? And I would answer that it didn’t exactly happen that way. I always had a yen to write poems, sometimes dabbled more or less, but it wasn’t until I reached a pretty advanced age that I decided to get serious about it. One thing that particularly encouraged me was when I wrote a memorial poem about my mother-in-law and got a lot of appreciative reactions.

Why is poetry important?

Different reasons for different people, but for me, there are a couple that stand out. One, it’s an invitation to slow down and reflect, to see some aspect of the world in an unexpected way, maybe find beauty in a surprising place. And two, I’m coming more and more to value the historical continuity that poetry represents, this conversation about what’s important in life that extends over hundreds of years.

How does a poem begin for you? Idea, word, form, image?

It’s pretty unpredictable, but I’d say it begins with an experience that gives me the feeling “there’s more to this”, more to be said or understood than is apparent in the moment. It could be something I see, like a red Corvette with a For Sale sign; or something I read about, like a newly-discovered tarantula species named for Johnny Cash; or something I remember in a quiet moment, like riding the school bus and a kid getting in trouble. Those are all examples that turned into poems.

Tell us about your writing process. Where do you write? How do you write?

I’m still working a fairly full schedule in my psychology office, so I fit in writing time when I can. Often it’s at home, in the evening. But I’ve been most productive when I’ve been able to reserve an hour or so during the day, every day, and keep writing even when nothing good seems to be happening. Because I can’t easily think and type at the same time, I write early drafts in longhand. I use up a lot of yellow legal pads.

What does “being creative” mean to you?

I’m pretty literal about that: to be creative is to create something. If it’s something totally new, something beautiful, something that changes the world, so much the better, but I think there’s an element of creativity in any life that’s lived well. I don’t much like the way “creative” can become a kind of identity for some people – as if being known as a creative person, having that image, is more important than actually creating.

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

The routines that work best for me are keeping a journal and keeping a consistent time to write every day. I’m not very good at observing them.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

I don’t think a poem should be a riddle; it’s a form of communication between poet and audience, and if the reader or listener comes away merely puzzled, the communication hasn’t been successful. That said, a really good poem to me is one that rewards repeated readings – that reveals more layers of meaning the more one considers it. And it’s also one that communicates on less conscious, more emotional levels, through sounds, rhythms, images, and the associations they evoke. It isn’t possible for all that to be immediately accessible.

Tell me about your book, The Statue Game.

The title comes from the game we used to play of one child swinging another and letting go – you had to hold the pose you landed in. As that suggests, there is a certain amount of nostalgia in the book, but I hope it’s not overly sentimental. There are poems with some bite as well.

What influenced this book?

After several years of publishing single poems, a book seemed like the logical next step. Also, I wanted to have the experience of putting a collection together and sharing something concrete with people who had taken an interest and encouraged me. I got lots of support from two writing groups I belonged to, and the poet Jo McDougall gave me valuable help with editing.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

I think the best advice came from a speaker I heard at a writing conference in Washington, D.C. She said you have to understand that the times when you feel blocked are as much a part of the creative process as the times when you write freely. You just have to stay with it.

What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received?

I can’t think of any bad advice; maybe I just forget it if I find it doesn’t fit.

Who are your favorite poets?

There are so many, and my tastes change as I learn more, but right now I’m very fond of W.S. Merwin, William Stafford, and Naomi Shihab Nye who is very influenced by Stafford.

Which Writer has influenced you most?

What are you reading right now?

I’m answering these two questions together. It may seem strange but I think I’ve been significantly influenced in my poetry by reading a lot of mysteries, especially detective fiction by the likes of James Lee Burke, Robert B. Parker, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and many more. I like the vivid sense of place you get from these writers, and the narrative drive of their stories, and I think I’ve tried to adopt some of that. I also think the King James Bible is a deep influence, those grand, rhythmic phrases that I grew up with. I still read mysteries for pleasure, along with the Pushcart anthologies which are terrific collections of shorter writing.

Is there anything I’ve missed that you would like the world to know about you?

Possibly, but that’s enough for now!

Reviewed by Helen H.
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