Lisa Harris

When did you start writing? What got you interested and kept you going?

I started writing when I was 9. I liked to read and write because my family encouraged me to put the stories I told down on paper. My family told me, “You’re a storyteller!” My friends at school said, “You are going to be a writer when you grow up.” I thought so as well, and their saying it to me was positive reinforcement for who I thought I was and who I would be. In fifth and sixth grade, I had two pieces of writing published. One was a poem called, “The White Wedding Dress,” and it was put up on a bulletin board in my class and I read it to the class. The other was a story, “King’s Rescue” that was entered into READ MAGAZINE’S contest. I felt great about the poem, and not as great about the story because my mom helped with that story, and it felt to me as if she had helped too much.

How do you use your own personal experiences in your writing? 

I use the landscapes of my life—the literal ones and the psychological and emotional ones as metaphors—to consider, reveal, reconsider and propose different worlds. I am a person on a quest and questioner; I am a fiction writer and a poet. Life’s complexity is beautiful and grotesque. Words allow me to explore the tension between opposites.

Who are some of your favorite poets writing today, and what do you especially like about them?

My favorite poets are Julia Hartwig, Emily Dickinson, William Butler Yeats, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Ashbery, Michael Ondaatje, The Psalmists, Pablo Neruda, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Kay Ryan Denise Levertov, Louise Gluck and Joao Cabral De Meloneto. I had to list some who are writing today and some whose writing still speaks to me. These poets keep me alive to the world and the heart; they make me aware of the sound as well as the sense of poems. They are my friends, as if they are birds I can hear from the balcony, calling to me. There is direct relationship between the poems and the drawings and paintings.

Why did you incorporate visual art into your collection? Is there chronological reasoning behind which pieces of art fit between which pieces of writing?

I told Patty that I had been working on a new collection, COUNTING, and that I thought the obsessive and intense search about the numbers 1-10 might be stimulating to draw or paint in response to. She said, “What about zero?” Then another friend of mine, John MacNeill asked about 11 and 12. So I wrote three more poems and Patty thought about if she wanted to take on responses. In this collaboration, the poems came first.  As Patty drew and painted, we conferred. She shared the experiences she was having in the process of working with the dancers both at Bennington and the Saltonstall Foundation residency program . Then she began the paintings. The second section in the book is more drawings from the dancer/drawing process, and separate from the poems, although somewhat synchronistic in style. The third section of the book is words. When the reader enters the book, he or she goes through one of the paintings—and leaves the book through another. She and I agree that in life, humans have to go through experiences, not around them. This collection is about entering into life and staying with it—going through it.

You also write novels. Why did you think the themes of Traveling Through Glass are better explored through poetry than long form fiction?

The themes of Traveling Through Glass are better explored through poetry than long form fiction because they are prayers-songs-incantations-meditations. There are no plots here. The poems are very much about sound and music, image and movement. They have rugged expressions. They need to be read and re-read, entered and left, visited and abandoned—to be returned to again. I distilled life in them in an effort to make multiple cosmologies. They are not stories.

How did your collaboration with Patty come about?  Did one or the other of you create in response to the other’s work?  Or did both of you trust you would find compatible pieces to fit together into the final version?

I collaborated with Patricia Brown for a lot of reasons. We are often on the same wavelength and on slant with that wavelength. Her art inspires me, and my writing inspires her. So we decided to make that connection intentional in this book. Patty had dancers move to the words of the poems and drew ambidextrously while the dancer moved.

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