William J. Harris

recorded in Lawrence, KS

 

William J. Harris

My name is William J. Harris, I live in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ve been in Lawrence…this will be beginning the fall of my ninth year. I came here for the job, because it was a good job, but I’m delighted I’ve come here. It’s a terrific community; it’s a liberal community. There are lots of writers and artists here. I teach at the University of Kansas and there are a lot of poets in the department, but something is wonderful about the town. There are all these artistic people. One of my best friends is a painter and he’s really a Kansas artists. He grew up in Kansas, and he paints all the local scenes. I’m a transplant. I come from Yellow Springs, Ohio, which is very important to me. So I am a Midwesterner, and Ohio was my first landscape, it was a place that I grew up in and where I developed intellectually. And something that’s been very lucky for me is I’ve known writers and poets my entire life. I’m doing this “New and Selected” poems, which is this crazy thing to do, which means I have all these binders of poems at home and I’m going through them trying to find stuff of value. So there’s the published stuff and then there’s the unpublished stuff, and there’s stuff that can maybe, you know, be saved. But I’m thinking about the past in a way that I haven’t before. And it was terrific in that when I was in high school and hanging around Yellow Springs, a couple poets at a place called Antioch College were very important to me. There was a poet, who has now passed away, named Judson Jerome, and he worked with my poems. He didn’t like free verse, so he’d say things like, “You’re not bad, for a free verse writer.” But he was a good guy, and he supported me. And at some point, he published me, which is always a good guy. I didn’t go to Antioch, I just hung around Antioch, but Greg Orr was there, who’s become a very distinguished poet, and we were sort of writing poems together, and then there were lots of other people who didn’t become well known. It’s very nice to have that, the life of art. So I thought of that as the Midwest—Ohio. I’ve lived a lot of places, but eventually I came here and I thought this was the West, and not the Midwest. But if that term means anything, it is the Midwest. People are open, people are friendly. In the long run, its not that different, except there is a real Western influence. There are also Indians here, and we used to have Indians in Ohio, but long before my time, they disappeared. It’s an influence on the whole place, on the whole culture.


The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think you thrive as a writer in an artistic community?


Harris

Absolutely. I’m so happy to be here, where there are lots of poets, and not just in the writing program—I’m in the MFA at KU—but the writers in the community, the readings, not every night, but often. It’s very important to have somebody to talk to. Something that’s interesting about that is I stopped writing poetry for a while. I’ve tried to figure out how long; I don’t know. I think I’ve lost one of my binders. But I kept teaching creative writing, and then I came to teach here, and for some reason, I’ve tried to understand it, maybe because KU is thought of as the humanities institution in the state—terrific kids come through here, really wonderful, and terrific undergraduates—I was teaching advanced creative writing, and I used to not believe in them, but I started doing prompts in little ways—write a poem with the moon in it—and they were so successful and the kids were doing so well with it that I thought, “I’m think I’m going to do it again.” So I came back to writing. So that’s been in the last couple years, so it’s been a matter of being in this community, which is a very supportive community, and my students.

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