Dale Harris | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. What got you started into poetry? What age?

Dale Harris: As a child, I read poetry hungrily. My grandparent’s house had a good if antiquated library. So I cut my teeth on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, W.B. Yeats, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Those rhymes and meters worked their way into me and haven’t left. Eventually I worked my way up to more modern poets, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ezra Pound. In my teens, the Beat poets intrigued me but my heart wasn’t in it. I continue to prefer lyric poems.



KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

DH: Black tea and scones. Breakfast burritos are a close second, yum!

KPG. How much influence does your university degree(s) has on your writing of poetry and how?

DH: None whatsoever. Probably a good thing since I hear from some poet friends that academia nearly killed their love of poetry. My degrees are in health care, preparing me to have a day job as an RN and nurse practitioner. So I never had to depend on poetry or art for earning a living. Oddly, I haven’t tapped my experiences with patients as a subject for poems. But hey, what a good idea, maybe I will someday.

KPG. Is there any other endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?

DH: A strong parallel stream of creativity for me is art. I love working in clay, carving woodblocks for traditional printing, and handmade books. There is often cross germination with poetry. I use poems in my art, for example inscribing words on clay works, using haiku as a jumping off point for woodcut prints, and especially making handmade books of poetry. I create small editions of my commercially printed poetry books. It’s been fun to make special chapbooks for events, such as the Ascending Blossom Apple Orchard reading at James McGrath’s place in La Cieneguilla. In 2014 I organized The Book of Cranes art project where 12 artists & poets wrote renga by email during a year’s cycle; then those poems were distilled into a large handmade book of art related to crane migration along the Rio Grande corridor. The Book of Cranes and the associated art have had gallery exhibits with a great response from viewers.

KPG. Tell us about one of your favorite poetry experiences.

DH:  There are so many! Scott and I owned a restaurant, The Hummingbird Café, in Mountainair in the 1990’s and generated a number of poetry events from there, like monthly Live Poets Society readings, and our Garlic Festivals included poetry slams. Probably my favorite was the annual Poets & Writers Picnics at the historic Shaffer Hotel. Those events during the town of Mountainair’s Sunflower Festivals went on for an unbelievable 15 years, long after we closed the Hummingbird Cafe. You participated as an emcee and performer, Ken, so know for yourself how special they were. The later Poets & Writers Picnics included writing workshops that Greg Candela and I co-taught. The sense of poetry community that came from those was sweet. I’d probably still be at it but the Shaffer Hotel closed, and because we live in Albuquerque now, my ties with Mountainair are not as strong.

KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?

DH: My Harris family history in the American Civil War is not glorious.  We were in Missouri which I understand means that we frequently changed sides. I once visited the famous Gettysburg battlefield but got the creeps and left. The psychic overload was too much.

KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school English classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?

DH: Poetry Speaks, Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2001 [ABE, GOOGLE, AMAZON], an audio anthology of spoken poetry narrated by Charles Osgood, would be a good choice. Poetry comes alive when it’s spoken. Hearing poets read their own work, even poorly, humanizes poetry; It can be so dry otherwise. I’m in favor of poetry performances and slams in schools for the same reason.

KPG. Where was your last selfie taken?  With anyone?

DH: I rarely take selfies. Last one I took was on my street with the Blood Moon over my shoulder. I looked scarier than the moon. Haven’t taken any since. Does that make me selfie-less?

KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.

DH: I used to like your website Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry and was sorry when it went offline in 2007. Currently I enjoy Miriam’s Well, curated by Miriam Sagan, Santa Fe poet & writer. She posts a delightful range of subjects related to art and poetry. Recently some of your poems appeared there, congratulations!



KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?

DH: The Emigrant Wilderness area in Northern California, borders Yosemite. Scott and I backpacked together there in 1989. Along the way, we fell in love with each other. It was a difficult trail and sadly is way out of my league now so I haven’t gone back.

KPG. Do you have a dream that you work toward achieving. If so, please tell us about it.

DH: Because I love making my own handmade poetry books, I’d like to start a business doing that for other poets. Anything from a single special poem to small editions of chapbooks. I retired from my job in health care last fall so now it is more possible to do that for real. My imprint is Hummingbird Hollow Press. Watch this space!

KPG. If there is a little-known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and which book of theirs should we seek?

DH: Richard Shelton is an Arizona poet whose creative writing work in prisons inspired Jimmy Santiago Baca to begin writing poetry. Shelton’s poems are wry, entertaining, and wise. I am a fan and would encourage a wider readership. In 2005 I put on a National Poetry Month theatrical variety show at the Harwood Art Center, La Luna Llena, and we performed 3 of Richard Shelton’s poems with his permission: “Kingdom of the Moon”, “The Stones”, and “Voice of the Moon”. Our cast included James Burbank, Kat Heatherington, Gregory Candela, Frank Melcori, dancer Anne Ravenstone, musician Ingrid Berg, and of course, my actor husband Scott Sharot. It was great fun.

KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?

DH: Good question. I’d like to spend time at the Benedictine convents founded by St. Hildegard von Bingen in the Rhine area of Germany circa 1165. I imagined myself there when I wrote “Boy from Another Place” which appears in my book The Love of a God. Hildegard von Bingen was a progressive thinker, “We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others.” She was a woman of many accomplishments:  healer, scholar, musician, theologian, manuscript illuminist, visionary, and also a poet. What a role model!

KPG. What reoccurring themes have you noticed in your poetry over the years?  Is there a point of personal experience you revisit often?

DH: I’d say I’m in love with the mythic, with mystical themes and you will find frequent references to the moon and magic in my poetry.  An earlier favorite subject is the New Mexico landscape. From 1993 to 1998, we lived in Torreon, NM, a rural area on the east side of the Manzano Mountains. It was an hour’s drive from Albuquerque with no radio reception but gorgeous scenery. During regular commutes into town, I got ideas for many of my poems from the countryside. Since I couldn’t jot them down, I repeated the poems aloud and edited them by ear. I didn’t deliberately memorize them but still know those poems by heart and can recite them easily. Later I recorded the better of those poems at KUNM, with a music background, as Cibola Seasons. You can hear them at CD Baby.

KPG. Red, Green or Christmas when you order Huevos Rancheros?

DH: Green chile on the side, every time.

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