21 December 2009
From an interview Harrison did with Joseph Bednarik ...
Bednarik: There are characters throughout your novels who are either poets or failed poets. What is it about a poet that you find intriguing as a character in fiction?
Harrison: I hadn’t realized I’d used them that much. The interesting thing, and what old Joe Campbell talked about—I was privileged to meet him early in the sixties—is: What does it do to a man or a woman when they refuse the call? It creates a kind of explosive negative force in their life. Because they refuse their calling I can create drama with this negative energy in their lives.
Bednarik: Do you think it’s possible later in life to retrieve the call?
Harrison: No, not largely, because poetry just like painting is something that you have to give your entire life to—and that includes all your life. Those people who say it’s never late to start again are largely fooling themselves. They can start again and retrieve some of the essential integrity of the original calling but they all know that time moves quickly and they’ve blown it.
Bednarik: When did you feel that you got your call as a poet?
Harrison: Most definitively at about nineteen, starting at fourteen when I first read Keats. And Whitman and so on. But then really at nineteen it was almost a metaphysical experience: I’m sitting on the roof of our house watching the moon rise over a big marsh—
Bednarik: This is northern Michigan?
Harrison: Yeah, and birds of various species were criss-crossing the moon and I could see them clearly in silhouette. That sort of faux Chinese experience. Anyway, then I heard the call.
Bednarik: In a number of places you talk about taking your vows as an artist.
Harrison: Well, you do take vows just like a priest or a Zen student takes vows. What did Charles Olson say that was incredible? “One must only traffic in one’s own sign.” That excludes every other thing in your life. To me it’s always been important to belong to nothing, other than my marriage which is forty years duration. But you belong to nothing except this.