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The Writers Forum at SUNY Brockport

Michael S. Harper -- Poet

Host(s): Stan Sanvel Rubin and A. Poulin, Jr.

Tape order number: V-228

Visit Date: February 20, 1985

Length: 47 minutes

Published as:

  • "The Making of the Music: A Conversation with Michael S. Harper." The Post-Confessionals. Earl Ingersoll, Judith Kitchen, and Stanley S. Rubin, Eds. Cranbury, NJ: Associated U P, 1989. 53-63.

Brief Summary: After paying tribute to Frederick Douglass's work and the force of his autobiography, Harper talks about the titles of his books. In so doing, he reveals the themes and ideas that gave rise to each collection. Harper speaks of his identification with jazz but also suggests that this influence on his work has been overemphasized by critics. He argues that limits of language make translation between jazz and poetry difficult. The common point between the two forms may be the sense of voice and expression. Harper says his reason for writing is "to activate," to make something, to put together and compose and give shape.

Work(s) Discussed:

  • Images of Kin
  • Healing Songs for the Inner Ear
  • Nightmare Begins Responsibility
  • "Dear John, Dear Coltrane"
  • "Strong Man"

Work(s) Read:

  • "It Takes a Hell of a Nerve to Sell Water"
  • "Nightmare Begins Responsibility"
  • "Memorial Meetings"
  • "Bird Lives"

Writers mentioned:

  • W.E.B.DuBois
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Ralph Ellison
  • Robert Lowell
  • Robert Hayden
  • William Carlos Williams
  • W.B. Yeats
  • Delmore Schwartz
  • Rilke
  • Dante
  • Shakespears
  • W.H. Auden
  • Jean Toomey
  • Sterling Brown

The responsibility of the nightmare is to wake up.

-- Michael Harper

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