Joan Hanna: We were delighted to have your poem, The Miracle, included in our January issue of r.kv.r.y., especially since it was our war/military themed issue. What did you think of the illustration we chose for your poem?
Heather Harris: Thank you so much! I’m honored my poem was chosen for this issue, and to have my work included with so many great pieces. The illustration chosen to go with The Miracle is striking. It goes well with the /images/events in the first stanza, which are more about what a miracle is expected to be, as opposed to what you usually end up getting. I like the depiction of ritual, as well, since it mirrors an ancient version of what’s going on in the poem: a call for divine intervention. The fact that the image is originally from a children’s book just makes sense, the events that inspired The Miracle took place when I was very young, and I tried to write the poem with my feelings from back then at its core.
JH: There were some stunning /images in your poem. Can you talk a little about the specific incident or influences that may have inspired your poem?
HH: The Miracle is about two specific events, but I really don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of ruining the poem for someone else. I will say the main concept of the piece is that, while there are bad things that shouldn’t happen but do, there are also bad things that should happen but don’t. If there was a chart somewhere maybe you could study it to understand why things are happening, and give a couple of your lucky breaks to someone else. Unfortunately, no one has that privilege as of yet, so we just have to make our peace with everything that does and doesn’t happen.
A lot of the imagery in the poem, the outstretched hands, bowed heads, and stained glass, come from having grown up in church. Church can be a comforting, protective environment, and yet that stained glass is shattered, and what those outstretched hands are holding has fallen apart. In some ways I suppose The Miracle is about losing your sense of safety in a world where things are beyond your understanding or control. As you grow up you realize things don’t always go how they should, and you spend the rest of your life coming to terms with that.
JH: I can appreciate wanting to keep the incidents as inspiration and allowing the poem to stand on its own, which it absolutely does. Can you talk a little about some of your favorite poets and how you think they may have influenced your work?
HH: I’ve always appreciated anyone who could take every day things and make them interesting. For example, Tom Leonard is a Scottish poet who writes almost exclusively on the mundane, “the case for lower case” being my personal favorite of his. Shel Silverstein is another good transformer of nothing into something. When I was growing up I read his books over and over again, fascinated by how he made things like your refrigerator and the sidewalks seem full of potential. What I learned from writers like this is that the most powerful words are simple ones, and the most striking /images are common, so long as you take care to look at them properly.
JH: These are very interesting influences. I love this idea that the “most powerful words are the simple ones” it says so much about how you approach your writing. Would you like to share links to either your website or other publications with our readers?
HH: I have a blog at forniceties.blogspot.com, which has a list of my publications, along with all sorts of other little tidbits about life, the universe, and everything.
JH: Once again, Heather, thank you so much for sharing your lovely poem and insights with our readers. Just one final question: What does recovery mean to you?
HH: Well thank you for calling my poem lovely, and while I’m not sure I’ve shared too much insight with your readers, I hope they at least enjoy our interview. To me the biggest part of recovery is accepting that what has happened cannot be changed. Thinking about what could or should have been holds you back from moving forward, and generates even more pain about how things currently are. You have to find that balance between remembrance and regret, which is difficult, and might not ever be mastered completely.