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Harrison’s Way

In the course of finishing his new chapbook, “had it c_ming,” published by Release, John Tyson, editor of Accurate Key, sat down to reminisce with Bob Harrison. Harrison edits Crayon with Andrew Levy, and the Bronze Skull Press chapbook series. His chapbook, “Mola,” was recently published by Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs. Describe your relationship to poetry. Basically, poetry is how I make sense of my life. As to how I got to going in that direction, there are lots of things that contributed. English is my second language, I didn’t start learning it until I was seven years old, when me and my family moved to this country, to Delaware on the east coast, from Panama. I didn’t lose my accent until my early twenties, and still at times it comes out a bit, at least according to some of my friends. I remember in college thinking that I liked taking freshman comp., but that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for me to study literature any longer, I basically didn’t feel comfortable doing so, given that by that point I hadn’t made English totally mine, in whatever way. I didn’t have a lot of books around the house as a kid, but did actually write a few stories for English classes in grade school that I enjoyed doing. But as a kid, drawing was my thing. I drew all the time, horses and Indians especially. I was obsessed with Native American culture. I had these two big books on Indians that I would look at all the time, just amazed at the way people used to dress and look on this side of the world, and saddened by the fact that so many of those cultures had been destroyed. On looking back on it, it made sense that I was interested in Indian culture, Panama being a very Indian country, though in many ways even more racist than here, which is strange, given that most people there have Indian ancestry (including myself), but would never admit to something like that, even though it might be obvious. Delaware was almost all anglo, strip malls, and corporations when I was there, but now has a huge Mexican population, due to so many of them finding work in the mushroom farms in PA. So I think that writing to me has something to do with finding or recreating a first language. I have difficulty speaking Spanish anymore for any length of time, for lots of reasons, but that’s changing. I’m slowly getting back to my Spanish and at the same time, I think, learning to write what I need to write in English. So it’s a way of becoming native for me. Not a way of assimilating to any particular culture, which Ive done too much of, given that I had hardly any family structure as a kid to hold things together — lots of Latins in this country have never lived in a Latin American country but still speak with a strong accent, due to a strong family life — but as a way of finally speaking in a language of trust, or at least in a language where linearity doesn’t destroy what needs to be said. Food? Goat Curry. How do you feel about Milwaukee and the whole scene with poetry & the arts? There’s a lot of great stuff going on in Milwaukee right now. I feel lucky these days to be here. As to other places, I don’t know, people seem to be popping out from everywhere. Strangest thing you’ve done? I once stopped missiles on the other side of the world by moving a twig. Fondest memories as a child? Catching black rat snakes in the woods.