James Harms is the author of eight books of poetry including What to Borrow, What to Steal (Marick Press 2012) and Comet Scar (Carnegie Mellon University Press 2012). His awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes. He is Professor of English at West Virginia, and oversees the Low-Residency MFA Program in Poetry at New England College.
Full disclosure — I am an NEC alum and am using this new poetrycrush.com column as a mildly disguised opportunity to ask Jim what he’s been reading because his lectures and views on poetry were always fascinating to me. Here’s what he said….good stuff…
“I guess like most folks who read and write for a living, I’ve got a few books going at once. The two recent collections of poetry that I’m spending the most time with these days are Laura Kasischke’s Space, in Chains and Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars. These are amazing books, just humbling in their intelligence and humanity. I’ve been re-reading Kenneth Koch’s two poetry textbooks, Sleeping on the Wing and Making Your Own Days, and both are fabulous for different reasons. I continue to think that the introduction to Sleeping on the Wing, which was written for a high school audience, is about as good as it gets in demystifying the reading and writing process. Koch was clearly a terrific teacher, and his prose style is so approachable and sincere. Oh, and I keep going back to Dean Young’s prose book,The Art of Recklessness. What a blast! It’s great to read alongside his new collection, Fall Higher.
I’m going to Istanbul next week for a quick visit so I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City. I don’t know how much help it will be as a tourist guide but it’s a gorgeous book. And when I just want to relax with a lovely mystery (which is often), I pick up Louise Penny’s new one, A Trick of the Light. I suppose I’m not supposed to include genre fiction on a list like this, but I love Penny’s novels. They’re old school mysteries and she’s devoted to poetry, which she includes in each book. In fact one of her main recurring characters is a cranky old poet who keeps a duck as a pet, which she dresses in sweaters and bonnets. How can you not like that? There are other books lying around the office and living room, but that’s enough for now. Thanks for asking!”