Jef Harris Podcast Interview: Books On Air, with Suzanne Harris
Narrator: Welcome to Books On Air, the podcast that tells the story behind the book. It includes insights from authors, about how they compose their work, what inspires them, and what they hope you’ll take away from their book. Here’s your host for this episode of Books on Air: Suzanne Harris.
Sloane Freemont: Welcome to the Books On Air podcast. I’m Sloane Freemont, filling in for Suzanne Harris. This is a podcast for listeners get the secret story behind every book. Joining me today is Jef Harris, author of the book “First Poem of Words.” This is Jef’s debut collection of poetry that tells us about him, and some of the places he's been. Jef, welcome to the Books On Air podcast.
Jef Harris: Thank you, Sloane.
Sloane Freemont: So let’s start out maybe by telling the audience a little bit about yourself, and what led you to write your book, “First Poem of Words.”
Jef Harris: Well, I’ve been writing poetry for years. I started in elementary school, actually, and I just kept on writing and submitting and revising, and writing and submitting and revising, until I decided, “Well, let’s see if I can get a book published, and go forward with it. And I took some poems I collected and had written over three decades and put them together into this “First Poem of Words,” And the the book is like a celebration of words.
Sloane Freemont: Oh, yeah. I love that. That’s an amazing way to describe it, “A celebration of words.”
Jef Harris: Yes, thank you.
Sloane Freemont: So, do you want to start out maybe by sharing one of the poems with us, from your book?
Jef Harris: Yes. This is the title poem from the book, it’s called “First Poem of Words:”
amnesty arid broidery bell
lagan misty fawn
magical vendace tapestry fell
dangling dizzy dawn
jewelry jetsam silvery foam
gamy frosty fur
circular city radiance roam
smothering sinter sur
sonorant supor pastoral sone
raspy rosy fade
petrify orris gentisin lone
lapidate lusty lade
crescendo crimson violin mane
encyst lofty born
jacamar jaunty vaginate cane
mandolin mazy morn
Sloane Freemont: Amazing. Can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration for the poem?
Jef Harris: Inspiration, was, uh, I just love the way the words sound and roll off my tongue when said, and I put together a video of various different people just saying one word. And it all came together very nicely. And that's been around for a couple years now, floating on my website, on my Facebook page, and I just like the way it came out, and you hear the different inflections in their voices, and different faces go with each word, and it just made, uh, it just rounded out the poem, and it was — ‘cuz it was supposed to be a single person reading or saying/reciting each word, and people dropped off, they didn't show up, who knows — so several people had to say several different words, and it came out pretty nice.
Sloane Freemont: Oh, that's a very creative way to do that, and I'll definitely link to that in the show notes so the listeners can see that video. But that's a very creative way to present the poem to have it spoken, each person speaking a different word.
Jef Harris: Yes, yes, it was… if I had gotten everybody that I asked to do it and everybody that said that they would do it, it would have been very much… better and it would have represented what I was looking for, [with] different people saying every single word.
Sloane Freemont: I imagine poetry is —I don't know this to be true but — um, I imagine it's different than maybe writing a novel, when you when you get the inspiration it is that how it happens for you? You're inspired by words, or you’re inspired by something that's happened, or place that you've been? Is that how poetry comes to you?
Jef Harris: Well, all of you above. It comes as words, places, and it sometimes even start with just a title, a development from there.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah, and then you are able to put it together and tell a story… and what I loved about that first poem you read, [it] was like you said, the way the words flowed and the cadence that it had, because that cadence to me tells a story, too, ‘cuz that's a feeling that you're feeling as you're reading those words or saying those words.
Jef Harris: Yes.
Sloane Freemont: So, what surprised you the most about writing your book?
Jef Harris: I did tell a story, and the way all the poems came out, I told the story of my travels from Chicago, Illinois to Seoul, Korea — Seoul, South Korea — and um, and different points in between. Germany, and other places in the [United] States. And the way it came about, it did give a holistic view of how I saw the world and its impact on me — well, not the entire world, the world where I was circling around…
Sloane Freemont: Right.
Jef Harris: …and its impact on me.
Sloane Freemont: Right. And.. the word that keeps coming to mind as we're talking is it's such a creative way to present your experience. I know personally, I'm so used to reading books, either fiction or nonfiction, but I'm so used to reading books, and in and getting stories told that way. But having stories told through poetry is to me such a very unique way to present it, but also very… and now I'm looking at this, thinking about this, I'm thinking, “Wow, are there stories in my life that I can tell through poetry,” right? ‘Cuz it's such a creative and interesting way to express, to express words.
Jef Harris: Yes, and each poem is like a story. It’s just a short story, and the reader has to fill in the blanks.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah.
Jef Harris: If something is not written down, the reader just fills in the blanks, and makes it their own if they can.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah, yeah. When you were going through this process of — because you said you collected the poems over 30 years — what was the most difficult part of that process?
Jef Harris: The revisions [laughs]. The revisions were the most difficult part! And I have to ask myself, “Do I really want to say that? Or do I want to say it this way?” and I want to say it in a different way than other [poems] had been said, and in a way that I haven't said it before, or written it before.
Sloane Freemont: Right…
Jef Harris: I come from background, professionally, I was a Technical Writer…
Sloane Freemont: Okay, mmhmm…
Jef Harris: I wrote manuals, catalogs, uh, how-to manuals, operator’s manuals, operation manuals, operation catalogs…
Sloane Freemont: Mmhmm…
Jef Harris: And, uh, that’s very dry writing [laughs]. And reading!
Sloane Freemont: I’ve done my share of that myself, so I completely can relate to what you're saying, yes!
Jef Harris: [Laughs] So, and the most… and there was no… you couldn't use creativity in that, because it was a standard practice, it was a standard, you have to write in. So, poetry was my outlet, and I broke away from that, and I could be creative, I can do some Innovative things in the way the poems are laid out on a page, even using foreign words it helps to get the voice across.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah, and having experience writing technical documentation, the amount of work that goes into that in the amount of detail is so… there's so much there to put, you know, and when you're talking about poetry, it seems like you're telling a story in such a succinct way, and like you were saying when you were having to choose the words when you were doing the revisions, “Do I want to use that word?” or, you know, “Do I want to say it that way?” it seems like it’s such a succinct and very to-the-point way to tell a story — almost no fluff involved — but maybe as technical writing tends to be.
Jef Harris: Mmhmm, absolutely.
Sloane Freemont: Do you want to share a couple of your other favorite poems from the book with us?
Jef Harris: Yes… this poem is called “Lead Me,” and it's actually a lyric to a song I composed, uh, wrote. I love the way the words sound here…
through darkness that surrounds me evil coaxing my hostility
temptations overwhelming borderline hatred in my heart
far beyond laughing demons dangling my desires from a string
they want to take my soul away they promise everything
as their loathing feeds me lead me lead me
pass the ignorance that delays me thrust that now betrays me
pain of realizing all these faces aren’t of prophets
mere devils masked so saintly flashing hope before my eyes
I’m lured to accept their passion apt to believe their lies
as their steel will bleeds me lead me lead me
up life-long loose rotting rungs pass this life’s song poorly sung
over abysmal ridge move my feet my mind with surety
move my heart to love stand me again on blissful plains
I give to You my body my soul I give to you my reigns
as my faith proceeds me lead me lead me
into a righteous state out of this shell of hate
safely into Your garden lead me
whole with Your sanctity circling inside of me
lead me lead me home
Sloane Freemont: Wow. That was a powerful one. I love that.
Jef Harris: It’s definitely one of my favorites.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah, yeah. I’m processing it as you read it… I like to close my eyes when you were reading that, it helps me feel like I'm in the words, if that make sense?
Jef Harris: Yes. [That] makes perfect sense.
Sloane Freemont: What would you say you're most proud of, as it relates to your book, or maybe even the writing process?
Jef Harris: The most I'm proud of is that I finished it!
Sloane Freemont: Yeah [laughs]
Jef Harris: There was a time when I thought “I’m not gonna make it! It’s not gonna happen.”
Sloane Freemont: Yeah…
Jef Harris: …But I finished it, got it to my publisher, and went through two edit processes, and it was published.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah, you brought it to life!
Jef Harris: Yes! [Laughs]
Sloane Freemont: What are some words or themes that you would use to describe your book?
Jef Harris: Definitely the celebration of words, and one of the themes is travel, places, experiences, trials, successes… that's what I use mostly to describe it.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah. And then everything we've talked about today, too, is so relatable, right, being able to — we all have experiences, everyone listening, we each have our own experiences, and it's always interesting to me to read other people's interpretations of things, because then when I'm in the, you know, let's say, travel in an airport or on a public transportation, or something like that, the next time I do that thing — whatever it might be — it seems like I always look at it differently, because I have the other person's perspective, and that's why I find that to be so helpful in getting outside of my own little box of thinking.
Jef Harris: Yes, yes. I find that helpful, too. A couple of the poems in the book are other people's perspectives as told to me, and how I either agreed or disagreed with that perspective.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah… [that’s] so interesting to me… Who would you say your book would appeal to, and why?
Jef Harris: Poetry lovers, because a lot of them are different. I’ve said things differently, I’ve used phrases that have gone through lots of revisions to say the right thing that I wanted to say, and lovers of words, [people] that like the way words are put together, and the story that comes out at the end.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah… I’m smiling as you're saying that because I can, I can totally picture — actually what I feel like is I can FEEL the words but that's how this feels talking about this I can feel the words…
Jef Harris: Mmmhmm, yes.
Sloane Freemont: …Which I think is always very… very impactful.
Jef Harris: Yes, I agree.
Sloane Freemont: My guest this week has been Jef Harris, author of the book “First Poem of Words,” and Jef, before we close out, what's one thing you want to leave the listeners with today to make sure they know about your book?
Jef Harris: There are lots of avenues to get the book, just pick up a copy of [it] and read, and appreciate my voice.
Sloane Freemont: Yeah, and I’ll link to your website, and to your link on Amazon in the show notes so the listeners can check that out. And Jef, thank you for joining us today and being our guest on Books On Air.
Jef Harris: You're welcome, Sloane, and thank you for having me.
Sloane Freemont: Yes, thank you! You can find more about the book, “First Poems of Words” as I mentioned on Amazon, and I'll link to that in the show notes, so be sure to check that out. You've been listening to the Books On Air podcast, brought to you on WebTalkRadio.net. You can also hear this podcast on Spotify, iHeart Radio, Stitcher, and Apple podcasts. I'm Sloane Freemont, and I hope you'll join us for the next Books On Air podcast. Remember, you never know who's going to be here, and you never know what we're going to talk about. Thank you so much for listening.