The interwoven strands of poet Michael Harlow’s life are reflected in his latest anthology, which shows the music of his poetry and wisdom of his voice, fellow poet Jillian Sullivan says.
Sullivan, who launched Harlow’s latest book, Nothing For It But To Sing, in Alexandra last week, said Harlow was a vital mentor to other writers and had won almost every major writing award in New Zealand.
Harlow is also a librettist working with composer Kit Powell to create the words for Powell’s compositions, and a Jungian therapist, working from a practice in Alexandra.
It was a multifaceted life that made him stand out in the literary world and his work was noted for its “charm and music and detail”, Sullivan said.
His “quiet mentoring of other poets” was also noted, and revealed a “generosity of spirit”, she said.
Harlow read several poems from Nothing For It But To Sing at the launch of the book at Central Stories Museum and Art Gallery last week, and said the title poem was about “dark hope”, its title from a saying by Irish writer Samuel Beckett: “When you’re in the s . . . up to your neck, there’s nothing left to do but to sing”.
Harlow said to “risk delight” in writing was “a useful thing. It’s the opposite of despair, and there’s plenty of that around.”
He has recently flown the flag for New Zealand at international poetry events such as the international Europa in Versi poetry festival in Como, Italy, earlier this year. The events – Harlow has attended several other international poetry festivals before in countries such as Colombia and Romania – provided a valuable spotlight for his work and New Zealand poetry in general, he said.
“It’s clearly good for raising the profile of my work internationally, and raising the profile of New Zealand poetry as well.”
Harlow, who says his readership overseas is similar in numbers to that here, now has a book of poems being translated for publication in Italy next year, and has just been invited to return to Romania for an interpoetry festival in the city of Craiova.
“Last year they kindly made an hour-long documentary about my work, and New Zealand. In any case, next year in September, it will be again sounding a voice of poetry from a New Zealand poet.”
Harlow, who last year won New Zealand’s Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award and the Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship, has published 10 books of poetry.
He said he valued poems “that ask what it means, in the face of the absurdities and shadowy things thrown up by life, to ‘risk delight’; and what that might mean when we are looking out and listening in for a language to say something about how mysterious we are to ourselves and to the world”.
He noted “poems that are lyric moments of recognition of what happens when we stand up and speak in front of ourselves and others; you could say a way of ‘being restoried’; a way of letting ‘words dream again’ … From this ‘the poem springs’.”
And he praises “a poetry that rests on and enacts the belief that we need to ‘see the sounds and hear the words’, so that despite every dark thing there is in the world, there will always be music. When ‘words sing’ poetry makes intimate everything that it touches … Naturally, poetry wants to go to the heart of the matter.”