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This interview was published in the Lummox Journal in July of 2001.

Harry Northup  has had six books of poetry published, the most recent, The Ragged Vertical – Cahuenga Press.   He has been an actor for over 24 years, appearing in 36 films, including Taxi Driver, The Silence of the Lambs, Beloved, and In Cold Blood.  Thanks to Scott Wannberg for suggesting this interview.

RD: Tell me a little about yourself.

 

HN: I was born in Amarillo, Texas, in 194O. Grew up in Sidney, Nebraska.  Did the lead in the community theatre

production of "Our Town.”  Played the lead in the Jr. class play, "Headin' for a Weddin'."  Played baseball in every l

eague from age 5 to 17.  After graduating from high school, I joined the Navy, became a radioman, advanced to E-5,

Second Class RN.  After being discharged from the Navy in '61, I attended Nebr. State Teachers College at Kearney,

where I acted in many plays, including playing Reverend Hale in "The Crucible" & Billy Brown in O'Neill’s "The Great

God Brown." In 1963, I went to New York City to pursue acting as a career.

 

RD: What inspired you to become a writer'?

 

HN: I studied Method acting with Frank Cosaro in Manhattan from 1963-1968.  In 1966, Lee Hickman, a student in the class,

& I decided to do a scene together.  One day, after rehearsal, he put a book in my hand.  It was THE NEW AMERICAN

POETRY, Edited by Donald Allen, published by Grove Press, 1960.  I took it home & read it.

 

At the same time, I was supposed to act in two Off-Broadway plays & they both fell through.  I had all this emotion inside

me, and it had to come out.

 

Method acting is my base & Lee Hickman turned me on to poetry.

 

RD:  How does being a publisher effect you as a writer?

 

HN: I work hard on my poetry & I work hard for Cahuenga Press.  This morning before 7:30, I sent out 4 things regarding

Cahuenga Press.  Our press, Cahuenga Press, is a poets co-operative, & I enjoy the camaraderie of the other 4 poets & I

love their poetry.  The press is a blessing.

 

RD: Was there a single point or event that inspired you or was it a slow process of transition?

 

HN: Inspiration is always based on something real.  In Method acting, I learned to base my approach on real life

experience, not books. The New American Poetry brought poetry down to the ground. A person didn’t have to be a

college professor, or John Milton, or an intellectual to write poetry.  A person could compose poesy from his, or her,

own life.  Using one's experience, one's imagination, one's memory - including very important, sense memories.  Just

like Method acting.  The gods in the roots of the trees, in the tips of the flowers, mystical visions seen on the subways.

 

RD: How did you arrive at the work you're doing now?

 

HN: By writing regularly over the past 34 years.  By nourishing myself with Paterson by Williams; The Bridge by Crane;

The Cantos [Pound]; H.D.’s [Hilda Doolittle] work.  By being humbled & by receiving grace.  & by allowing the emotion to

take me where it will in my work.  By my deep interest in the long poem.  By having a deep passion for poetry. By blood,

love, work, & by having a deep passion for poetry.  "There are two ways," to  learn how to be a poet, Paul Blackburn told

me in 1966 at St. Mark's Church, "reading & writing."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

RD: RD: You also have a background in acting. How does this impact on your writing/publisher schedule?

HN: I just finished a guest star role in “E.R." & the job went down so fast that I had to concentrate solely on working on my

character. Television waits for no man. I have made a living as an actor for 26 years, acting in 36 films.  In films, you usually

get a little more advance notice & the shooting isn’t quite as fast.  In my next book, REUNIONS, I include poems about working

as an actor in "Beloved," directed by Jonathan Demme, & "Brokedown Palace," directed by Jonathan Kaplan. Poetry has given

me confidence in writing & taught me concision & how to use time & space, make good use of it.  I have worked with great

film directors: Scorsese, Demme, Kaplan, & they have all allowed me to contribute ideas & writing to their films.

RD: I’m fascinated with the way an idea becomes a reality, even if only on paper... tell me about your own creative process.

 

HN: "Loss," which is a section in my last book, THE RAGGED VERTICAL, begins with my 16-yr-old son running away.  I live in

East Hollywood & I would drive to Santa Monica & Malibu & look for him & come home empty-handed.  I would sit at my

typewriter & cry & write about this journey.  The original work which includes other aspects of my son's struggle & my attempt

to help him learn & grow up amidst divorce, drugs, love, despair... turned into an 81 page work. When I finally completed

"Loss" I had cut it down to 9 poems.

 

RD: Does living with another creative soul (Holly Prado) help to keep the “fires burning”, or is it by necessity, a lonely path?

 

HN: Holly is very supportive & loving.  I fell in love with her writing (FEASTS) before I met her.  Her writing drew me to her.

She is the most  healthy writer I know.  What is poetry'? It's a loneliness I can't escape from.

 

RD: How important is the creative process to you?

 

HN: Creativity is very important.  It's primary.  Acting & poetry are the two fields I spend my time in.  Working & studying. 

Didn’t Bob Dy1an say something like, “he who isn't being born is busy dyin'”?

 

RD: Have you been able to make a living (modest or otherwise) from writing?

 

HN: No.  Yes.

 

RD: Do you think it's possible in today's "Mega-hit" oriented entertainment business/society for an artist to actually make a

living within the avant-garde arena?

 

HN: Yes.

 

RD: What about the Internet? 

 

HN: I do not have a computer.  One of our Cahuenga Press members, Jimm Gushing, is putting together a web site for our

press.

 

RD: Who do you draw inspiration from these days?

 

HN: My wife Holly, whom I love, cherish & serve.  Work as an actor.  My son.  My cat Joey.  The broken heart in loss.  Spiritual

love for Ann Stanford.  The poetry of Williams, Crane, Olson, Ginsberg, Prado, Stanford.  Living & walking in East Hollywood.

 

RD: Got any new projects planned?

 

HN: My seventh poetry book, REUNIONS, composed from 1995-2000, will be published in July 2001.   An intimate long poem.

 

What's your home?  Where's your home? Everybody has a home.  My home is poetry.

 

 

 

the study

 

i have been enriched by the sea flowers of h.d.

ravaged yet beautiful

she's personal memory & mythic, concise, learned

eloquent...sometimes i think she is the best 20th

century poet, lucid, fresh, religious impulse,

nature impulse

HERMETIC DEFINITION is in my pantheon

pound's CANTOS, PATERSON, by williams,

THE BRIDGE, by crane, FOUR QUARTETS, eliot

whitman & dickinson, of course, & frost

ginsberg, snyder, blackburn, hickman, stanford

those above me, those before me

 

may i hold the ring & say i stumble may i stay

in study may i nourish the legend that says deny

deny the hat. the belly, gossip, ringing phone

 

i define it by saying honesty

this morning i read DREAMING THE GARDEN, ann

stanford’s forthcoming book

the returning calls the returning calls

last night i read poems for an hour

i read poems the way most people watch tv

i read them over & over. words have meaning to me

 

by study & tradition & individual talent

harmony origin forms ear breast bone god

coffee shop subway notebook museum movie

even the movie where the seats are uncomfortable

 

i define it by simplicity erudition ethics morality

morality meaning to be faithful to words ideas "in

dreams begin responsibilities"

in RIPRAP, snyder's precision, work, dreams, nature

clean, dignifies, respect, long-term consciousness

 

i look to blake & wordsworth, milton, homer, hesiod

the bath cleans, the careerists defer their lives

they gain the money the houses cars clothes trips

overseas

 

sun light, moon, mountain, myth, circle, reclaim

the feminine, finish adhering to material acquisition

finish the hunger finish desire with simple, honest

love of reading & writing poem after poem

animal song dance

 

blackburn, i am poor, humbled a scholar bowed

 

Harry Northup

Los Angeles, CA

northup.jpg

Harry Northup

Exploring the Creative Process since 1996