James Harms, a West Virginia University poet and professor, does not take the scholars orders”publish or perish”lightly.
Harms has just published his fourth collection of poetry,”Freeways and Aqueducts,”and is already working on his fifth book. His newest collection of poetry has been a work in progress since before the publication of his third book,”Quarters.”
“Some poems fit better with one collection than another,”said Harms, director of the English Departments master of fine arts in creative writing program.”Im usually writing more than one book at a time.”
“Freeway and Aqueducts”is named after a painting by California artist Richard Diebenkorn, and a print of the work appears on the books cover. The title also reflects his past in southern California and his present life in Morgantown.
“Traffic is a nearly symbolic image of Los Angeles,”he said.”And yet, though all those people are driving down the freeway at once, most are completely isolated since very few cars in California hold more than one person.”
The irony of the solitary individual within the masses is poignant and emblematic to Harms, who feels such isolation has become one of the pervasive conditions of American society.
The aqueduct is the other metaphor in the title.
“Los Angeles really shouldnt exist,”Harms said.”Theres no good reason to place a city in a landscape where theres little rainfall and no access to water. But there it is. And there also is the California Aqueduct, the eighth wonder of the world.”
To Harms, water and roads connect California to the rest of the country physically, just as its cutting-edge, multi-cultural lifestyle connects it to the countrys common future.
But Harms ponders these issues from afar, and that distance is the books ultimate subject. Readers can find elegies and historical poems in”Freeways and Aqueducts,”while other works address the subjects of love, memory, friendship and family. All the while the poems are, as Harms puts it,”located in a landscape,”either his childhood home in southern California or his more recent surroundings in West Virginia.
“I love West Virginia,”he said.”I love being here. But more and more, I recognize the need to be in two places at once, to exist in two periods of time at once. And poems are the place I can do that. They represent the true condition of the lived moment, the simultaneity of experiencewhich is why I love the activity of writing.”
Harms, a member of the English faculty since 1994, describes writing as”alchemy.”
“Its changing one thing into another,”he said.”The everyday stuff of life and memory is transformed into the gold of artif youre lucky.”
“Freeways and Aqueducts”has been published by Carnegie Mellon University. Harmsother books of poetry include”The Joy Addict”and”Modern Ocean.”His poems have also appeared in”Poetry,”“The American Poetry Review,”“Ploughshares”and other literary journals.