Ad Astra Project
#46   05-21-10


Ad Astra


this Page For
Your Collection
(PDF Document)

William Harris
#46  05-21-10





William Joseph Harris   (1942 -  ) 



William HarrisBilly Joe Harris, University of Kansas professor, spent a sabbatical year studying poets and painters, including artist Giorgio Morandi. He admires Morandi for “muted colors and radically reduced subject matter.” He employs this approach to his own verse. His work suggests narratives, but in such concise form that cultural referents may be minimal.


In the poem “Sympathetic Magpies,” the Chinese origin of the legend is secondary to the universal concept of bridges. Further, the stanzas’ own parallel lines suggest intervals of bridge girders. Love creates a bridge between mortal and immortal beings, and the interplay between heaven and earth are universal. The memorable magic here is the bridge made of magpies. The poem has parable-like directness, with love that can defy the decrees of heaven. Like bridges, romance between a young weaver and herder can be set in most times and places. The Milky Way itself is another kind of bridge. Then Harris shifts to present time, inviting readers to also become part of legends through the poem. With a few simple images—lovers, Heaven, and bridges—the poet creates a story, briefly outlined yet complete like a Morandi painting. Harris said of the painter: “His quiet visual drama tells you that you need no more than these few objects to tell the human story.” This also applies to “Sympathetic Magpies.”




There is an old Chinese legend

About a weaving girl and a cowherd

Falling in love and being punished

By Heaven because she was celestial

And he was a mere mortal


Heaven only allowed them to meet

Once a year

On the seventh day

Of the seventh month


The magpies were so sympathetic

Each year

On that day

They made themselves

Into a bridge

Stretching across the Milky Way

So the lovers could kiss


Poems are sympathetic magpies

Bridges between lovers

Bridges between selves

Bridges between worlds


Education: Harris received a BA in English (Central State University 1968), MA in Creative Writing (Stanford 1971), and PhD in English and American Literature (Stanford 1974).


Career:  This poet and critic’s books are: Hey Fella Would You Mind Holding This Piano a Moment (Ithaca House 1974), In My Own Dark Way (Ithaca House 1977) and Personal Questions (Leconte Publishers, Rome, 2010). He has published in over fifty anthologies. He is the author of the critical work The Poetry and Poetics of Amiri Baraka (University of Missouri Press 1985) and editor of The Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1991, second edition, 2000).


©2010 Denise Low AAPP 46   ©2009 “Sympathetic Magic” by William J. Harris


Kansas Poet Laureate - Ad Astra Poetry Project