Interview with Lisa Summer, Editor, Poets Alive Press, January 2004.
Lisa Summer: How long have you been writing, Jim?
JH: Since 1956—I isolated myself in an 11-year, self-taught apprenticeship. During the fifth year of my apprenticeship, the short fiction I wrote caught on with national mags and quarterlies. I didn't send poems out during that period. Every New Year's Eve, I threw everything I'd written that year into the trash. I saved eight poems. One of them appears in my out-of-print chapbook, In Tribute to Survivors. When I was 30, a small press published my first volume of poems titled, Argument for Love. Man! Did it sell nationally from independent bookshops, Provincetown to Seattle, which is where all of my books have been distributed—no Barnes and Noble's, or Borders, for me, thank you!
What is your most important contribution to the world of contemporary American Literature?
JH: I hope that each of my books challenges the reader to aim for the stars, and not settle for the ceiling. In other words—risk hopping off the merry-go-round, learn who you are in your deeper self, then bravely go get 'em! From my latest published poetry volume, In Pursuit of Honour, read "For My Hospital Primary Night Nurse…” poem then you will get to know me—the guy, whose salvation is writing. In January, 2003, an O.R. head nurse said, after reading my chart, "Everything possible that could happen to your body has happened."
What are some of your most valued poems that you want to live in people's hearts?
JH: That's an impossible question to answer, but I dig challenges… (long pause) the poem I mentioned earlier; "Letter from CoraAnn, Age 13", in Lef, (1997). In Paying the Price, (1998) the poem, "Imagination May Be the/Best Life Saver We Have"; and "The Elegance of All Things", dedicated to Georgia O'Keeffe; from the same collection, "9-Year Old to Audience". From SIZ (1997), "4A Baseball II"; ""KRAZZEEE HANNAH'S SONG"; and "What Will be Thought in the/Pauses of this Song,/or Will it Make Any Difference?", from After I'm Dead, Will My Life Begin? (1986), "Studying Great Writers"; "Impersonating Ted Berrigan (1934-1983) In Warm Memory"; "Year End Notes, '84".
If you could only bring three books with you to forge a new beginning, what would they be?
JH: If there isn't anything after this life, the Bible is the best prose ever written, i.e., Wisdom in the Old Testament which was written by a woman. William Saroyan's Not Dying. Margaret Atwood's, Selected Poems I and Selected Poems II; Charles Bukowski's, Love is a Dog From Hell, Betting on the Muse, and Bone Palace Ballet from Black Sparrow; Robert Creeley's Echoes and Life and Death, both from New Directions, and For Love, Poems 1950-1960, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962. Katherine Dunn's, Attic, Harper & Row, 1970. Valvano; "Jimmy V" was a great college basketball coach, who brought the North Carolina State Wolfpack it's first and only NCAA Championship. Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle; All of mine, of course, but I'll settle for Lef, In Pursuit of Honour and Mize & Kathy. That's three!
Do you have something to say to apprentice writers, or writer's in general?
JH: Never trade your passion for glory or lessen yourself for a quick, short-term profit. Live from your deeper self and trust your instincts. Begin with asking yourself, why you think you want to be a writer, or if you've been around awhile, ask yourself why you write. You write for you! Always write for just you! If you stick with it for 30 to 40 years, you will come to learn what you are writing for.
I was told that you are in baseball's National Hall of Fame. Is that true?
JH: My last two volumes of poetry, In Pursuit of Honour and Paying the Price, were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Library, (Cooperstown, N.Y.) in 2000.
Do you still believe your destiny was to play major league baseball, and build a ranch for abused children and teens?
JH: You bet I do! And I'll go to my grave believing that. I'm 65 and I give batting lessons to boys and girls as well as to teens.
Isn't your novel, From Orphanage to Destiny (unpublished), which you recently completed, and I have read, your destiny fictionalized?
JH: True. True. I believe "Destiny is a work for the ages..."
Jim, what prevented you from fulfilling your baseball destiny?
JH: Beatings to my spine from a sadistic step-father, day and night, from age 5 to 15.
Didn't your mother come to your defense?
JH: I think she enjoyed watching the beatings and when I pleaded for her help, she would say, "he's not hurting you," cynically smiling. I was invited to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball spring training when I was 16, making me the youngest ball player in history to have that opportunity. I was the last one of twelve rookies to be let go.
Why was that?
JH: My spine crashed all at once, or maybe I played with the enormous pain, fooling myself it wasn't there. HA! I couldn't swing a bat or hit a ball. The club had no choice but to drop me.
I know you as a genuinely nice person. What makes you that way?
JH: I live from my heart. I'm outgoing and personable and sensitive to other's needs.
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