Monday, July 3, 2023

Michael Harty Publishes TWENTY STORIES: POEMS about a Tall Texas Building and More!

Michael Harty
is a successful Kansas City area poet with roots in Lubbock, Texas. His new Twenty Stories: Poems centers on the tallest building in Lubbock, twenty-stories high. The pun on stories as heights and as narratives works well in the collection. I also grew up in a town with one tall building, a singular vertical in a flat grasslands town. In Emporia, Kansas, it was the Broadview Tower. In William Stafford’s Kansas, it was the building where the “elevator man” Gideon worked. Because of the large scale, there is a cinematic quality that reminds me of Muriel Rukeyser’s work. The visual point of view shifts around as well as the narration, the social contexts, and the natural environment. The poems are well written, accessible yet complicated by undercurrents, irony, and recurring themes.

Denise Low: First, congratulations on this original, provocative book! What is your background as a poet? I know  you win sonnet contests and publish regularly. What has been your way into this practice?

Mike Harty:
  I always had writerly ambitions, but I gave up my undergraduate English major when I started thinking seriously about how I was going to earn a living. Psychology was a good choice for me, but I did continue to dabble in more creative writing alongside my clinical practice and some writing for professional journals. A turning point came when I wrote a memorial poem for my mother-in-law, a dear person; people were touched by that poem and encouraged me to do more. That encouragement helped me to get past my reluctance to “come out” as a poet, and I started to write more consistently, attend workshops and classes, and submit to journals. (As you know, classes I took with you were an important part of the process.) It’s true that the sonnet form has an appeal for me, and that sonnet competitions are a place where I’ve had some success. I like the challenge of combining expressiveness with concision, which all poetry requires but which in a sonnet needs to be contained within a (more or less) fixed structure. The poems in Twenty Stories, though, are very different from that, with what seems to me a more rambling, narrative quality.

Denise Low: When I read Twenty Stories, I think of William Stafford’s “Serving with Gideon,” the poem where the “elevator man" must drink from a paper cup and where “old boys who ran the town” were generous to their own kind. He miniaturizes the small-town culture with a few images, and you miniaturize the scale of Lubbock, Texas by taking readers to a twenty-story-high view of the town. Was Stafford ever an influence on you? Who are some other influences?

Mike Harty: Stafford is one of the poets I most admire, for what seems to me his marvelously inventive language that still remains grounded in real life. I will insert here a sonnet I wrote about him.

On Reading William Stafford’s Collection by Michael Harty

The cover opens like a neighbor’s door;

you welcome me, and speak to me in tones

both generous and kind. A voice like home,

yet wise, prophetic almost; you abhor

pretension, yet you touch the very core

of human secrets, poem after poem.

You write of small-town parks, of nights alone,

walks by the river; boots your father wore,

farm animals and trees – a vision wide

as prairie, yet returning in the end

to ordinary life, the shifting tides

that hold and toss us all. The words you’ve penned

are like a voice from someone at my side:

“See, this is how things are. Join me, my friend.”


It’s hard to identify specific influences beyond just mentioning poets I’ve admired at different times: Frost, W.S. Merwin, Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Manning, plenty of others. I think also growing up in the presence of the King James Bible has had a lasting influence, via the majesty of its language and its connection with the most important questions. And rock-and-roll is in there too, the sense of liberation through sound and rhythm.

Denise Low:  Wonderful poem—you capture his tone and settings so well, and your simple and effective, “…yet returning in the end / to ordinary life, the shifting tides / that hold and toss us all.” Exactly. In your poems, I love the narratives you create in your poems, yet they are still lyrical. In your opinion, why are these poems and not short stories or flash fiction?

Mike Harty: I’m glad you find the poems lyrical, as I usually feel I work to make them that way; my revising process often seems to move from something more prosy and expository to (hopefully) something more evocative and layered. I’m not at all sure of the dividing line between, say, prose poem and flash fiction: I think of the poem more in terms of the illumination of a brief moment and the fiction as having more of a timeline and a story arc, but I also think that doesn’t really hold, even in my own poems. Maybe the reliance on images versus description is another point of difference, but again far from absolute. Probably the truth is that the substance of many poems would be suitable as well for a short (even long) fiction; I think in this book that’s true of the poems about the shoeshine man and the bootlegger, for example.

Denise Low: Boundaries of genres are shifting, indeed, and I think you clarify the difference between prose poems and flash fiction well. Story is implicit in any poem, more submerged in the 21st century maybe than any other time in history. You work as a psychoanalyst, where you must hear many stories. Who are your influences in that field? Jung? And how has that work fed your creative writings?

Mike Harty: I recently looked through my accumulated poems with the question in mind of which ones visibly drew on my psychoanalytic work. I found surprisingly few. Occasionally there was a character, or a situation drawn from that experience, but I came away thinking the main influence was something less obvious but more pervasive, more in the nature of a habit of mind or an outlook on life. It has to do with recognizing complexity (especially in people’s motives), resisting quick answers, being willing to face unpleasant truths without giving in to pessimism, finding beauty without denying ugliness. Those are the aspirations, anyhow. As a psychoanalyst I’ve never been much of a Jungian, as I tend to shy away from approaches that seem overly mystical. I have, however, moved away from the more strictly Freudian orientation of my early career into what would be called a more “object-relational” approach. Probably the theorist I’ve found most influential is Donald Winnicott, a British analyst who started out as a pediatrician and had a lot of fruitful ideas about mothers and babies.

Denise Low: What are you working on next? What are some upcoming publications? Where can readers find your videos or audio readings online?

Mike Harty: I do have another chapbook coming out any time now (from Finishing Line

Press); its title is “Real Country”, and the poems deal with the world of a farm kid, which I both was and wasn’t. (My family lived on a small farm, and I went to a country school, but my father’s work as well as our church affiliation were in town.) Aside from that, there are a couple of projects that are in some stage of development. One is a modified crown of sonnets (nine

poems rather than the standard seven) portraying a baseball team (a poem for each position). I don’t know where I’ll go with that one. The other “project” is less organized, and I come back to it intermittently; it consists of poems that imagine the later life of characters in old rock-and-roll songs (“Maybelline”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Slow Walkin’ Jones”). Generally, though, I’ve found it tougher to write lately, I think mainly because political/societal issues, as well as the pandemic, have claimed so much attention. Many thanks for this opportunity. I’m not at all good at having an on-line presence, but I’m glad to hear from any readers who don’t want to deal with Amazon. They can email me at mharty2[at]

Twenty Stories: Poems by Michael Harty. $17.00. Twenty Stories – Kelsay Books 978-1639803095

Michael Harty is a Kansas City poet now, but his Texas boyhood is a continuing influence in his work. A second influence is his long career as a practicing psychoanalyst, which fosters an appreciation for the conflicts, struggles, and complexities of human life. His poems often have appeared in the Texas Poetry Calendar, as well as in other periodicals including New Letters, The Lyric, Measure, I-70 Review, Coal City Review, and others. Among his honors and recognitions are several Pushcart nominations as well as awards in a number of sonnet competitions – the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, the Nebraska Shakespeare sonnet competition, the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award contest – and in the New Letters Poetry Contest and the Rattle Magazine Ekphrastic Challenge. His first chapbook, The Statue Game, appeared in 2015; both Twenty Stories and Real Country are appearing in 2023. More about Michael Harty: Interview, Johnson County Library Meet the Author: Michael Harty | Johnson County Library ( . Mike Harty poem, 2016 in Denise Low Postings Denise Low Postings: Michael Harty, poet, reads April 17 from THE STATUE GAME