In his submission to F.A.L.D. #012, Marshall Harris wowed N!P with the depth of his passion—for not only poetry, but for athletics, Boise itself, and its people. Whether talking about Idaho’s many writing spheres, or mountains + tectonic plates, or trails and their origins, or its rising tech industry, or thriving underground community, or even its climate, Marshall carries many loves inside him. As such, N!P is excited to share the following interview, conducted online.
N!P: I understand poetry hasn’t always been your primary focus in life. Coming from athletes, physical training played a major role in growing up, with you only finding poetry later on. Could you tell us more about that, how these different passions came to you?
MH: Growing up in a family of professional runners, I spent six years running, swimming, and cycling, training as a semi professional triathlete. I had to talk about it to everyone I met; discussing nutrition, recovery, workload, aerobic efficiency, felt like a necessity. I was cocky and loud about my sports. I was “passionate.”
I also got in such heated arguments about poetry that I got kicked out of class in high school. I found myself confused, in college, on both a running and creative writing scholarship. Despite clutching tooth and nail to my identity as an elite athlete, my first true national competition was in poetry, not any of the sports I claimed to live for. As my first two years of college went by, a slow realization came about that I didn’t really give two shits about pursuing athletics, but when my poetry professor said “this isn’t your strongest work,” I left her office in tears.
Poetry has been ingrained into me, from somewhere, or something. Maybe some childhood experience, maybe it’s just like running, “in the genes.” I don’t even think about it anymore. Motivation to write is a book I’ve opened and closed. Passion is when you wake up and you just do what you’re passionate about. I’ve never self identified as “a writer” because it was never something I needed to reassure myself of. You can tell someone is passionate about something, in my opinion, when they don’t talk about it all the time. When it’s so a part of them that they can’t even separate themselves from the task, the craft, the whatever it is that they have to keep doing, surely as breathing, surely as they exist, they do the thing.
N!P: I think a lot of people would be surprised to discover the intensity of Boise’s poetry community. You’ve mentioned how the scene embodies writers from lots of different scenes and backgrounds, spanning generations. Which is reflected in who you are: someone caught between these many groups. How would you describe Boise’s poetry scene to someone who’s never been?
MH: First off I’d like to state for the record that I am only a small part of the community. There is a thriving slam/performance oriented scene, a deluge of academic readings and features through the University’s MFA program, as well as three (I think?? probably more tbh) literary nonprofits holding events monthly. In addition to this, my friends and I started house shows and a weird thing of doing poetry at punk shows and small music shows, primarily in the summer, but this year my friend Kate Lange has already run a femme-identified house show featuring Lydia Havens, and Eileen Myles was a featured reader at a huge festival in March. So, uh… there’s a lot. In a single month I’ve been in a house show with a psych-rock band reading poems over a theramin through a nonprofit based in a Boise satellite called Death Rattle Writer’s Festival, hosted one poetry slam, competed in two others, and attended Ghosts and Projectors, a well-curated genre-diverse poetry reading that’s hosted Kate Greenstreet, Steve Roggenbuck, and some local up-and-coming MFA candidates, among others. In this month, I missed three readings as well. The outrageous thing is that’s regular here. Everyone is doing stuff all the time, and it’s always new. I was recently invited to a poetry reading on the theme of confessional relationship-oriented poems hosted in hotel rooms at an art-deco hotel that hosts/curates a lot of interesting performance art events. Boise is a small place, just over 210K people, and the valley it’s in just topping 600K, so everyone knows what’s going on and is usually involved in some way in multiple worlds of art. Musicians at poetry readings, poets booking art shows, there’s a bar downtown that on any given night you can find professors from the university drinking next to crust punk kids while frat guys rip shots and somebody in the back is editing poems and I’m drunk singing Springsteen songs—it’s a strange little town.
N!P: Wow, sounds like there are plenty of options available for all different types of artists, each contributing to Boise with their own style! Since community can play such an important role in one’s writing, how do you see these different spheres influencing your work?
MH: This is a hard question. I know so many writers who claim they live off of solitude and their own volition, looking for the “original,” or at least “the new” to engage with. I also know tons of people who claim that experience is what makes good writing. Personally, I think good writing makes good writing. In any form. My friend Diana Forgioni has a poem called “American Girl” written in this dream-like gasoline rant that I haven’t been able to escape for a year, and since then, the idea of travel, of self-identity as a form of rebellion but also oppression, had been circling through my head. It’s so well done, I’m inspired every time I see it. Diana runs Death Rattle, and I work with her a lot every year, so there’s constant exposure. Also, my old poetry professor runs a nonprofit I do work with, and she has a huge piece called “The Future is Bright” that had me equally laughing and crying and scratching my head at where she’s going—everyone pulls me in different directions.
In a week, I find myself fucking with prose, queer page formats, form pieces, text over pictures, and music. So much music. Two years ago I started going to hardcore shows and a year later performing poems at them and it’s really… punched up… my writing. When you have a room full of anarchists used to three guitars and a splash-heavy double-kick drum kit and all you have is a voice and a piece of paper, you realize that “ars gratia artis” is sort of bullshit. It’s about the community. It’s about participating in something, for me at least. Some people view that as low, or narrow-minded, not worthy of “the page” or “serious consideration”; I once heard someone try to link performance art and capitalism to me, but I’m calling bullshit—I participate in this community FOR this community. I want to know I’m helping someone. I’ve already helped myself or gotten myself off or whatever you want to paradigm it as by writing whatever I wrote—it’s important to be a part of something outside of myself as an artist. Keeps me humble, and always looking for new ways to interact with myself, my writing, and my community.
It’s similar to that whole annoying typical bro statement about makeup: “I think you’re great without it.” Well that’s fuckin nice, but it’s not for you it’s for me and my friends—we want to show off to each other and love each other for it. In an increasingly self-conscious world I think nothing is more important than celebrating each other and the intrinsic link with self-performance we all have but try to deny, and writing should be one of the main stages in which that happens. Everyone performs, and claiming not to, or to not buy into it, is a narcissism worse than printing off a business card that just says “artist”; hell at least that person is being honest. I choose to celebrate all of the styles and worlds I interact with. I challenge myself to learn from and steal from and get stolen from by everyone. I dunno I feel like I got off track a bit but this is something I breathe strongly about.
N!P: That was perfect, thanks! It’s especially interesting to hear about the overlap between music and poetry, and how your writing has evolved to fit these different molds. For our final question, would you mind sharing what you’re currently working on? Any projects in mind? A particular short- or long-term goal?
MH: The Slam “Season” just finished, and I made the Boise National Team, so I’ll be going to Atlanta this August with four other Boise poets, both competing and as the *performance coach,* which basically means I tell people to be louder on stage. We practice and do a bit of touring, so that will be fun. Additionally, it’s Death Rattle season, so we’ll be running some really cool collaborative events as the summer goes along, like house shows, readings with bands, parties, and a thing called Freak Prom that is exactly what it sounds like, and that will all culminate in the first week or so of October with the actual festival. Last night two friends and I decided to form a house show network dedicated to safe spaces and smaller touring acts in Boise, and we’ve tentatively named it “The Boise Fortress”—it could also just be an excuse to have brunch though, I’m not really sure.
Most summers I write more music than poetry, but the person I write with has been busy lately, so I dunno. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that as I try to *give* myself projects and such, I kind of lose interest. This summer, my main goal as a writer is consistency. I just finished a short series of poems to accompany a local band’s EP release—not like I’m selling it with their stuff, but I heard the album and it really got me going, spoke to a lot of pertinent things in my life. My friend Kate Monica got me into this a long time ago, writing poems specifically as relationship counterparts to songs, and I think I want to do more with that, because I seem to exist in such a weird boundary between the two, and I think there’s something worth exploring there. Mostly I really wanna beat Metroid Prime on Hypermode, but I spent six hours fighting a boss and losing last night so I have no idea how any of this will play out.
[ To read Marshall’s poetry, dig into his feature in Fuck Art, Let’s Dance #012 ]
Marshall Harris is a piece of moon rock currently residing in Boise, Idaho. He is a three-time National Poetry Slam competitor, including one finals stage appearance, a competitor in the 2013 Individual World Poetry Slam, and a member of the board of Death Rattle Writer’s Festival, a writing festival in the Northwest focusing on exposing and recognizing literature from a variety of experiences, contexts, and mediums. He has been published in Voicemail Poems, Drunk In A Midnight Choir, and Little River. He wants to pet your dog.