Leslie Harrison Turns The Silence Of Sadness Into Poetry

[photo courtesy Theresa Keil ]
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The silence was deafening.

That’s the way poet Leslie Harrison felt after the passing of her mother, with whom she was quite close. Her mother was a single parent after Leslie’s father left the family when she was a small child.  Their bond was intensified in later years, when Leslie’s mother’s health began to decline.

“I lived in Massachusetts and my mother lived in New Hampshire.  She was in a fair amount of pain.  She would call me nearly every night and we would talk for hours. So after her death, there was this enormous silence.  Every night I was just sitting there thinking ‘she’s never going to call me again,” Harrison said.  

Harrison now teaches at Towson University near Baltimore, Maryland.

In her desire to come to terms with her mother’s passing she began writing many of the poems that now make up her book, “The Book of Endings.”

“I was sort of angry with God because it made no sense to me that why on earth would the world take the one person who was pretty much my whole world,” she said.  

In 2015, after Harrison completed the book, she wanted to have it published. She decided to send her work to the University of Akron Press because of her admiration for the editor of their poetry series, Dr. Mary Biddinger.

“I love Mary’s aesthetic, she’s a great editor.  The Akron Poetry series has put out some books that I love.  So when I was looking for a home for this book, I sent it to them,” Harrison said.

Harrison’s collection was selected as one of two winners of the Press’ Annual Akron Poetry Prize competition.  Part of winning the prize is having the work published, which happened in 2017.

In September, Harrison received some unexpected news.

“I got an email of congratulations from a friend and I thought, ‘what for?’

Harrison’s friend informed her that “The Book of Endings” was one of ten books of poetry placed on the list for the 2017 National Book Award in poetry.

In November, even better news was delivered directly to Harrison. “The Book of Endings” was now one of the five titles on the shortlist for the Award.

“I received a phone call the day before, so I knew but they swore me to secrecy,” Harrison said.

Harrison will find out on November 15 if “The Book of Endings” wins at the National Book Award’s ceremony. 

Hear more of Leslie's conversation with Dan






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