An interview with H.E. Mantel, winner of the Open Community Poetry Contest (for the period October—December, 2010) conducted February 28, 2011.
by John Winn
Harold E. Mantel has been a mainstay in the literary community ever since he burst on the scene almost a decade ago. Since then many of his poems and prose, including “Abide and Abode,” “If Ever After” and “Pox Populi” have been published in major journals and magazines. Yet while many know about Harold the artist, few know about Harold the man.
In a candid one-on-one interview, Mantel sat down with Hennen’s John Winn and opened up about his childhood in Florida, his love of haiku, and his love affair with vegetarianism.
JW: Where did the concept for “The Poet as Narcissist” come from?
HEM: My poetry is based in influences stemming from education, reading others poetry & prose, interaction with other poets... in short, a thousand years of recorded writing; “The Poet As Narcissist” was an attempt to honor those influences as well as capturing the artist’s (writer’s) experience as universal.
JW: How do you develop material? Is there a method or is the process more or less spontaneous?
HEM: My method for the development of material is multiform; inspiration/spontaneity, of course, as any artist will attest, is key for the aspect of passion. I work from notes, as well, as sometimes the cascade of ideas (& their situation) can be elusive & voluminous, & It is prudent (like trusting another editor besides self) to notate/capture these thoughts for cogent application.
JW: Which of your stories or poems are you most proud of? Which of them don’t you like?
HEM: This is a difficult question for response; I take pride (I prefer “pleasure” & “satisfaction”) in my poems, now numbering upwards of 4,000, I believe. However, this pride is reflected in varied manners for various pieces; of course those which have garnered publishing are ever among the foremost; those acknowledged by respected peers are equally important…. My triumphs are highly personal pieces, some yet unpublished. In short, the love poems, “Sonnot 1: An Invitation To The Dance,” “Abide And Abode (Suenos),” & “If After Never;” Socio-Po’s (Social-Political), “Pox Populi…” I never write a poem I do not like.
JW: According to your blog you are also a committed vegan. How did that come about?
HEM: This is curious, and I believe somewhat amusing; I was commuting to college, ‘70, with limited funds for nearly everything, including food. The kindness and generosity of friends occasioned me to the hospitality of their apartments/houses which helped cut-into the necessity for travel. As a result of the aforementioned scarcity of funds and a timbre in the air of those times for “radicals,” peanut butter, honey, cottage cheese, etc. became the staples. The curious part, however, is having been raised on animal products (dairy and flesh), an underlying consciousness for ahimsa (harmlessness) began to surface, at first the elimination of meat & fowl then fish (anything with a face and smile). I was ovo-lacto (primarily for economics and ongoing education in the philosophy) until the late 70’s, then for philosophical/biological (healthier) reasons, went vegan.
JW: Have you ever received opposition as a result of your vegan lifestyle?
HEM: Yes. Like my poetry at times, what is not understood tends to be dismissed or shunned; people are threatened by difference, an unwillingness to investigate new possibilities; this is rife throughout our status quo culture. Even after you are queried and make the effort to explicate the position, often the info is scoffed at. Occasionally, and the mindset is changing due to more media coverage/consciousness of widespread, verifiable science (and the capital gains), folks will attend to the knowledge, you can see it in their eyes/wheels turning... Disease is proliferating, and nutrition is the first defense of the immune system. As a professional musician since the 60’s, I have had the occasion to encounter people from all backgrounds. One particular couple on a gig in Florida [USA] inquired to my vegan lifestyle-philosophy; after several minutes of monologuing and their intent listening, the woman piped, “Well, what do you do about Chinese food?” I rest my case.
JW: What is “Bananas on the Moon?”
HEM: This is an unpublished manuscript of revisionist Haiku/Senryu/Renga forms, created to bring minimalism to 21st. Century issues and ideas, thus simplifying topical poetry for the reader.
JW: Did you ever set out to write revisionist haiku?
HEM: I did not specifically “set-out” to create Haiku in the Revisionist motif; I became re-aware of the form at the outset of my professional career, was immediately intrigued by the structure (word-puzzling to fit meaning into a proscribed syllable count; I have since written extensively in the Tanka form which provides a larger theatre while still confining with creative constraint); all this not without flak & opposition from detractors (there are advocates, as well) from the stalwart traditionalists.
JW: Did you ever imagine yourself being a professional writer? What would your family think?
HEM: I have been writing (my father was a lover of language, prolific reader/unrealized short-stories, & a huge influence from my earliest) since before age 10; music was/is my 1st. passion, which, of course became a vocation. I did not envision professional writing until I was doing it. My family was all-supportive of my life choices (with notable exceptions of resultant mistakes). My mother in her later years liked to chide, not-altogether-without purpose, “The books, you're always with the books!”
JW: If you could have dinner with any writer alive or dead who would it be?
HEM: You’ll indulge me? How ‘bout Lenny Bruce, Gore Vidal, Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, & Sylvia Plath over for dinner and conversation?
JW: Final Q: What advice would you give to the aspiring writers such as yourself?
HEM: The advice I proffer to writers whom I mentor, peers whose work I parse & edit, etc., is to write spare - spartan with economy (“too many prepositions spoil the proposition”). My major truck with “modern” poetry is its penchant for more (sometimes exclusive) prose than poem; poetry is not journalism, though it may contain aspects of exposition for affect, my contention is the poet draw from “classical” style, whatever the motif. Further, when you have your piece “complete,” revisit &, as an exercise/edit, view each word as supplanted by another perhaps more “poetic;” read others' work; avoid punctuation (especially periods).■