Mystery Harwood

  • Mystery Harwood, Academic TransferMysteryHarwood_web

    Mystery Harwood won the Vol. 14 Grand Prize Poetry award for her collection of poems; her short story, "Everything's Perfect," appeared in the same volume. Obviously, this girl can write.

    Mystery's poems are stark and sometimes raw, yet absorbing in their intensity. While evaluating Mystery's poetry, Editorial Team members used such words as "brilliant and mystifying," "strange," "quirky," "crisp," "witty," "surprising and odd," and "haunting."

    Currently a student in the UNO Creative Writing program, Mystery spoke with Illuminations about the creative process and her evolution as a writer.

    Illuminations: You write both poetry and fiction. What are the unique challenges of both? Which do you prefer and why?

    Mystery: First off, let me say that I just love writing. I love writing papers, reviews, poetry, fiction, personal essays - pretty much any opportunity to manipulate language is a good opportunity to me. But my first love will probably always be the poem. There's something so visceral about it. With fiction, you get to be more to-the-point, and there's a comforting sort of structure. Characters, plot, setting, etc. But poetry, to me, gives the opportunity to go further, to get down below that, at the lava that flows below the crusted surface of each of us. And that heat, that passion and intensity, is what I love.

    I: What or who are your artistic influences?

    M: Honestly, some of the greatest influences on my poetry have been not poets but songwriters -- particularly Tori Amos and Maynard James Keenan. When I first heard Amos's album "Little Earthquakes," I was floored. There's a kind of flexibility, of surrealism, in her language that amazed me then and still does. With Maynard, I saw how an artist could explore complex concepts and abstract ideas without bogging lines down in mysticism, and of course with a lot of rocking. As for poets, I love Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and of course Poe, to name a few. Visual art, also, influences my writing. I love surrealism from looking at visually surreal pieces, and surrealism is a huge part of my writing.

    I: In your experience, what makes a good poem or prose piece "work"?

    M: It's so hard to qualify the creative process - I suspect it is different for everyone. For me personally, when I am evaluating my own work, I look for two factors. First, does the piece have something important to say? Is it exploring an interesting idea or emotion? Even more important, however, is the impact of the piece. Does it hit me, somewhere deep? Does it evoke? Provoke? That elusive element, impact, has a lot to do with rhythm, pacing, diction, and imagery. If I get those things down, I feel like the piece is working and worth revising.

    I: How do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?

    M: In ten years, I hope to be still writing, of course. I hold no illusions about the possibility of acclaim and financial reward; this isn't a "make it big" kind of business. But I don't measure success in terms of revenue. Hopefully in ten years I will be completely done with my education, and focusing solely on exploring, writing the things I want to write. By then I hope to have some more publication experience and to have contributed something solid to the craft of writing.

    I: What advice would you give aspiring college student writers?

    M: Well, I am still one of those "aspiring college writers," so I don't know how qualified I am here, but I would give the advice that I wish I had known from the start. Writing is not a magical thing - it takes work. If you have a talent, work at developing it. Read other poetry/fiction/nonfiction, both good and bad, and try to understand why it is either. Talk to other writers; think consciously about your goals, your creative process, and your craft. And above all, write, write, write! You have to practice to maintain skill level. Even between quarters/semesters, when the idea of staring at a blank page fills you with a weepy sort of ennui, write anyway. It may be garbage, but it keeps the muscles toned. And you never know - a simple writing exercise could produce a piece that you will love.

    sister
    by Mystery Harwood

    your little feet danced when i whisper-sang
    silly songs to you from outside the crib-bars.
    sister-giggles spreading, pooling in
    the hallway's weak light.
    no sign in our cloudless skies
    of the crack set to spool from shared earth.

    beyond the glow of letterman's glare
    your blame fell heavy on my adolescent skin.
    i punished your love of boy-bands.
    you raged against my rumplestilzkin glee,
    you fought in a shrieking high-kick frenzy that
    spilled blood i couldn't get back.
    i walked for hours after.

    you glittered, your tongue a crusted jewel
    of menace when you flung the shocking
    silence to shatter on my hardwood floor,
    your last words spoken in venom and vitriol.
    you said his fingers played piano on your spine,
    but no one listened then. and now it's late. you're
    tired of telling tales of closets.

    all my words boomerang back to whiz
    around clocks and flit into memory.
    i can't forget the stale smell
    of hospital, of your crazy.
    pierced in flesh you hang, martyred.
    a pair of nice legs with nowhere to run.