My ancestry is Scot-Irish, and distant relatives arrived to this continent on The Mayflower. I was born and raised in the Midwest. I’ve lived in several states: Minnesota, where I was born; Montana, where I almost died from measles encephalitis and started writing poetry at the age of 8; Michigan, where I completed my BA in English Language and Literature; and now Missouri, where I completed my Master’s in English Language and Literature with post graduate work in applied linguistics, and where I was an Instructor of ESL until my retirement. Now I am able to focus on my writing more intently.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
Columbia, Missouri, is surrounded by many trails, parks, river bluffs, wetlands, the Missouri River, lakes, and scenic drives on country roads past fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and occasionally sunflowers. We take drives and count the number of deer, hawks, geese, vultures, heron, and other wild life that we see. Our house is in an older neighborhood across from our neighborhood association park, so we are surrounded by trees and occasionally see deer in the park and have several raccoon visitors even though we are close to the downtown district. The natural surroundings inspire my writing.
What turns you on creatively?
I find inspiration from enjoying nature, as you may have guessed from my prior answer. Our natural world is so large and magnificent that I could spend hours sitting in the presence of Mother Nature. Also, reading good writers inspires me. Lately, I’ve been revisiting Emily Dickinson. I’ve also read books by Ted Kooser, Joy Harjo, Susannah Cahalan, Natalie Diaz, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Elizabeth Alexander, Jaqueline Woodson, Tracy K. Smith, Walter Bargen, Kat Chow, Joyce Carol Oates, to name a few. Often, after reading a just a few passages, I feel inspired to pick up the pen.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
Picking a favorite word is a challenge because I love so many words. I do a great deal of wordsmithing when I revise. Finding the exact word or expression in a line is critical because words manifest emotions and intentions. They associate with other words in their own families, groups, and categories. Getting to know words personally is engaging. It’s like making friends with people from other cultures and social groups. Therefore, I strive to have a diversity of word choices in my poems.
However, I am selecting the word weave as a favorite because I feel poets weave together many elements to create a poem, such as metaphors, themes, sonics, rhythm, rhyme, meter, story, among others. Another aspect of weaving is drawing the threads of the human experience into a new whole, offering a surprising perspective or revelation.
Hope weaves the lace of love.
What is your pet peeve?
My pet peeve is pet peeves. They weigh down the soul. Suppress joy. Yet they are good sources for poems. When I feel irritated, I look inside myself to face what I need to do to improve in my mood or outlook rather than focusing on others’ faults. Writing poetry is a good way to demonstrate to a reader how to process grievances. I am turning more and more to writing poetic memoir in order to understand the antagonists in my life. Why did they upset me? What was in their hearts? How did the interactions make me or break me? Poetry is the memoir of pet peeves in a way. Without them, where is the suffering? And how can we gain new insights on grief and torment?
What defines Barbara Harris Leonhard?
I am a person who holds compassion and love for others, so when people hurt, I feel empathy and thus their pain. Over the years, I have volunteered to serve rape victims, the mentally ill, the elderly, and the dying often to the expense of not writing, not honing my craft. However, whatever I have done to help others has informed my writing. Now I find that I look for ways to confront and challenge the human condition in my poetry. I like to weave the frail threads of our spiritual and social selves to create a tapestry of words revealing the modern condition. In this respect, I think my age and experience define me, too. I’ve learned what it means to live and love fiercely as an advocate for those who suffer, including myself. At this stage in my life, I find that writing poetry is a powerful way to explore our pain. “Reveal to heal” is my credo.
OCTOBER 2021 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Barbara is a retired ESL instructor. Her poetry has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. She’s also written a best-selling poetry collection Three-Penny Memories: A Poetic Memoir (Experiments in Fiction, 2022), which is about her relationship with her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. She has won honors from Spillwords Press and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Trending Poets named her Poet of the Year 2023. Barbara is also the Editor for MasticadoresUSA. She lives in Mid-Missouri with her husband and cat Jasper.