Henry Morro’s New Gig
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life, Confucius purportedly said.
On a recent visit to Southern California, while discussing the major influences on her work, Utah Poet Laureate Katharine Coles (Fault), director of the Utah Symposium on Science and Literature, mentioned that her parents were scientists. Hours later, while Jessica Goodheart (Earthquake Season) was waiting to go on air to be interviewed by Suzanne Lummis on Pacifica Radio’s Poetry Cafe, SoCal, we exchanged quick notes on poets who survived at professions outside academe: Pound was an overseas editor of American literary magazines, Melville ended life as an NYC customs inspector, Wallace Stevens functioned as an insurance company’s lawyer, and William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Back in the day few creative women, we agreed, had the advantages of topflight executive privilege, healthy endowments, or marrying well, and those who didn’t teach school most likely worked as housewives, bookkeepers or secretaries—and in rare instances, did some modeling, like Anne Sexton. Today, the writer devoted to poetry rarely survives outside the world of comparative literature and associate writing programs—no matter the demographics.
Thus it was with wonder and surprise that I greeted an April 6th email trailing multiple congratulatory responses celebrating the announcement that Henry Morro, one of L.A.’s best un-fully-recognized poets, was finally taking the plunge most creative artists and writers would envy: a radical change in his working life. Before I could add my congratulations to the others he had received, I ran into Henry ten days later at Beyond Baroque. My husband poet Austin Straus (Intensifications) and I had met him in the late 80s, and had hosted him on our Saturday evening SoCal Pacifica Radio interview show The Poetry Connexion. During that time, Henry was active on the local scene and we had the pleasure of hearing him read his dark but lovely poems at several venues. But by the mid 90s, Henry seemed to withdraw, and had been quiet for quite a number of years. That night, I couldn’t help but ask Henry how he was going to manage it. His eyes sparkled and he shrugged. “The kids are grown and in college,” he smiled. Now, with the loving support of his wife Amy, he was quitting his job of seven years at a Fortune 500 company to pursue “the literary life.”
Later, thinking about Henry’s daring move, I recalled one enormous danger for the writer who must work—an all too familiar danger I had courted in my struggles to become a poet and writer. As a magazine editor and scriptwriter, I had met many a writing hopeful whose gift had been killed by demanding or dead-end jobs. On the other hand, when lecturing, I’m fond of telling seminar or workshop students “Poetry is the most faithful lover you will ever have—once you master it and find your voice, it will never desert you.”
I wish Henry Morro all the luck.
Poet and writer Wanda Coleman was a blatantly humanist artist who won much critical acclaim for her unusually prescient and often innovative work, but who struggled to make a living from her craft. In discussing “my life in poetry,” More magazine, April 2005, Camille Paglia said of Coleman: “She’s not...