Harry Huntington and I met online. He was offering up copies of his zine, and I asked him for one. We are both in the second volume of the Heartworm Reader, so knew of each other. Shortly after receiving his zine in the mail, I asked him if he would like to be interviewed about it.
So, we faced each other on a video call. He has very big, shining eyes and his voice is laced in intellect and kindness. While we talked, motorcycles tore around outside his home. “Lots of takeaway drivers...” he chuckled. He told me about the process behind writing that zine, A Mass Of Light, and the one he released prior to it that I haven’t read, Thorns In My Side.
“I started Thorns In My Side probably… a few months into COVID, when we were in lockdown. I was kind of grieving a band breakup that I hadn’t really fully processed. It got to the point where I got a bit of, like, cabin fever, and I needed to have a creative outlet.”
“I’m not really a rhythmic poetry fan, I don’t really like “the cat sat on a mat,” like all that kind of shit. So, I just decided to write, basically, sentences.”
The poems in A Mass Of Light are peaceful. My favorite is “New Years Eve.” I’ve reprinted it here.
NEW YEARS EVE BY HARRY HUNTINGTON
Fireworks explode & sparks fly in relief of a year gone by.
We stayed in, listening to the muted celebrations below.
From the street someone shouted
“make a wish”
- I don’t, because every resolution interrupted by an
explosion quietly drifts into the night
Lost under a kaleidoscope sky
where colours bleed & patterns merge like a dream.
How is it, that aa thousand burning lights
can carry you to the most comforting of worlds?
Where it’s 4pm & the winter sun floods the room.
A breath is drawn, the shoulders drop & your head raised as
if for a moment it was summer again.
Where you flourish like the flowers
bedside, by your side.
I love it because it feels colorful. The bleeding hues of fireworks are in contrast to the grayness of staying in, muted celebrations, the distance of hearing someone shout on the street. The separation. He describes his memory of wintertime sun, and in quick succession the poem is painted white, then flooded with gold. It’s wonderful.
“New Years Eve” says in its first line that Harry and his companion are relieved for the year to be done with. This betrays the context for his writing, COVID lockdowns.
“I started writing about, trying to process what as people we were going through throughout the pandemic, and there's a few poems in that zine that are about the pandemic and are about how we react, and as how a community, where I live in the southeast of England, in Brighton there’s a community feel here.”
“I wrote a little bit about that and how we all kind of were getting on and how we were glued to our TV screens, just watching news, all the time about what was going on. Unfortunately, constantly about how many people were dying.”
“Basically, I wrote through all of that, and it managed to give me some time to reflect on previous friendships, previous relationships, and how I hadn’t fully processed those things I guess.”
For Harry, writing Thorns In My Side was a trial, and A Mass Of Light was a natural addendum to that trial.
“And I guess with A Mass Of Light, it’s a continuation, because as soon as I finished Thorns In My Side, it took a lot to get the last couple poems, but then it almost reignited… It was almost like a catalyst for the next zine. It kind of just continued on.”
Harry wrote lyrics before he wrote poetry. His band that broke up, Up River, released tunes between 2014 and 2018. He told me about how he began writing lyrics.
“Originally, I was the bass player. We had like a 7-Inch EP called Rough Ground, and my old vocalist, our old vocalist, was on that and I was on bass. And then for the album Undertow, that was me on vocals, and for the EP If There Is A God That Is Judging Me Constantly, I was on vocals for that as well. So I kind of started on bass and became the vocalist.”
“Even on bass I wrote lyrics. Our vocalist was a great frontman, but he really struggled to write lyrics, so we all kind of chipped in, early days. And then, when he left the band and I came on to vocals, it was predominantly me writing lyrics, but my other guitarist Tom, he helped a little bit here and there.”
The Up River records are great. The instrumentals, especially on Undertow, are eerie and melodic. Harry’s voice, the one shot through with such kindness when he speaks, cuts you like a jagged knife when he sings. His lyrics here are dissimilar in form to his poetry. They’re filled with internal rhymes that push his lines forward, like the last three stanzas in the song “Deaf Waltz,” from If There Is A God That Is Judging Me Constantly.
“We’ve become an age, a symphony
played, make our heartbeats weaken
the the waltz that fades
We’re meant to hold, we’re meant to
bend and break but have to let go
How could I be so careless? To pick
the lock to my own distress”
However, to me they keep a quality of reflection present in his poetry. It is just dressed in the black and spikes of hardcore punk, an idiom that immediately presents differently than stark words on a white page.
Harry told me about freeing himself from this musical idiom.
“To write in bands and stuff… you wanna write so much but you know, with music and being in a band, everyone’s playing a part. Sometimes there are certain things that you can’t write about because it doesn’t fit the music, so sometimes you have to compromise. A band is a compromise.“
“There were certain things that I was able to touch on but not particularly go into great detail, whereas with poetry and prose you’re able to just let it all out. It’s almost like a therapy session on paper.”
“In the UK, they have this attitude that's very much, you just bottle it up. That whole kind of like post-war, stiff upper lip expression, and I think recently in the last ten, fifteen years, there’s been a lot more talk about expressing yourself, how you’re feeling. People's mental health and wellbeing, you know it’s a huge thing in society today. Especially in the UK.”
“I’ve always been quite an emotional guy, I’ve always been quite open about how I feel about things, and relationships and friendships taught me to be able to open up and feel comfortable about what was weighing me down.”
I think it’s really excellent that Harry came to writing when he couldn’t go out and do anything, and found it immensely freeing and therapeutic, found it a balm to many different flavors of grief. A band breakup, past friendships, mass international disease and death, the ability to get up on a stage and just scream.
This freedom didn’t come without insecurity though. He felt scared releasing what he described to me as his very thoughts in physical form.
“There was a lot of impostor syndrome. A lot of “is this shit? Is this any good? For the first zine I was very vulnerable, feeling like “I hope people like this.””
He contemplated not publishing.
“Halfway through it I was like “how many poems do I wanna actually write?” and “what have I actually got?” and there were times I was like “I’m not gonna bother doing this. I think it’s just gonna be a me thing.”
“When I put things up on the internet or social media or whatever, there wasn't much feedback. A lot of people were looking at it, and [there was] not much interaction. So I was like “How do I gauge that this is any good?””
Harry did of course publish. He told me he only printed thirty copies of his first zine, expecting to have to push them on people. However, he easily gave away every single one.
Thank goodness. And thanks too to Pablo Conejero Lopez (@pabloconejerolopez), a Spanish poet who inspired him, and whose poems he read in the first volume of the Heartworm Reader. (Harry also loved this whole book, which is available here, saying “I liked that it was a book of so many different poets and authors and so many styles. It almost felt like I was flicking through a camera, each photo, each poem different.”)
In reference to Lopez, he said this.
“I just loved it. The poems that he had released were very, kind of like social commentary. Like ‘what's in front of his eyes’ kind of thing. I found his instagram, found his work, bought his book.”
“And his book was just completely different. His book was called “Cuerpos” (Cuerpos by Pablo Conejero Lopez available here). I’m probably slaughtering the pronunciation. But his book is so, his way of writing is so imaginative, it’s so descriptive, it wasn't anything like what was in the Reader.”
“And then there was just other stuff in there that was very bold and in your face, very kind of like “oh that almost feels like a punk song.” I kind of liked that. And then there was stuff that was just really well thought out and creative.”
“I think it was around the time of George Floyd, and there was a few poems that were like “Stop American gun violence. Stop American gun violence. Stop American gun violence.” Just written ten times, and I was just like, this is something that’s so raw.”
Harry thought one of his poems in A Mass Of Light was like a punk song too, “Burning Questions.” Here it is.
BURNING QUESTIONS BY HARRY HUNTINGTON
He wants to know:
Why the doors are always closed?
Why the walls are built so high?
Why he doesn’t fit the mould?
Is it because the right things were never said?
Because the calls were never made?
Because the messages were never sent?
Because he kept putting those things off?
Or is it simply because he just doesn’t belong
& he just cannot afford to break?
So instead he takes to his knees
and starts to dig into the earth.
Hoping that if he digs deep enough
he’ll find another way in.
It’s aggressive and deeply sensitive. Like a cut out heart thrashing around. I think, though, that all his poems are punk. Because they’re not gaudy or pretentious, and simplicity and honesty in a time of posturing and playing dress up is a type of aggression and resistance.
The whole book, too, has the connectivity of a record. Throughout A Mass Of Light, Harry obsesses about summertime. This line in “New Years Eve”, the book's second poem, sets it up.
“A breath is drawn, the shoulders drop & your head raised as
if for a moment it was summer again.”
Then throughout the book, as I read, this idea seemed to be hammered into my brain again and again. Harry’s lover is happier in summertime. Right now, though, it’s winter. This simple premise squeezes a pulp of longing from his words that stretches from page to page. It’s palpable. Harry is engulfed by memory, memory of his old band, his friends, memories of him and his lover before COVID. Memories of summer.
Talking about “New Years Eve,” I described the colors of the poem. The grayness, that is periodically sundered by color, is tied in my mind to this quality of memory. As Harry describes it, reading A Mass Of Light feels like you are “submerged in memory.”
This feels deeply, dangerously intimate. Like you’re drinking the author's blood, as they hold a cut wrist above your mouth. This was intentional, Harry says.
“My writing came from a place of peace, but also a place of, “How did I actually feel in those moments?” With my poetry, what I try to do is get the person reading it as if they’re standing next to me in the poem. Sitting right next to me in that moment and observing me.”
My favorite example of this is in the poem “Turbulence,” set during an Up River tour. The ending goes like this.
“All the roads that continued on
suddenly began to merge into one.
I started to feel a change
that if I could extend my arms
I could finally reach you.”
And another, in “Museum Of Natural History,” goes like this.
“Our hands would match & legs overlap
two bodies merging as one in perfect symmetry.
Just like love, we were desperate to live in each other’s skin,
desperate to live in these moments forever.”
That one kills me. Wanting to be so close to someone you are them, feeling love and fear walk hand in hand through your body, that kills me.
The kindness I talked about, too, that you hear when Harry speaks, is present in his poetry. His book is sad, and feels like a battle flag being planted among horror and memory, but it’s also massively generous. To the people affected by that horror, to the people Harry used to be that visit him in dreams and memory, and to his lover. Again, he is obsessed with the summertime, and how happy they are in summertime. Deep consternation runs beneath the stillness imposed by COVID. I’m not going to reprint any more excerpts because it’ll reveal too much that you should read yourself.
You’ve got to read this book, if he releases it online or does another printed run. It’s so good. Harry says he may release another, new zine too.
“I had the intention of doing three as like a trilogy, but I kinda like that there’s just two, and it’s like a companion piece following each other as a train of thought so I don't know. We’ll see.”
It might take a while, though.
“I’ve been writing a lot of music, doing some musical projects, some punk, hardcore stuff again which is really cool. Not on the same creative level as poetry though. Poetry I really need to take my time with.”
Harry Huntington is a vocalist and writer living in Brighton, England. He published his second poetry zine, “A Mass Of Light” this year. His first, “Thorns In My Side” was published eighteen months prior.
He currently has seven poems in Sentimental Press’ Sentimental Annual, available here. He has four poems in Heartworm Press’ Heartworm Reader, Vol. 2, releasing soon and available here. He is the former vocalist of the band Up River. His Instagram handle, where he posts his writing, is @harryhuntington.
DAVID COPPIN LANEGAN
Davidis a musician, journalist, and writer living in rural Washington. You can find him on the corner shooting the breeze, getting home late, or happy in Frenchman’s Coulee
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