National Poetry Month Celebration
Bio: Henry Mills is a poet and a musician. He has developed three multi-disciplinary performances: Helicopters and Vultures, a poetic exploration of his Salvadoran-Jewish heritage, Waterline, a homegoing for pre-Katrina New Orleans and Underwater Poems, a monument of sound erected in the wake of a friend’s suicide.
In 2007, while living at the Jiménez-Porter Writer’s House, Henry founded Terpoets, University Maryland’s student-led poetry organization where he hosted and performed alongside some of his favorite poets including Rachel McKibbens, Remi Kanazi and the Poemcees.
For the past six years Henry has worked with middle school students throughout the DC metro area helping them hone their voices, both on and off the page.
He has been featured at music and poetry festivals including Different Kind of Dude Fest (benefit for HIPS – a nonprofit helping individual prostitutes survive), Positive Youth Fest (a celebration of youth culture in the DC area benefit the DC Rape Crisis Center) and Split this Rock (a four day poetry festival where he performed with internationally acclaimed poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, for an audience of five and six year-olds.)
Henry considers his most notable performance to be opening for revolutionary Latin-American folk group, Los Guaraguao, on their debut tour of the U.S. where he performed his bilingual poetry in English and Spanish to packed crowds of guanaco/as.
Henry’s poems have appeared in, Stylus, Folio and Time You Let Us In.
Where do you draw your inspiration from to write poetry?
For me the act of engaging with language is a way of reaffirming that life is worth living. In fact, in a world where I see no inherent meaning, writing is the practice of living. I picture a bottomless well. A void. Something about that void is what makes the universe lonely and beautiful. It is from that void that poetry springs forth. But I want to do more than just peer down the well, I want to rebel. Discovering and at the same time inventing my own existence.
When I transcend my life, I try to see it in the context of my family history.
My mother was a refugee from El Salvador during the U.S. sponsored civil war. The blood from that side of the family has found its way to my heart despite the genocide of El Salvador's indigenous and centuries of brutal feudalism. My father is an atheist-Jewish-American philosopher who grew up fighting racist bullies in New York. His ancestors where eradicated in Poland during the holocaust. Family is only one starting point for my poetry. The void can be seen in everything. Inspiration can come from anywhere.
What advice do you have for someone that is threatened by poetry?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was during my end of the year, one on one conference with Michael Collier at the University of Maryland where I was just beginning my undergrad. I was bracing myself for some grandiose revelation that would blow my mind. Instead what he told me was essentially to read. Read voraciously. Find a library with a lush poetry section and start digging. Grab a book, flip it open. Find poets that speak to you and queue a stack of books. Not every poet will connect with you. Some of them you'll grow out of and some of them you'll grow into. What is important is to expose yourself to different traditions and digest the ways in which they use language. When you return to the page, your writing will be fortified by your exposure to these other styles. Your voice will begin to grow.
What is an interesting fact about you?
I was a breech birth. People at the hospital called me Baryshnikov.
Where are you from / Where do you live?
Currently I live in DC and work at Higher Achievement, a rigorous, year-round academic enrichment program for middle school scholars. Last summer I got to work with 5th graders and man! Their imagination is unbridled! We put together a show for the end of summer with live music and poetry. It ended in a mosh pit. Looked like a music video. No one was hurt.
Who is your favorite poet?
It is hard to name just one! Can I quickly ramble about a few of my favorites?
Nick Flynn's book, Some Ether. This book haunts me. Sherry Fairchok's The Palace of Ashes. Anything by Li-Young Lee. Coleman Barks' translations of Rumi and Richard Siken's Crush.
Big thank you to Neville Adams from Lyrical Storm for nominating me. He was the first person I taught a poetry class with so it means a lot that he would think to nominate me as your feature.
If I were to have my own personal nominee for poetry month I would nominate Zein el-Amine. His poetry speaks truth to power and manages to be beautiful and optimistic without losing your trust. Here is a website I designed for him: http://zeinelamine.wordpress.com/
I'd also like to shout out the Poemees, Bernard Dolan and the Solillaquists of Sound. Three artists who I consider to be at the frontier of innovating hip-hop music.
Send me a message for almost any reason!