Will Harris

Poetry - Shortlisted 2019

London-based poet Will Harris started writing poetry in his mid-teens. At the time, his biggest literary influences were writers like W. H. Auden and Wallace Stevens, both firmly embedded in the Western poetic tradition. This early work felt insubstantial and lacking, though, something he later identified with its failure to address his maternal Chinese Indonesian heritage and race more generally.
Harris speaks of his sense of ‘multiple affinities’. The child of a first-generation immigrant, he feels just as at home and estranged in England where he was born, as he does in Indonesia, where his mother was born. His work attempts to honour these feelings of incompleteness and ‘familiar estrangement’.
In 2017, Harris published a pamphlet of poems called All this is implied (HappenStance Press). Coming across a fleeting reference to a mixed-race chauffeur called Mr. Harris in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India – a tragicomic character “vexed by opposite currents in his blood” – Harris wanted to write ‘into and against’ the English literary tradition. Various poems address the shades of Langland, Herbert, Wordsworth and Keats from the perspective of a person of colour.
This year, Harris was commissioned to write about otherness in the work of Emily Brontë for her bicentenary celebrations. Interested by the underlying threat of degradation in Wuthering Heights, where whiteness seems to function as a moral ideal, he produced a sequence of poems called The white jumper. Drawing on his dreams and those of others, the sequence reflects broadly on ‘purity’, ‘fallenness’ and ‘death’.’