The Bookseller – Author Interviews – Olivia Harrison

Olivia Harrison’s poetry collection Came the Lightening (Genesis, 21st June 2022) is an autobiography in poems and a homage to George Harrison, the former Beatle and her husband of 23 years, and their life together. Harrison’s poetry centers herself and George within the natural world, cutting through the legend of the musician to an intimate portrait of George as a father and husband. Harrison and I spoke over Zoom about her writing process, inspiration and self-discovery from her.

How did this poetry collection come about? Why did you choose to write a poetic autobiography?

I didn’t seem to have a choice creatively. I have a lot of stories to tell, but I never wanted to write an autobiography. There have been too many people all around me and it just seemed redundant. I had a friend who said to me “You should write some of these stories”, and I said, “I need some ideas”. I happened to be in Greece at the time and he said, “just jump in the water and whatever comes into your head, the first thought, that’s your start”. I dove in with intention and something came to my head that had happened 40 years ago and then I just started writing about it, but somehow it just came out in that form. I’m as surprised as anyone.

Why did you choose an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Fire” to preface the collection?

I love Pablo Neruda – “An Ode to Fire” – I read that and I thought “Where are you? Where have you gone?”. To distil your feelings and your years together into these poems, it’s intense. It’s really intense. I’ve never considered myself a poet. I’m not. I can’t say I am. I found this form, or it found me, and through it I was able to really tell the most personal feelings and my personal observations of myself as well as George. I found myself on these pages too. As much as I found George, I really found myself on these pages.

Your poem “Heroic Couple” deals with the invasion of your home and the assault on George. How did this affect your life?

After “Heroic Couple” the collection gets intense and that’s really how it went in life. that [break-in] happened to us in 2000 on New Year’s Eve, and George died in 2001. Things went fast after that and so that poem changed the tone of the book, because it changed the tone of our lives too. It shattered not only the glass, but our sense of security – anything you thought about your life, or the world, just shattered like a window. I thought there would be time to enjoy our journey [as a family] and then time to recover from it. But you don’t ever recover from it, and I think that’s just how it goes.

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