Tag: James E Harper

James E. Harper: 2 (Lyrics of the Month: April 2015)

“A story has got to have a beginning, a middle, and an end,” James told me over the phone from his care home in his small city in Arkansas. “That’s it. I don’t care if it’s a song, a novel, or just a story you’re telling your friend.” He coached me even though we’d essentially known each other for three minutes.

I met James E. Harper (a.k.a. Poet) nearly four years ago with a friend in downtown San Francisco. James was introducing himself to people on the street, selling his book of poems, three or four roughly photocopied pieces of gold-coloured paper, so he could afford to grab a meal or some hygiene products for his wife. He mentioned that more of his work was available if you searched his name on the internet. In doing so, I couldn’t find any writings, so I transcribed what he sold me and posted it here. He deserves credit for his work. His poems are powerful and real. Read them.

As simple as it sounds, this is the writing advice I’ve needed for months, years perhaps. James’ advice, to simplify and be natural, speaks to why I find his writing to be worth noting. Honesty. No bullshit. I spend hours at the Bernal Heights Library, staring into the eyes of Antonio Banderas encouraging me to read, while I try to sort out the several dozen metaphors I have choking every story. When really, all the story needs is a beginning, middle, and end. I am mid-read of Crash Landing on Iduna by Arthur Tofte, a sci-fi paperback I found in a Wyoming truckstop for $2.99 with incredible cover art. In contrast to my overcomplicated way of thinking, it is the perfect example of oversimplified writing. Now to find the middle.

Comments have been posted regularly to James’ poems on Balls of Rice over the past three years by people who also stopped to chat with James and searched his name upon arriving home. A comment arrived in February stating that James now lived in a care home, and included a contact number.

“When you write something, you want to strike the chord. There’s a tuning fork in all of us, and you want it to feel like you’ve hit that,” he said. “If you haven’t lived it, you can’t write it.”

I told him that I am a writer and that I was in San Francisco to finish a few stories, which were giving me some trouble. “It sounds like you are forcing it. You heard of that song, If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It? Well, that’s just it.”

I hadn’t heard of the song. Now it is in my head when I need it most.

Just waiting to hear the end of the story.

If it don’t fit, don’t force it
If it don’t fit, nah, don’t force it
If it don’t fit, don’t force it
Just relax and let it go
Just ’cause that’s how you want it
Doesn’t mean it will be so

I’m givin’ up, I’m leavin’
Yes, I’m ready to be free
The thrill is gone, I’m movin on
‘Cause you’ve stopped pleasin’ me

I can’t stand bein’ handled
I’ve exhausted each excuse
I’ve even stooped to fakin’ it
But tell me what’s the use

You’re tryin’ hard to shame me
‘Cause you wanna make me stay
But all it does is bring to mind
What Mama used to say

I know there’ll be no changin’
We’ve been through all that before
I’m all worn out from talkin’
And now I’m a-headin’ for the door

C’mon stop your complainin’
Someone else will come along
You can start your life all over
Sing her your brand new song

You’re tryin’ hard to shame me
‘Cause you wanna make me stay
But all it does is bring to mind
What Mama used to say

-Kellee Patterson, Turn On The Lights/Be Happy, If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It

James E. Harper

Union Square, San Francisco is characterized by elegantly well-lit buildings topped with brightly coloured advertisements that tower over the large concrete plaza below. Last night, while taking in the wet ocean air that was breathing through Union Square, a friend and I met a man named James E. Harper who was selling a small book of photocopied poems that he had written. He sold his book of poems, which he described as more like songs, that he had written about his experiences at war in Vietnam. He sold the photocopy for five dollars so that he and his wife could survive in the alleyway they lived in nearby. With the large monument lit up behind him, he humbly told us that if we google his name (he was certain to tell us that his name was James E. Harper, and not James F. Harper as it said on the copy of his booklet, likely caused by repeated photocopying) and the title of his collection, that we would find more of his works online. After a search on Google, I was not able to find any of his complete works posted online, only a small forum of other people’s interactions with him through another blog. Not everyone has the luxury of a free website to post their words, so I figured I could at least give him that. I tried to keep his poems as true as I could to the copy I was given, with emphasis, capitalization, punctuation and phrasing, but where the photocopy was difficult to read, I used my best judgement.
Here are the three poems that I received.

Vietnam, Is My Test-A-Ment
by James E. Harper

I was taken from home
And trained to kill
Another human being
Against my will
He fought real hard
To protect himself, and his land,
But I had no choice but to survive
And now I live with blood on my hands.
“Vietnam, is my test-a-ment” 

I always had to be aware of where
I’d place my next step
Or I could find myself down
In panic, screaming, Medic Help!!!
A lot of good and brave young boys
Are now dead, and gone, Please someone
Tell me why, because we made it back
To America, but not back home.
“Vietnam, is my test-a-ment” 

We were always smoking weed
And staying high
Because it helped our young minds
to get by.
Yes Vietnam is my test-a-ment for the
Way I live my life, so for all the fellows
That didn’t make it, I have no further
Respect for the Stars / and Stripes. Because
“Vietnam, is my test-a-ment” 

The President
James E. Harper

If I was the President
I’d give everybody a ride on Air Force One,
I’d let you see all parts of the world
We’d have a whole lot of fun

If I was the President
All of the little children
Would have a home, and plenty of food to eat,
Plus, everybody would say hello – and how are you
To everyone they meet.

If I was the President
They would elect me on Friday,
Assasinate me on a Saturday,
Bury me on a Sunday,
And everyone would take their asses
back to work on Monday.

If I
Was the President

“Look Into My Eyes”
James E. Harper

Look into my eyes
And see what life has made of me,
And see that my soul is not bound, but free

“Look into my eyes”
To know that my seed have not been fruitful
And see that my spirit is not that of untruthfulness
And realize that the hurt, and pain that my heart
Has been subjected to.

“Look into my eyes”
And for a moment know all the passionate things
I want to do to you,
Or to know the love I have to give, But no one
Yet has been worthy

Look into my eyes
To know that many of my thoughts have not
Been pure, but dirty
Or to see the old man wishing for
Much younger days.

Look into my eyes – Feel free my friend go ahead
Dare to gaze
Into my eyes.