‘Poetry can help change society,’ says writer, 94

Poet whose ‘incredible’ recital left audience members ‘in tears’ on the lookout for a publisher

Friday, 3rd June — By

Eula Harrison

Eula Harrison: ‘I write in bed – my bed linen has pen marks’

BORN in 1928, Eula ­Harrison is living proof to all aspiring poets that it is never too late to pick up the pen.

Ms Harrison, 94, has been writing poetry since she retired, aged 65. A long-term member of The Peel Institute in Clerkenwell, she recently found an editor through the service and is now seeking a publisher to print her work.

“I do believe poetry can help change society,” she said. Writing about everything from nature to domestic abuse, Ms Harrison thinks poetry can help change the world.

She believes poems should be simple, so everyone can enjoy them. “I don’t like to write poems that are too long. At school, my teacher told us: ‘Whenever you write, always write so everyone can understand. People shouldn’t have to use a dictionary’,” she said. “A child should be able to understand [my poetry].”

Ms Harrison grew up in St Andrew, Jamaica. Her poetic sensibility was sparked by a teacher who “really loved poetry,” she said. “Nearly every school day, she would sit on the table and read poetry to us. I used to love the sound very much.”

After her grandfather’s death, she discovered a book of poems by the black American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who wrote verse in “down south dialect”.

Ms Harrison said: “The whole book was completely tattered. I always wondered where my grandfather got a book like that.”

It was the first book of poetry she read.

In the intervening years she took a job in an office, moved to England in 1956 and had children. “I didn’t actually start writing poetry until after I retired,” she said.

She joined a writing group for retirees, led by a published poet, and started to keep a notepad by her bed. “Any thought that come, write it down,” she said. “I write in bed – my bed linen has pen marks.

“I just love the sound – anything triggers me. Something will just come and I’ll scribble a few lines. Some of them I never go back to. Some I try to develop.”

She finds herself returning to nature and themes of childhood. “I was brought up in the countryside, not in town,” she said.

Ms Harrison finds poetry keeps her mind sharp. “I do believe it keeps me sharp because of my age,” she said.

“A lot of people say: how do you go about doing these things and keep active?

“I don’t want to sit down – I want to keep going as long as I possibly can. I think it’s important especially to keep working.

“If you lose your mind, everything’s gone, be­cause you won’t be able to properly focus. So I think it’s good to keep your mind active.”

Olu Alake, manager at The Peel Institute, first heard Ms Harrison’s poetry after a recital left other members of the social club “in tears”.

Mr Alake said of her work: “It was incredible.”

Since then, he has helped Ms Harrison find an editor for her work, and together they are seeking a publisher for her poetry collection.

“It just shows that you can discover your passion at any point in life,” Mr Alake added.

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