‘When I was a kid I wanted to be an ice cream man’ | An Interview with Harvey Humphrey

For some poetry is a refuge; for others it is a continuous process of decoding hidden meanings and for others something that they simply cannot understand. As a person who appreciates poetry but cannot write a poem to save my life, it has always been exciting to meet people who possess the admirable talent of communicating thoughts, feelings, ideas in a condensed but at the same time so revealing way. The poems below are relatable, enlightening, optimistic and a bit melancholic and as for Harvey, their creator… Read the interview below and find out for yourselves!

  • How did you start writing poems? Where do you draw your inspirations from? 

    I write poems when I get a bit stuck. I used to write poems years ago and kind of lost it. But with the pandemic and lockdown it became a way to feel better about the world. I get my inspiration from the everyday. I have more than one poem about a supermarket. I have a lot of poems inspired by Zoom calls. I also just write a lot from my own experiences. Many of my poems are about being queer, trans and disabled and all the complexities and joys that come from being in the world with a body.
  • Should we read your poems with a background music? If yes, what is your ideal song? 

    I spent ages thinking about this then I realised I was just trying to make myself seem cool with my taste in music. So, no but maybe with background sound like on the bus or in a coffee shop. Like everyday places with people which links to my kind of just writing about life approach.
  • Your poems describe your personal journey through the modern academia. How would you describe this complex environment to an outside person and what do you think needs to change (if anything)? 

    Everything! There is so much of modern academia that requires us to work for free; to bounce about from job to job with no stability; to find ourselves in precarious employment for the promise of a maybe next time permanent post. It excludes so many of us and limits what’s possible not just for ourselves but what we can bring to teaching and the ways our research can contribute to a better world. For those of you unfamiliar, there are ongoing strikes due to these issues of pay gaps, precarity and pension cuts but these issues have been there for years. Universities can absolutely afford better working environments and better learning environments for staff and students. And we owe it to ourselves and each other to be part of a fight for a better higher education for everyone.
  • What profession would you choose if you weren’t an academic? Why?

    When I was a kid I wanted to be an ice cream man. I think I just wanted to eat ice cream all day and drive somewhere new when I was bored. I may have misunderstood the job. But now I think something where I felt like I was making the world a better place or got to play with words. Preferably both.
  • What would you say that the world needs to hear and talk about more these days? 

    The rising inequalities in our societies. How we make things better. Maybe we need more action but we totally need more words too. More empathy. More understanding. More time for each other.
  • What is the best way to spend the weekend? 

    With ice cream and coffee and walks with friends and reading fiction and riding along on my little kick scooter with the wind in my quiff.
  • What have we not asked you that you might want to add?

    The poems featured here are sort of about my semi-academic life. A lot of my other work is about kind of just being in the world. Or more accurately being myself in the world. Being out as trans, queer and disabled. I guess I just want to add, for me, I’m trying to bring poetry into my academic life as a way to bring my self into academia a bit more. It can be hard to feel welcome in higher education in the UK just now due to rising transphobia (everywhere but I’m feeling it in academia). It can be hard to make space for yourself as an out queer disabled person when there are so many competing issues: where’s the next job; how do you know if you’re going to be wanted or supported there; will it even be safe on campus as protections for the vulnerable seem to be disappearing around us. Poetry cannot solve any of these problems but it makes it feel a bit more bearable. Makes it a bit easier to just be.

Thanks Harvey!

Read Harvey’s poems below!

Virtual Office

we meet in our separate rooms
coming together on the screens
once new now familiar faces
community through virtual means

talking through what we plan to do
writing separately together
less isolated, we gather
alone together relieves the pressure

we are just as precarious
but we are not competitive
we want us all to get jobs, funding, papers,
academic success is relative

and us we’re all sitting up
just four faces on a screen
in relation to each other
connections to feel seen

Some Days

some days I feel like a failure
struggling to fit in disciplinary intersections
some days I feel like a failure
wake up, check your email: article rejections
some days I feel like a failure

half listening to a zoom call about leadership
some days I feel like a failure
left wondering about some postdoc’s ego trip
some days I feel like a failure

I should be cultivating relationships
some days I feel like a failure
support for fellowship applications are dismissed
some days I feel like a failure
all I’m cultivating is my to-do-list
some days I feel like a failure
planning in person events I don’t know I’m ready for
some days I feel like a failure
applying for jobs I won’t get feels like a chore
some days I feel like a failure
but I ran an event with a friend
and it felt like something more
queering academic outputs with creative writing
it felt like community with those who attended
queering linear careers with lego felt exciting
it felt like we could all be something more

For a moment it felt like I belong here

Follow Harvey

Photo: Calligram by Guillaume Apollinaire
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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