Getting to Know Harry Ricketts

April 30th 2020

Harry Ricketts, author, poet, academic and Vic Books regular, chatted with us online - in between navigating "the unstable backwaters of Zoomland". He talks to us about sitcoms and acting, Bob Dylan and Jane Austen and how he loves a literary happy ending. 

What’s your day job?

Professor in the English Programme at Vic.

What's your connection to Vic Books?

I come here two or three times daily for infusions of extra hot flat white in my green Fire-King mug and to sit and think. I also find it a good place to meet students, colleagues and friends.

Why do you like having student meetings at Vic Books?

Very good coffee, friendly, non-threatening atmosphere, a place with books, but not a staff member's office.

You’re a well known face around Vic Books, does it feel a bit like Cheers for you? Where everyone knows your name?

It does feel like that a bit, though I'm not sure quite which character I'd like the Vic staff to think I resemble! A university bookshop would be a good scenario for a soap opera; someone should write it. 

Tell us a little about your latest publication.

Winter Eyes (VUP, 2018) is my eleventh poetry collection. It contains poems in a wide range of forms about here and elsewhere, children and friends, love and death, break-ups and fuck-ups, memory and loss. Quite a number of the poems were started and/or finished in Vic Books.

You have taught various courses for the International Institute of Modern Letters. Who are some of the notable people you have seen come and go during your time there?

I have mostly taught CREW 257, a creative non-fiction paper. Undoubtedly the biggest star I've been lucky enough to teach on that course is essayist and poet Ashleigh Young, though there have been many other bright presences like Maggie Barry, Alison Benge, Paul Diamond and Megan Dunn. The most notable IIML postgraduates I've supervised are Airini Beautrais, Stephanie de Montalk, Therese Lloyd and Lawrence Patchett - all fantastic writers. Luminaries I have seen shining at a distance include Tusiata Avia, Hera Lindsay Bird and Eleanor Catton, all scarily talented.

You have been at the university for nearly 40 years, how has the university changed? 

The main physical change on campus for me has been the creation of the Hub which includes Vic Books. This area was previously a wind-picked space where students shivered and played hacky sack. There have been a few other major shifts. When I started, Vic was mostly a teaching institution (with a fair number of mature students). Now research is, rightly, as or more important. At the same time, academics now have to do exponentially more admin, which gnaws away at both teaching and research. This year, of course, due to coronavirus, there has been the shift to distance teaching - a seismic (and I hope temporary) change.

Ashlee, our Communications Manager, as an English major, had the delight of watching you act in “The Real Inspector Hound” for one of your classes. Do you enjoy performing for your students? What is your favourite theatrical character to play?

That's very kind. I certainly enjoy playing the pretentious, envious, second-string theatre critic Moon in Hound for ENGL114. I'm not really a very good actor, but I've always enjoyed the camaraderie of being in plays. I think I'm better at really nasty characters like Bert in Pinter's The Room, which I played many years ago and somehow knew I'd nailed.

If you could develop and teach a course on any subject, what would you choose and why?

Tricky. I like all the courses I currently teach: popular literature, modern poetry, children's literature, Victorian literature, creative non-fiction. I guess a new course I should ideally like to develop and teach would be a creative writing course that combined short fiction, poetry and non-fiction. Or a course on song lyrics (Bob Dylan to Nadir Reid) and their relationship to poetry.

What are the advantages and challenges of online learning and teaching?

I'm still learning about the advantages. The main challenge for me at the moment is navigating the unstable backwaters of Zoomland.

What are you reading at the moment?

Horace and Me by Harry Eyres

Are you enjoying it? Why?

It's about someone slowly and fumblingly finding themselves as a writer, sympathetic terrain. It's part-memoir, part-meditation on Horace, a poet I increasingly admire (if only in translation).

Which literary character do you most identify with and why?

Anne Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion. She gets a second chance at happiness.

Hardback or Paperback?

Paperback

Best thing about working from home?

Lack of interruption. You have less traffic in your head.

Hardest part about working from home?

Getting to the desk by 9am and staying there.

Black or white coffee? Milk?

Extra hot flat white.