Many years ago, I was a writer for a writer. Harry Barba was an American author born in Connecticut in 1922, and had quite a distinguished career. He had a master’s from Harvard and multiple postgraduate degrees. He was an English professor, a visiting lecturer, a developer of writers’ conferences, a consultant to publishing houses and a founder of his own.
By the time I met him in 2004, he was of ill health, confined to an oxygen tank in his home, and cared for by his lovely wife, Marian. He was looking for a writer who could produce reviews of his novels, and I became that writer. When I would visit, he would sit in his room surrounded by mounds of yellow legal pads with writing scribbled all over them. I would ask questions, he would write his responses on a yellow pad, and I would take them home with me, consulting his thoughts as I reviewed his books.
During our time together, I produced several reviews and perhaps I will post one or two here. But first, here’s a little poem in his memory.
Endless pads of paper
“One world diverse and harmonious,”
Reads the pen that Harry Barba gave me
In Harry and Marian’s house, so cluttered
With stacks of envelopes, manuscripts and paintings.
A long blue tube full of oxygen, I presume,
Stretches down the stairs to a machine,
Like those also abound in the upstairs room,
where Harry sits with Kleenex and endless yellow pads
He flashes a wide smile upon my entrance,
As if I had come from a world he used to love,
But could no longer take part in.
Maybe he looked at me vicariously,
Maybe he was just happy to see me,
Someone interested in fiction.
Once, Harry rode through Turkey on a dollar a day.
He was with a man from the Netherlands,
A man very particular with his money,
Counting every cent though it cost little to travel.
The Turkish guide called him a “thrifty Dutchman,”
And Harry called him a “nice guy.”
He lived in a bazaar in Syria, was close with the people,
Had a wife who was at home in the Netherlands, having a baby.
Like “Bruce, the Remembrance of Things Past,”
Homeric epithets have come naturally to Harry.
Maybe it’s because of his asthmatic background, he says.
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.