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Poet Tom Healy reads at Prairie Lights

BY MARISA WAY | APRIL 13, 2010 7:30 AM

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No one — not even his right hand — could have possibly predicted what the poetry world would have in store for Tom Healy.

The former art dealer turned poet will read from his collection What the Right Hand Knows today at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. This book, Healy’s first, has been nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Lambda Literary Award.

Healy, who has only been writing poetry for the last year, said the poems cover a variety of experiences in his life. Despite this range, he said, one characteristic unites them into a singular collection.

“It fits together by a sense of reflection,” the 48-year-old said. “It’s a lifelong look through [the process of] looking backwards at a number of things I’ve done. It’s very much a book of little parts of my life.”

Perhaps it’s this reflection that gives his poems their overall tone.

“I think that his poems are haunting, and they’re immediate,” said Jan Weissmiller, a co-owner of and poetry buyer for Prairie Lights.

This haunting quality can even be found in the poetry collection’s title. What the Right Hand Knows refers to Healy discovering as a child that he was deaf in his right ear.

“It’s partly about the discovery, because it was actually putting my hands to my ears that made me learn I was deaf,” he said. “It’s also about the sense of secrecy that we have and the sense of self-discovery.”

Reading with Healy will be longtime friend and fellow writer Honor Moore. She is a visiting professor in the University of Iowa English department, and she will read selections of her poems and essays. She arranged the reading at Prairie Lights prior to Healy’s nominations.

The stanzas seemed to align from the pair’s very first meeting. They were introduced by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Richard Howard.

“[Tom Healy] and Honor Moore will complement each other,” Weissmiller said. “They’re alike in their clarity.”

Prairie Lights is “extremely excited” about hosting the reading, she said.

For Healy, the joint reading encompasses not only his long-standing friendship with Moore but also their relationship as writers.

“Honor was probably the closest reader of my book when it was taking shape,” he said. “She was a really terrific critic and friend. I don’t think the book would be the same without Honor’s friendship. She’s emotionally in the book.”

He said his shift in orbit from one artistic medium to another took place when the visual art world was moving into a “finance-based exuberance.” After selling his art gallery, he enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Columbia University. In graduate school, he focused on studying other poets and their works. After he graduated, it took approximately two years for What the Right Hand Knows to come together.

Despite his new endeavors in poetry, Healy has not forgotten his roots in the visual arts.

“It’s interesting to me, though, the many ways in which the literary and visual art worlds overlap,” he said. “I think there’s an interesting sort of circle around the influences and interests of one art form to another. I like to be breaking in and out of that circle.”



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