Mankh, also known as Walter E. Harris III, is an author and editor of seventeen books, approximately eighty essays, and numerous poems. Moreover, he is an essay contributor and the “resident poet” of a news website known as Axis of Logic, Mankh is the proud owner of Allbook Books which publishes poetry and offers self-publishing services. Mankh also frequently speaks at libraries and hosts classes on brush calligraphy, haiku, and more.

He is very inspired by nature, meditation, music, and friends. Mankh recently granted an exclusive interview where he spoke about his poems, teaching, and more.

Poetry, essays, and a publishing company

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in poetry and which styles do you most enjoy working in?

Mankh: The clearest memory is 5th grade, and around then at home, I used a blank journal to make a Book with a copyright sign, which has turned out to be prophetic as far as being a small press publisher. Yet am not sure what prompted the urge to write poetry, if anything, as it seems one of those inherent things that stay with me (thank Muse!) wherever I travel both outwardly and inwardly.

Several times in my life I have put poetry aside or didn’t have time for it, but it kept coming back so eventually I fully embraced it, basically disciplining myself to be receptive to and follow the Muse’s prompts, for it is not any specific form or poetry, or writing in general, itself that is most important to me but getting the messages out there and the passion to convey those messages or maybe simply images and feelings, sometimes humor.

If I just had pencil and paper I’d be at a street-corner or parking lot scribbling and handing out stuff, which might not be a bad idea nowadays for as wonderful as the Internet is, there is info overload. One time I gave my niece a homegrown tomato and wrote a little piece about how it took months to make this gift, watering it every day, plus the Sun and so forth, and gave it to her for her birthday and she thanked me right away, whereas previous years’ gifts did not get that quick a response.

So, whether in the Arts or the spontaneity of living outside the box of habitually programmed life, the things that touch us most may seem like going against the grain but they are actually going with the grain like a pattern in wood or how a stream flows around rocks.

MM: You also write essays, so which subjects most capture your interest?

Mankh: Typically, a topical issue yet with some research and historical background to put it in context or something in the news or world or personally that strikes me as an injustice or something overlooked or distorted. The so-called Fourth Estate is supposed to be the journalistic checkpoint on the government, but with corporate-funded mainstream media we have essentially the opposite, news as pre-approved scripts with sanctioned half-truths at best, or copy/pasted cyber-journalism... and b/c wars are fought, and people suffer based in part on that misinformation, I cannot sit idly by. I also try to address the normalization of atrocities. For example, there are thousands of children in Yemen who have died or are suffering from malnutrition, in part because of a Saudi led war partially with weapons bought from the US, yet it is children being put in cages in the US, equally atrocious, that has suddenly pushed peoples’ buttons.

Plus, in the US there’s a history of forced boarding schools, the goal of which was literally stated as, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” One time I sent a Native friend an article, and he responded so quickly that I joked that he had taken a speed reading class. Then he told me it was because of having been at one of those boarding schools where if he didn’t read the required reading, he didn’t get lunch. I apologized for the joke. So, it is that kind of under the radar trauma that spurs much of my writings. Also, what flavors my essays ‘locally’ is looking at events with respect for the Native Peoples of Turtle Island, as they are the Original Peoples of this land for thousands and thousands of years before the USA at a mere 242.

MM: You started your own publishing company, so what was that process like?

Mankh: A learning curve and it continues to be so, ever-refining. If not for writing and publishing, much of the technology would be out of my league but because of having a cause, an impetus to get my and other writers’ works out there, I have learned the technical skills needed to produce books, and then some.

Ironically, when starting, I wanted my writing to get noticed, but more of what happened – because they liked what they saw – people started asking me for help with their books, which was a blessing in disguise because it has helped keep me from being fixated on my writings, and it’s improved my editing skills which if you think about it is a long-lasting skill because no matter how slick the gadgets and how fast you can upload what you write or copy/paste and call it research, good writing requires good editing.

One of my first books had so many graphics because I do brush calligraphy of ancient Chinese pictographs, and because it would have been too much to explain to someone how I wanted to do the layout, I learned it by myself, while also looking to see how other books are done and am still doing that. Plus, it’s rewarding working mostly one-on-one with people and helping them materialize their often very personal work.

MM: You have stated that your family—especially one of your uncles—was a huge influence on you creatively, why was that?

Mankh: As for my Uncle Alan (where my small press name Allbook Books comes from), not really creatively but traditionally and practically, tradition being, he as a book lover with a large bookcase and practical because when he passed away and left me a little bit of money, I decided to use that to kickstart the publishing.

As far as family, my mom is another book lover with bookcases, and her and Alan’s mom, my grandmother, guess what. Also, as a kid and teenager I would watch a TV interview and comedy/entertainment shows, especially with my dad, plus going to jazz concerts (which am convinced instilled in me a sense of poetic rhythm), and another uncle worked for The Ed Sullivan Show, so all that plus an exposure to literature during school are some of the creative roots. Yet it wasn’t until getting in touch with a bigger sense of life-purpose that all those roots branched out the way they have. Am not much of an art for art’s sake kinda artist. While I do enjoy the artsy process, a sense of purpose is more the driving force.

MM: What prompted you to adopt the professional name of “Mankh”?

Mankh: It is not specifically a professional name. It is an actual name – a spiritual-path name other than my birth name – that I took on a while ago at a certain point in my life when the change was needed. Because of being an artist, many people think it’s a stage name.

Classes, speeches, and wellness

MM: What are your classes and speeches about and what is most rewarding about interacting with students?

Mankh: I tend not to think of the people who attend as students rather peers who simply don’t know as much about the topic or they may know some things about the topic that I don’t! And that’s one of the things that makes it rewarding.

I try to make the classes more like a workshop or discussion group so that the class experience can take on a life of its own and not just be my spouting of info. Essentially, I try to get out of the way and let it happen while balancing that with conveying specific points, ideas, techniques, what have you.

The classes are literary, with titles such as, “Writing Tools for Discovering Your Voices and Unlocking Creativity,” “Haiku: Being in the Moment: Flowing with the Seasons” or “The Meditative Hobby of Brushstroke Calligraphy.” Others reflect a combo of personal life experience and somewhat esoteric awareness, “Self-Identity and The Art of Tantra” and “Finding Balance: Eastern Serenity Meets Western Activity” or “The States We’re In: What’s In A Place Name?”

This one is a lecture based on research and poems about how over half the US state names come from Native words or names, and where the others come from, and what that signifies.

More detailed explanations are on my website under “workshops.” The most rewarding thing in a class or from talk is when someone gets enthused about the craft or topic.

MM: You are also very interested in mysticism and wellness, so how did you find yourself on those paths?

Mankh: That’s a life journey question too big for this interview but suffice it to say that after college, 1981, I decidedly did not want to go the 9 to 5 route so I wandered about working odd-jobs mostly in food service and exploring interests such as stand-up comedy and self-awareness workshops which led to meeting my first spiritual teacher and a community of people, and that was my initiation into the worlds of mysticism and holistic health, and it gave me an anchor for staying off the mainstream beaten path, pardon the mixed metaphor.

MM: Are you currently working on anything or planning any fun forthcoming poetry and/or art-related events?

Mankh: The next book is typically the proverbial big carrot. It’s book three of what looks to be a four-book series called “The Musing Series,” and this one is about the history of how books came to be and how they’ve affected our consciousness both for worse and better, plus about how books can be guides yet life must be experienced in relation with other beings.