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Nathan Harms, Founder of Utmost
Alberta, Canada

Nathan Harms: Christian Poet 1

Nathan Harms writes:

At age 12 I wrote my first spontaneous poem—and it was a turning point. I began to write for the satisfaction of expression, and most of what I wrote was poetry. By the time I was 15 I called myself a poet. I was identified as a poet by classmates and I had a large body of work. I won my high school graduating class award for creative writing, for a collection of poetry titled "Pictures of Silver."

Eclectic Influences

One of my first influences was the Canadian poet/song writer, Leonard Cohen, a secular, almost profane choice for a Christian like myself. I think I was drawn to his bohemian appearance and a "voice" which combined spiritual and secular images uniquely.

As a teen, I loved to hear people say that I was eccentric. I was intensely lonely with few friends. If I couldn't be popular, I could be eccentric. It was my identity. Poetry and I became "best friends," and I worked seriously at writing and rewriting poems into notebooks and binders that I carried everywhere.

Replacing poetry with career

At barely 19 years of age I married and settled down to raise a family. Poetry quickly faded from my thoughts as I apprenticed into the trade of painting and decorating I still practice today.

I founded a business, built a house and focused on raising my two children. I was extremely active in church, hosting prayer meetings in my home, teaching Sunday School, leading worship services at church, serving as a deacon, etc. There was no time in my life for poetry.

Hello poetry, my old friend

In 1985, my pastor asked me to help edit the church newsletter, and this opened a door to writing I had neglected for 13 years. I joined a group of Christian writers and began to sell articles and stories. Between 1986 and 1992 I sold items to dozens of publications, and had two short stories produced for radio broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1993 I had over 50 sales.

With the door open to writing, poetry called to me again. This time I did not work alone. A friend from my writing group, Barbara Mitchell, gave me serious and constructive critique which improved my poetry immensely. Poetry was not an eccentricity anymore—it was communication with spiritual power. In 1992 I sold my first poem. I still recall my trembling fingers as I opened the acceptance envelope, and pulled out a check for $25.

Poetry today

Today, poetry is the literary star around which my life orbits. As the founder of Utmost Christian Writers Foundation, I delight in supporting and encouraging Christian poets. My function as Executive Director of Utmost Christian Writers Foundation keeps me fully immersed in poetry. Poetry is constantly within me, and even on days when I do not write, the spirit of poetry and the knowledge of God's blessing on my life combine to make my life a poem.

A Poet's Places

Nathan Harms: Christian Poet 2

One of my favorite places is on my motorbike, a restored 1984 Honda V65. In this photo I'm taking my mother-in-law, Doris, for the very first motorcycle ride of her life.

Riding my motorbike is a meditative place for me. On a long ride I often reflect on important life issues…and on poetry, of course.


Another favorite place is my back yard where Kristin, Sydney and I keep a beautiful flower garden. The year this photo was taken we won our city's first prize for "Pocket Gardens." Although the yard is only 20 feet by 20 feet we have 7 window boxes, a deck, a waterfall with a stream and up to 60 potted annuals. It's really a quiet place to relax…when we're not tending flowers!

Nathan Harms: Christian Poet 3

Nathan Harms: Christian Poet 4 A very special place to be is with my family. Here I am, teaching my granddaughter, Alison, how to use the computer. Because she lives 5 hours away I don't get to be in this place as often as I wish.

An Interview with Nathan Harms

Interviewer: What led you to found Utmost Christian Writers Foundation (UCWF) and sponsor the Utmost Christian Poetry Contest?
Nathan: The contest came first; it was then called "The Odes of March." I wanted to offer generous cash prizes to Christian poets who excelled at their craft. That was March of 2001. In 2002 Barbara Mitchell and I organized the first Gathering of Christian Poets. With that success, a non-profit association seemed to be the next move, as it gathered our activities and contest under one name.

Interviewer: Do you encounter any particular challenges as Executive Director of Utmost?
Nathan: The biggest challenge is finding the time to keep up with the administration of the web site and the various contests. I receive dozens of emails each week regarding Utmost. Many are poetry submissions which need to be thoughtfully evaluated. The other challenge is financial—as it is for many non-profit organizations.

Interviewer: Are there rewards for you as well as challenges?
Nathan: Of course! It's rewarding to receive an email that says our organization has encouraged or helped a poet. I've also had the joy of seeing several Christian poets develop "right before my eyes" into powerful writers. Recently I exchanged correspondence with a Christian lady who had submitted a poem for possible publication at Utmost. I told her the poem was good, but I felt it needed more work to be publishable. I was able to tell her exactly what I felt the weaknesses were. Her rewrite of the poem, submitted a few days later was powerful and moving. When I read it—knowing the poet had been motivated by my suggestions—I felt the assurance that I am being used by God in my position as an encourager of Christian poets. I can't imagine a better feeling. It's a joyous feeling to know you're working in an area where God can use you.

Interviewer: Do you often work with individual poets—such as this lady—helping them improve or polish their work?
Nathan: No. Although it's probably the most rewarding thing I do, it takes so much time that I have to restrict myself to poets and poems that are already very promising. I would love to be able to sit down with many more poets, discuss their work, and help them see how much better their work could be. I feel this is my gift.

Interviewer: In your brief biography (above) I noticed a reference to a painting and decorating business.
Nathan: Yes, poets rarely make a liveable income from their writing. I work at a regular job just like most people. Aside from operating a decorating business for the past 30 years, I publish books for writers, especially poets. I have a very busy and satisfying life. In between all this work I find time to enjoy many good times with my wife Kristin and our dog Sydney.

Interviewer: Does your "everyday job" have any effect on your poetry?
Nathan: A great deal! Most important, I think, is the amount of time my daily work gives me for thinking. If my mind was occupied with my work, I might not find as much time for poetry. I consider my daily work to be a great benefit to poetry. One of the reasons Utmost has a section called "Poets Places" is to help poets see that most Christian poets are not professional poets. We're just ordinary children of God, working our gift into whatever corners of our lives we can.

Interviewer: Do your daily work activities ever make their way into the poetry you write?
Nathan: Not often, but occasionally. For instance, I once wrote a poem, "The Angel Inside Me." You can easily see the connection with my work in that poem.

Interviewer: What are some of your longterm goals for Utmost?
Nathan: In my "Utmost fantasies" I see a physical place—a dedicated facility—where we support Christian poets more fully. I see us sponsoring poetry seminars with trained instructors. I see us printing and distributing poetry books for worthy Christian poets. I see us making a "big splash" that could not fail to be noticed by the world.

Interviewer: What would people find surprising about you, compared to your activities with Utmost?
Nathan: Oh, I'm sure there's a lot that would surprise people. (laugh) I enjoy riding high performance motorcycles, for instance. I am a better-than-average squash and chess player. And I have an avid interest in both science and politics.

Interviewer: Do you have a secret lifelong dream?
Nathan: Don't tell anyone…but I've always wanted to yodel like Wilf Carter. I've even considered taking lessons! I guess it's not a secret anymore, is it? Would you like to hear a sample?

Interviewer: Perhaps later. Do you have a favorite recipe to share with Utmost guests?
Nathan: Favorites change, of course. My wife, Kristin, and I like to eat at authentic ethnic restaurants, and this past Sunday we made an Indian dinner at home which included Dal Makhani, one of my favorites. ("dal" are lentils) This recipe is not too spicy and is very wholesome. It's an excellent side dish for rice and lamb.

Utmost Dal Makhani

Ingredients
       1/4 tuwar (toor) dal
       1/4 cup yellow moong dal
       1 cup masoor dal (dark brown lentils)
       1 large onion grated coarsely
       2 heaping tsp. fresh ginger grated
       1 heaping tbsp. cumin seeds
       1/4 tsp. red chili powder (optional)
       4 tbsp. butter
       2 tsp. salt

Method
       1. Mix and wash dal well. Soak for 30 minutes.
       2. Strain and add 3 1/4 cups of water and salt.
       3. Pressure cook on high until pressure cap rocks gently
       4. Lower heat and cook exactly 16 minutes.
       5. Remove from heat and allow pressure to ease without interference.
       6. Mash a little of the dal with the back of a spoon, while hot.
       7. Heat butter in a deep pan.
       8. Add cumin seeds, allow to splutter.
       9. Add onion and ginger.
     10. Stir fry till soft, add red chili powder and dals, mix well.
     11. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.
     12. Serve hot with rice and naan bread for dipping.

Preparation time: 30 minutes (excluding soaking & pressure cooking)
Makes: 4-6 servings

Nathan's poetry

Hope is Not Ashamed
“…and hope maketh not ashamed… Romans 5:5 KJV”

She arrives at your door
long after the rites have been satisfied
and the final fistfuls of dirt have been thrown.
She rings the bell
in the midst of your sound sleep
and you find her standing on your stoop,
wearing brown socks with black shoes
and a threadbare little green shawl.
Her blouse is stained with mustard,
the bouquet in her arms withered.
She is not ashamed.
She says she’ll be staying
with you for a while.

You say “no.”

When you turn her away
she fills your telephone voice mail
with unreal messages
and sends you a box of chocolates.
She crouches on the curb
where you cannot ignore her.
Hope always returns
because she is not ashamed
and what she needs to give you
exceeds your grieving comprehension.

When you are finally unashamed
you open the door and ask her in.
You do not care how she looks
or what the neighbors say.
You know that only Hope
can give you life again—
and you make up a room for her.

Copyright ©2005 by Nathan Harms

How We Suffer and Are Replenished

Rivers of sorrow
never ending
return as mist to clouds
and fall again as rain.
Droplets spoil our sky today
but lap a grateful shore tomorrow.
The world is kept alive like this
fed on rain and sorrow.
All the pain in the world must rise
a single tear at a time.
As sure as there is sun today
clouds will cry again
tomorrow.

Copyright ©1999 by Nathan Harms