Jul 26, 2014

KEVIN PRUFER–Poetries/Communities: Against Sentimentality

This contribution initially appeared on the uOttawa website MARGENTO here

Poetries/Communities: Against Sentimentality

When I was growing up, I thought of poetry as a solitary endeavor, one best accomplished in the privacy of one’s room.  Poetry, I imagined, was a kind of self-expression, an exploration of some inner emotional complexity.  At first, I imagined this complexity was communicated somewhat self-reflexively; that is, the poet thought deeply about his relationship to some event or other, then worked this out in a poem which he communicated to only one person, himself.   Later, the poet might allow others to indulge in his own interiority, perhaps at a poetry reading or in the pages of a small literary journal. I do not know why I imagined that anyone in the world should care about my inner turmoil.  I suppose I thought that the writing of poetry was a species of what I’d later call narcissism.
Recently, I was asked to make a presentation about sentimentality.  Our relationship to the word has changed over the centuries and now, I confessed to the audience, I did not know what it meant.  Surely, sentimentality, wrapped up in the softer emotions, is in some ways indecorous or cheap.  Surely there is something essentially untruthful about it, often in its overabundance or its misplacement of emotion.  There was, I suppose, something essentially sentimental about my early relationship to my own work and to my (mostly imagined) audience, believing that my display of emotion and autobiography might resonate profoundly with others, drawing us together in some intimate literary embrace.
Of course, in the American academy (and among most poetry readers and poets, who have lived in its groves) we abhor sentimentality, have been trained to root it out of our work and to recognize it in the work of literary poseurs and amateurs.  There is no greater literary crime, one of my friends recently told me, than sentimentality; one needs only say the word to condemn a writer’s entire oeuvre.  (“Longfellow,” another friend once said, “is sentimental,” and with that he washed his hands of him.)
Beholden to orthodoxies passed down to us, we rarely, if ever, pause to ask why this is so.  What is it that makes sentimentality rise above all other sins in poetry?  And what does this tell us about the way poetry serves the community, about (as you asked) “poetries and communities.”
In 1918, a preternaturally mature Wilfred Owen described the horrors of young British soldiers marching to their deaths surrounded by mists of poison gas.  A young man, failing to get his gas mask on in time, slowly dies, his white eyes “writhing in his face.”  Then blood “comes gargling from the froth corrupted lungs.” But instead of ending the poem on the harrowing, if meaningless, death of an anonymous soldier, Owen points the finger at Jessie Pope, a writer of sentimental war propaganda, the kind of stuff that convinced young men to enlist in the first place: “My friend,” he writes:

… you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Owen would not survive the war, but other poets would pick up on his deep distrust of sentimental language, and that distrust would become infused in the Modernist movement.  Sentimentality, they knew, is bad because 1) it is often untruthful and 2) it is dangerous.  Its potential for untruthfulness is clear: there is nothing sweet and proper about the young man’s death in Owen’s poem.  It is dangerous because sentimentality is a powerful mode for communicating to the masses, for using untruth wrapped in layers of sweetness, nationalistic pride, nostalgia, and (for earlier writers) decadent Victorian Romanticism to convince us, against our better judgment, to believe and do stupid, often fatal, things.  How often have we seen intense sentimentality used as a way of convincing us to enter an unjust war (witness the rhetoric of George W. Bush during the run-up to the war in Iraq), to keep women in their place (witness the proper housewife of 1950s sentimental movies), to justify the bondage of others (witness sentimental paintings of happy slaves singing in the cotton fields, wanting only to serve their masters well). No wonder so much of our distrust of sentimentality emerged in the work of Modernist poets who witnessed the first World War, and no wonder this mistrust appears only to have grown throughout the 20th century. When the WWII poet Dunstan Thompson looked over the destroyed body of yet another young soldier, he exhorted all of us: “to love him, tell the truth.”
That said, I think I’ve grown into some strong beliefs about poetries and communities.  I am suspicious of my earlier self, the young man who wrote poetry imagining that my emotions were of any importance to anyone.  They are not.  No one, beyond my family and few friends, cares.  Why should it be otherwise?
Rather, I imagine that poetry might be a vehicle for telling the truth, for working against the overwhelming tide of dangerous sentimentality, of mistruth wrapped in sugar, of lies told to us by our governments, our corporate betters, and by ourselves.  These days, the voice of poetry often seems small and faint—once, in a poem, I imagined it was like the voice of a young man locked in the trunk of a car being driven who knew where by our leaders—but it might, used well, serve as just one counterpoint in a world awash in lies.  Poets, I imagine, ought to tell the truth for the purpose not only of self-knowledge, but a better, clearer world.
That said, I don’t imagine that there is only one truth, nor do I imagine that any of these are simple.  Poetry is also uniquely suited to expressing the complexity of a moral or theological universe, one in which truths clash, in which one truth confronts another, competing one. (For Emily Dickinson, there is simultaneously a God and no god, there is both an afterlife and the void.) I am not, that is, in favor of poetry that is dogmatic, that simplifies the world, that distorts it, even for good purposes.  Nor am at all interested in poetry that sees in a multiplicity of truths only the emptiness of the very notion of truth, that merely throws up its hands or plays around in a Postmodern mode. Instead, I believe that poets might imagine themselves as citizens of a larger universe defined by complex moral positions—that we might think of ourselves if not as the unacknowledged legislators of the world, then at least as people who speak the truth to the community in the interest of much more than beauty and self-expression, in the interests of making the world better.
Kevin Prufer‘s sixth book, Churches, is just out from Four Way Books.  Among his recent books are In a Beautiful Country (Four Way, 2011), a finalist for the Rilke Prize and the Poets Prize; and National Anthem (Four Way Books, 2008), named one of the five best poetry books of the year by Publishers Weekly.  He’s also co-curator of the Unsung Masters Series, Editor of numerous volumes, and Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston.

Jun 16, 2014

NICOLAE COANDE--My Writing Process--Blog Tour

Many thanks to poet Page Hill Starzinger for inviting me to the Writing Process blog tour.  You can read her own response here.

1.      What am I working on?

I am working on a poetry book that I hope will be published in 2015, and its first verse is the motor of the entire book; perhaps it will even become its title: “They didn’t let me rule the world”. I know, without emphasis, what the last verse of the book will be as well – “I don’t know how to tell stories”, even though I have got a few stories caught there in the book. However, as Mircea Ivănescu said in one of his early poems, where he was also quoting a maestro: “you don’t have to narrate in poetry…/ poetry mustn’t be a representation, a series of images…” Indeed, we should leave this to the novelists and journalists. Still, what does a poet do in poetry? Alchemy, of course. I am also being haunted by an essay book, half written, about... God. I realize the three suspension points before the “main subject” can seem frivolous, but they are rather about my hesitation before a book of this kind. In recent years, I have read multiple books and essays about the returning of the religious, especially in the West – because in the East, it is just the people who are leaving, not God -, and after I have meditated over them, I believe I could contour a booklet with Alfred N. Whitehead’s formula, about “God, poet and protector of the world.” The fact that God is a Poet gives me an indescribable state, which I also explain through the fact that I am a poet – yet when I awake from my reverie I realize it is not exactly the same thing. God has infinitely greater responsibilities than a miserable poet faced with the world they are making and rewriting incessantly. That being said, He is a long term Author, and His Critic is not yet born. This is what I should talk about and don’t know how to without becoming another one beating about the bush in the Elysian Fields.

2.      How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Through “signature”. But who can say that a simple signature can differentiate you as an unmistakable mark, or footprint? The question forces me to a kind of self-analysis that an author is continuously aware of, except now I must do it expresis verbis. I write with a feeling that the olden ones remarked, undoubtedly better than me, “wholly thrown over his prey”, except this “prey” must be maintained alive – it feeds me and, I hope, the random reader of my books. In general, my poetry books have been received by the critics in the tonality given by a certain furor of expression, a poetry with “maximum existential stakes”. To quote a Romanian poet, Romulus Bucur, who wrote about some of my books, when reading my poetry you could detach a few “hard notions: the impossibility of indifference, lucidity, the inadequacy between him (the poet) and the world, hence the proudly assumed marginality”. Well, I subscribe to this taxonomy of a poet who has read well in the heart of my poetry, but I would also add something I believe about what I write: the beauty I work at – each poet owes it to discover a new beauty – is crossed by that “caritas” to which I aspire in all my literature. I deny everything because I embrace everything. I hope there are a minimal authenticity and innovation in my poetry, otherwise I am just another Pierre Ménard writing endlessly about Don Quijote.

3.      Why do I write what I do?

Probably thanks to a genetic footprint, which I continuously reformulate in the alternative exercise of writing. What did people look like when writing hadn’t been invented? Thoth knows. When I watch the “Game of Thrones” series, I notice that, despite the continuous slaughter, people have discovered writing. I wonder what’s the use? How does it look today, when the great majority of people doesn’t write and doesn’t even want to hear about writing? Only they know. I know that I need to write, even though I don’t make it the cause of my life. Life has a single cause, which is life itself. You can live without writing, but not without oxygen. Life, however, in all its splendid indifference, needs literature in order to be refined in the infinite polyphonic discourse of the human voice. The voice, this is what was man’s gift among speechless beings. I don’t write as I breathe, but I breathe as I write (with a septum deviation). I believe there is a genetic mark in every author, which has been trained of course, by his/her education and what they've read, as well as by their part as a unique observer in the world. To use an Ancient expression, there exist “words of power”. Sure, the initiated will laugh in my face: you’re not Solomon to know the secret name of God! But I don’t want that; all I know as an initiate in my own writing is that I can discover my true name, and with it, the name of the world we live in. The secret name of God can remain hidden forever – or just in the care of those preoccupied with occult sciences. Poetry must be for all, even if we are not all for poetry.

4.      How does your writing process work?

Writing, decantation, simplification. I write after I don’t think anymore. {Like Milton said, “after the Muse visits me and inspires unthought-of verses”}. After that, I think with the unencumbered freedom of that whom has nothing to do anymore and remembers the alphabet again: in principio erat Verbum.

Nicolae Coande

(Translated from the Romanian by Lia Boangiu)

Nicolae Coande (born 1962 in Osica de Sus, Romania) has published eight collections of poetry in Romanian: On the Edge (1995); Fincler (1997); The Dead-End Road Named Homer (2002); Folfa (2003); Wind, Tobacco & Alcohol (2008); The Woman that I Write About (2010); VorbaIago (2012; Persona (2013). He has also published four collections of essays, the most recent of which is Romanian Intellectuals and the King's Court (2011). He has received several awards for his poetry from the Writers' Union of Romania. His work has been included in the anthologies Gefährliche Serpentinen – Rumänische Lyrik der Gegenwart (Druckhaus Verlag, Berlin, 1998), edited by Dieter Schlesak; Of Gentle Wolves (Calypso Editions, New York, 2011), translated and edited by Martin Woodside; The Vanishing Point that Whistles (Talisman Press, USA, 2011), edited by Paul-Doru Mugur, Adam Sorkin, and Claudia Serea.

Jun 8, 2014

John Martínez Gonzales--My Writing Process--Blog Tour

Many thanks Zachary Payne for inviting me to the writing process blog tour.  You can read his own response here.

1) What am I working on?
I’m working on two books of poetry. The first one entitled: Lar, where the basic concepts of home are present but have been placed in others settings with other feelings. The poems explore the relationship between friends and the way we have been positioned in the middle of ubiquity that the poem gives. The place where one lives is the poem and that home is a state of mind or state of heart.

The second book is called ‘A
cardiovascular muscle that pumps blood’, a book which contains poems dedicated to detachment and loves lost and found again and lost again many times.

At the same time I am working on a script for my third video poem.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t know if it's a difference but I think my writing is always the sign of the spiritual search. I think poetry is a form of knowledge and the more we sink into it, the more we know. I've never gone to poetry as a form of escape or refuge. My poems are looking at me. They are a thread. When I work I'm interested in many poems, themes in my books. I'm interested in the text within the text.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write because I don´t have another bridge or support to explore myself. Because writing for me is to recognize oneself. To Find-to be.

I write about me trying to find the past and the truth about the story of world. I feel that the biography of the planet can be in a poem and there is no general formulas, but there are unique ways that we should never ignore.

4) How does your writing process work?

I usually write on paper because I have still believe in the legend of the forests. I like the feel and ink as I write. I almost never write having a clear what to do. At the time of writing I let myself be guided. This allows me to "discover" many records that I have forgotten and also makes the time of transcription a time of correction. Once I have printed these texts and have left them forgotten a time, I return to them later and see if the music still works. I try not to pressure myself. I'm more interested in writing than in what comes after…

Lena Marice Orduña (Cuzco - Perú)
Studied Economics at the Andean University of Cusco, but dedicated her life to poetry without compassion. Among her influences we can find beatnik literature, psychedelic rock, and writers such as Walt Whitman, Ernesto Carrion and Luis Hernández.Her first publication was in the women's anthology "Eghos" (2005) and later published the plaquet "Out of Tune" edited by "Laparcalestial" (2007).  She also published plaquets independently as "Jimmy Jazz" (2010) and "Seas" (2011), she participated in the Poetry Festival of the South Andean "January in the Word" in the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. She participated in the "Caravan Literary" a poetic caravan organized by the Ministry of Culture, because of that she was a part of the anthology "Treaty on Blank Page" (2012). In 2013 she published a subversive plaquett to love called "Ave Porco" by NN Publishers. She also participated in the IV Festival of Poetry of Lima (October - 2013) and recently organized the eighteenth edition of the most important festival of poetry in the south Andean "January in the word" 2014. She is currently working on her next book of poems and manages a page of poetry in Facebook called "Estrangótica".

Agustín Guambo (Quito - Ecuador)
Candidate for Master in Spanish and Latin American Literatures for UBA (Universidad de Buenos Aires). Master in Anthropology from FLACSO. Editorial Director of Murcielagario Kartonera. Participated in Letrarte (Argentina, 2010), Book Fair of Buenos Aires (2014). His texts have appeared in several anthologies and blogs. He is currently living in Buenos Aires.

Jun 2, 2014

DANA LEVIN--Response to Margento WRITING PROCESS Questions

Thanks to poet GC Waldrep for inviting me to participate in the writing process blog tour.  You can read his own response here.

1.  What am I working on?

I’m finishing up my fourth collection of poetry and hope to submit it my editor this summer. I feel mischievous about it: it has never-before-seen-in-Dana-Levin-poems qualities like humor! Poems about my cat! Fruit as a recurring trope! There’s even a Cento about cyborgs crafted almost entirely from snippets from articles in the New York Times and Huffington Post. I’m calling the book Banana Palace. It’s pre-apocalyptic Barnum.

I’m also about to gear up on some essay assignments: one on Jim Morrison (lead singer for that ur-Late Sixties band, The Doors), one on dreams, one that examines the idea of the Via Negativa in post-modern poetries. I think my next big project will be a book of essays on poetry.

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Oh my. What *is* its genre? My work’s been called confessional, my work’s been called experimental (that one always flummoxes me, in terms of what we tend to deem “experimental poetry”) (is it all the white space??)

Regarding Confessionalism: we seem to have a very reductive idea of it these days, like how my students throw the term around any time they encounter work that feels emotive, disclosive, autobiographical. A couple of years ago I wrote a brief intro gloss to Anne Carson’s great Confessional poem The Glass Essay, a poem (I’m going to quote myself; sue me) “where Confessionalism’s essential gift―self-analysis―was given free rein to get beyond personality (Lady Lazarus! Henry!) and closer to what might be called a sense of soul.” That transformation from self-centeredness to soul-centeredness is how I’d like to think the Confessional has transformed in me.

In terms of being an “experimental” poet: well, aren’t we all?

3.  Why do I write the way I do?

Terms like “confessional” and “experimental” feel reductive to me; they create an easy, but false, polarity. I don’t want to claim allegiance to any one mode – I don’t view modes as beliefs; I view modes as tools. I want to have access to all the tools in the toolbox. In my last book, Sky Burial, and in this new manuscript, the poems seem to want to change up forms all the time: Banana Palace offers prose poems, long sectioned verse meditations, two-line poems that (I hope) move with surprise like Haiku. I have a long poem in fourteen short prose blocks and a long poem in really short, blippy verse sections, with a narrative through-line like a (very odd) Book of Hours. I like to play around, and I’ve become, apparently, increasingly, formally restless.

Perhaps formal restlessness is a solution to the potential monotony of the “project” book, another term I resist (for myself) and find reductive (see next question for more on that). One aspect of my work that never changes is the engagement with a lot of white space and em-dashes as dynamic actors. White space offers a lot of dramatic potential (what makes us pause, what silences us, in relation to all this poetry speaking?) as well as relief on the reading eye and listening ear. Inclusion of pause and silence feels crucial to me. Paradoxically, I often use the em-dash as a line-ending gesture that propels the reader into that white space (like pushing you off a cliff) I suppose that em-dash propulsion into silence and gap makes white space in my poems a thrumming place---a way-station, rather than destination, even when a poem ends on such a gesture. My poems don’t offer a lot of rest.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Something sparks my interest—in the world, in the self, in the soul―and percolates in mind, barely conscious, for a very long time. Then I might write some notes towards it, and then not pursue it in verse for a very long time. I avoid versification for as long as I can (it’s so hard! It takes so much focus! Ugh!) But such resistance brings the poem-to-be to a boil, and then I can’t avoid making art. That moment comes like….an em-dash at the end of a line, throwing me into the generative/frightening white space―
After a while―five, ten, poems in to new writing―I may note that the poems seem to be circling pretty tightly around a constellation of ideas/images. I say “constellation” rather than “project” because I don’t go into writing new poems with an over-arching project idea/impulse; I just start to notice how the new poems are talking to each other, how they individually shine and shine together, like stars in a constellation. The poems in Banana Palace constellate hunger, appetite, environmental ruin, End Times, technology, the “real,” the “mutant,” post-apocalyptic survival. Noticing this does effect revision and may also suggest tropes, poems, to add to the mix, but I don’t start a manuscript with this in mind. I’m an obsessive by temper, but also chafe against the rigid; thinking in terms of constellation allows me to hold the subject(s) of obsession together while allowing them to speak freely and in whatever tropes and forms they individually want.

In revision, I’m guided by three related principles: 1) Poetry is a fictive space. You do not have to adhere to facts, autobiography, or whatever in “real life” may have prodded the poem. You get to make up stories about yourself and the world and time. Better to suss out the narrative, the lyric hub, the formal possibilities, the poem at hand is offering, rather than staying stubbornly true to personal intention and experience. 2) Wallace Shawn saying, “I think there’s something idiotic about the self,  that every day you have to get up and be the same person.” ―for ‘person’ insert ‘poem’. 3) Listen. 

Dana Levin is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Sky Burial, which was noted for 2011 year-end honors by The New Yorker, the San Francisco Chronicle, Coldfront, and Library Journal.

Levin’s work has received numerous fellowships and awards, including those from the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN, the Witter Bynner Foundation and the Library of Congress, as well as the Rona Jaffe, Whiting and Guggenheim Foundations. Her poetry and essays have appeared in many anthologies and magazines, including, most recently, The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Boston Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry and The Arcadia Project. 

A teacher of creative writing and literature for over twenty years, Levin has served as the Russo Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at University of New Mexico (2009-2011) and currently co-chairs the Creative Writing and Literature Department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

May 20, 2014


Many thanks to poet Alberto Garcia-Teresa for inviting me to the writing process blog tour.  You can read his own response here.

1) What am I working on?
My most constant project is that of translation, translating poetry from Spanish into English and vice versa. At the moment I´m working on an anthology of contemporary Spanish Poetry: Poetry of Conscience Criticism and the translation into Spanish of the forgotten Beat Poet, Bob Kaufman.
At the same time, recently, I have been working on two things: a series of short little things, which I have been writing with Fridge Magnets as an exercise in creativity and as part of the group #TheLovers which is attempting to free verses from their chains and let poetry run like wild animals through the streets. The freed verses can be seen in twitter: @arteenlazanja and are called #VersosLiberados.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I guess the big difference with my work is that even though my native tongue is English, I am only able to write in Spanish, my creativity and curiosity of language came to me when I began to learn Spanish at the age of 20.

3) Why do I write what I do?
                The topics of what I write about come from my personal experience of living divided between two languages & two cultures: “Bilingualism: lexical schizophrenia where the patient suffers from multiple languages.” I´m a student of poetry and enjoy reading, it is obvious that what I´m reading at the moment and translating becomes part of my expression, “I am not a poet/ merely a thief/ not one of grandeur/ a simple picket pocket/  snatching out of/ pockets and purses.”

4) How does your writing process work?
                One of the things that shocked me when I arrived in Spain was all the accounts of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, I have never seen the virgin but after beginning to learn Spanish, verses would show themselves to me.  When these apparitions occur I jot them down and then later go back to them to see if they are a complete message, most times when I revisit them they are ideas which inspire me to write something else.

Dira Martínez Mendoza (Venezuela)
John Martínez Gonzales (Perú)

Dira Martinez Mendoza (Venezuela).
Internationalist graduated from the Central University of Venezuela with specialization in Advanced Studies in Latin America from the Complutense University of Madrid. She has participated in various national and international poetry festivals and workshops. Her poetry collection (N)aves was published by Pirata Cartonera Editors and a big selection of her work has been included in diverse Latin American anthologies. She is a regular contributor to literary magazines and fanzines. Since 2009, her poetic proposal includes the intervention of bodies, seeking for places of encounter outside ideologies and recognizing poetry as part of everyday life. Body: the beginning / the end. Soul, the eternal flame, infinite.”

John Martínez Gonzales (Peru)
Has published the poetry collection "Collage de viaje", the plaquette "Doblando" and the book of poems "El Elegido". He has also made the video/poetry work of: "Un cuerpo tallado a verbos" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fuc4UhOjRgY and "Extremidades/raices." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0jpArglLsk
 And is one of the producers of "5th Lima Poetry Festival” that will be taking place in October of this year.

May 5, 2014

JOHN GALLAHER--My Writing Process--Blog Tour

Many thanks to poet G.C. Waldrep for inviting me to the "My Writing Process" inquiry.  You can see his own response here.

Questionnaire: WRITING PROCESS

1.  What am I working on?

Today is May first, 2014, and yesterday I finished an April poem-a-day project that I’m afraid to look at.  I still have the one I did last April that I haven’t looked at either.  I’ve no idea what I’m doing.  maybe I’ll put them both together and call them Aprils.

I’m always working, it seems, but never really ON anything.  That’s not really true, though, now that I see it written out, as sometimes I AM very much working on something.  I guess I just don’t like to think of it that way.  During the early 2000s, I wrote a lot, and though I published some individual poems, no published books came of any of it, so I have a little stack of these manuscripts.  Because of that, I’m thinking right now, to think of myself as “working on something” now fills me with dread, the feeling that I’d be adding things to that stack.  Currently, I think, my count of unpublished books stands at six.  They even have titles: Guidebook, America Is, Finally the Festival Will Pay for Itself, Radio Good Luck, Everything We Can’t Touch Is Vaguely Unreal . . . it goes on.  Aprils!

The year before last, 2012, I think it was, I got sick of all these unpublished things, and went on a year-long exile from writing poems.  In that time I worked on editing (typing, selecting, researching) the work of Michael Benedikt, who died in 2007, which became Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt that Akron put out at the turn of 2014. 

And now I’m in the proofing stage of my next book, In a Landscape, which will be coming out this fall from BOA.  I was wanting to call it non-fiction rather than poetry, but poetry it is.  It’s interesting, proofing this book.  It’s a much closer proofing than I’ve ever done before on one of my books.  Perhaps that owes itself to the “non-fiction” nature of the work.  There are more style issues, more quotations to get right.  It’s a fun experience. 

2.  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I started to answer this question and then just devolved into repeating the word YIKES over and over.  I believe very much in this question, though, because it’s a helpful question for poets (and artists in general).  People are always saying what things are LIKE, what poets one writes LIKE, that this other movement, this movement of difference and (one would hope) novelty, are often secondary, or not mentioned at all.  Maybe that’s because most of us really don’t differ much from others in our genre.  That’s not a good thing, though not everyone can be original, I know all too well.  Difference is important, though, to imagine for oneself, even if it’s partly (or mostly) fantasy. 

I love those moments where I complete brand new things, where I feel I’ve stepped through some veil or something woo-woo like that, and then someone reads it, and says something like “Hey, more John Gallaher poems!” where I thought they were going to be more like “no way, did YOU write this?  It sounds SO different!” 

When I was younger, I believed more in the inventive side of the imagination, and these days, I’ve gotten more interested in the organizational side of the imagination.  I think the poems reflect that, as something of a shift.  If that’s different from the poetry of others, though, I don’t really know.  I hope that the finished things don’t just seem to be reflections, one always hopes to have at least a modicum of projection there as well. 

3.  Why do I write the way I do?

I don’t feel that I have all that much of a say in how I write.  I’m always kind of wildly throwing everything I can at the page.  Sometimes that turns out to be a mess of language, and sometimes a more spare mess.  I guess it’s like cooking.  Sometimes it’s soufflé night.  Sometimes it’s salad and a roll.  I really like Miles Davis’s response to the question, “What are you going to play tonight?”, where he said, “I’ll play what the day presents.” 

4.  How does your writing process work?

I always write from a title.  And then whatever comes to me next, I write down.  Sometimes it’ll be thoughts on the title, sometimes it’ll be other things I’m thinking, that, for whatever reason (I hope there is one, even if subterranean), happens next.  I really like the kind of art that leaves it all on the page, where everything that happens in the moment of writing the poem is IN the poem. 

When I get to a moment where nothing comes, I have this decision: does this mean the poem is finished, or does this mean that whatever has propelled me forward is finished.  If it’s the first, simple enough, but if it’s the second, then I go to my little notebook of scraps and ideas, or to whatever’s lying around (magazines, the Internet, etc) and cruise a bit, and either the poem grabs me back, or something I come across presents itself as a possible way forward. 
- - - -

John Gallaher is the author of The Little Book of Guesses (2007, Four Way Books), winner of the Levis Poetry prize; Map of the Folded World (2009, University of Akron Press); and co-author, with G.C. Waldrep, of Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (2011, BOA Editions), as well as co-editor of Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt (2014, University of Akron Press).  His poetry appears widely in such places as The Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Field, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, and Pleiades, and in anthologies including The Best American Poetry.  Gallaher is currently associate professor of English at Northwest Missouri State University, and co-editor of The Laurel Review, and The Akron Series in Poetics. 
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