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  Currently, I think, my count of unpublished books stands at six.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The year before last, 2012, I think it was, I got sick of all these unpublished things, and went on a year-long exile from writing poems.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. 
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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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