Thursday, November 5, 2009

Interview with John Gallaher

John Gallaher is the author of the poetry books "Gentlemen in Turbans, Ladies in Cauls" (Spuyten Duyvil, 2001), "The Little Book of Guesses" (Four Way, 2007), winner of the Levis Poetry Prize, and "Map of the Folded World" (University of Akron Press, 2009), as well as the free online chapbook, "Guidebook" (Blue Hour Press, 2009). He won the Boston Review's 2009 Poetry Contest for his series of "Guidebook" poems, and is currently working on a co-authored manuscript with the poet G.C. Waldrep, titled "Your Father on the Train of Ghosts," due out in spring 2011 from BOA Editions. Gallaher also is co-editor of The Laurel Review and GreenTower Press.

I interviewed Gallaher, 44, in August for a newspaper article in advance of a reading he gave in Kalamazoo with poets Wayne Miller and Michael Robins. While he has lived in Maryville, Mo., for the past seven years, I spoke to him by phone while he was staying with family in Texas. Originally from Portland, Ore., Gallaher's family moved around a lot when he was young, and he has lived around the country, from Long Island, N.Y., to Orange County, Calif. He currently teaches in the English department at Northwest Missouri State University.

During the course of our conversation he told me how his collaboration with Waldrep on "Train of Ghosts" is the result of a project where the two e-mailed poems back and forth to each other throughout the last year, each poem based somehow on the one that came before. On some days, he said, they'd write as many as five each, and they continued until they had nearly 300 poems between them. Gallaher actually received the contract from BOA the day before our interview – the first two-author contract BOA had ever offered.

A segment of my talk with Gallaher follows below.

Poetic Desperation: Is there anything about the structure of your poetry that your feel sets it apart from the work of others?

John Gallaher: "I'm restless with that sort of thing. I don't use received forms when I write, so I don't have anything that one would look at and automatically see the historic structure of it or that sort of a thing.

"There are two ways to think of structure. A lot of people when they're thinking about structure they're thinking about the words, like how words rhyme or how words feel going across the page or something. They're very interested in the words making structure, and so when they're doing things like rhyme and such they like to play with that side of the equation, the word side. And I'm great with that in other people's work, but when I'm thinking about my own work I'm just not interested enough in that way of playing with words on a page. And so I would rather think on the other side of that, which is the things to which the words refer. Perhaps one could play with those in the same way that one plays with the words."

PD: What about thematically? Are there certain themes or words you find yourself returning to in your poetry?

JG: "I do have things that I tend to write about. The idea of the house I think about a lot. I think about family a lot, and children, what it was being a child now that I have children that are growing up (Gallaher has a 7-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son). The things they're learning and what they’re going through take me back to my own childhood, and then larger questions of how we all come into language and experience and the world. And so I'm really kind of restlessly interested in that sort of thing."

PD: Do you consider yourself a fast writer or slow writer when it comes to working out your poetry?

JG: "I would consider myself the inverse of my good friend, Wayne Miller. I'm very fast. I don’t know if I'm spontaneous, but I'm fast.

"I can write very quickly, but the reason I can write very quickly is I carry a notebook with me at all times, and all during the day I'm writing things in it. And so by the time I get home at night I have several pages that are full, and so often what I'll do is actually just sit down and just transcribe out those pages, oftentimes in pretty close to the order that I wrote things down in."

You can read more from Gallaher on his blog.

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