To celebrate National Poetry Month, PWxyz has asked John Gallaher & G.C. Waldrep, a pair of poets who collaboratively wrote their new collection of poems, Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, to reprise the method by which the book was written–a conversation conducted by email exchange–in order to create a series of blog posts on the art of poetry and their process of writing. They’ll offer one post per day between Monday and Thursday of this week. Here’s the third:
G.C. Waldrep: One of the reasons I liked using the particular Spicer quotation for an epigraph for the book—“Like somebody knocking on your door at three in the morning, you know. And you try to pretend that you aren’t breathing”—is that I’ve never been entirely sure just what the space opened up by poetry is.
A colleague of mine here at Bucknell recently defined the poem—a poem, any poem, literature itself—as essentially a space of waiting, in part because while you’re reading, you’re not really “doing” anything. In another context, I’ve written “Poetry is like entering a room someone or something has just left. Maybe it’s a homey sitting room, fire crackling in the grate, inviting; maybe it’s a sumptuously-appointed hall. Either way, you’re the only one there. There was music playing, but it’s quiet now. You’ve missed someone or something important by minutes, perhaps even seconds. The telephone has just been ringing—somehow you know this—and you pick it up, just in time to hear click.”
For me, this was part of the essential mystery of YFOTTOG—writing poems in this voice that was neither John’s nor mine, but somehow a stepping-outside of our usual voices, perhaps of Voice itself.
What do poems do when we’re not reading them? …is one way of thinking about it. What are they up to?
John Gallaher: I swear I saw some minor poems of Wallace Stevens’s wandering aimlessly in the soda aisle at Walmart the other night. They seemed rather forlorn. For me, this sort of defining is fun, as it creates an architecture, or a landscape where we can think of poetry going, not just the singular poem. I’ve always been more interested in poetry than poems, if that makes any sense. There’s a form of letting go involved. Neil Young talks about it. How technically proficient musicians can play better than he can, but they come to a wall. He likes to go through the wall. Collaboration is a form of that, I think. At least it felt that way to me. I was writing talking to a friend and I had no idea where we were going, where it was taking us. The friend part, the poem I was responding to, took over, and then whatever happened happened, wall or no wall.
GCW: The last time this happened to me, with a friend, we wound up eating Ethiopian in Brooklyn….
I’m interested in that wall, though. Is it keeping us from something, or is it the something from which we are being kept? Should we try to scale it, or decorate it, or blow it up? Sketch it in pastels? Tell our pets about it, late at night?