John Gallaher and G.C. Waldrep continue their candid and insightful discussion about the process of writing the poems for their collaborative book Your Father on the Train of Ghosts. Written over a year, John Gallaher and G.C. Waldrep exchanged emails almost exclusively in the form of poems. In this next part of the conversation, the two discuss the nature of address found in the poem, the use of the "You," the role of community in poetry, and the mysterious, haunting nature of the voice manifest in their poems.
You can read earlier parts of the conversation here:
On the YouG.C. Waldrep: I didn’t notice it much as we were writing, but as we edited the manuscript, it dawned on me that most of the poems are in the second person: you do this, you do that. I tend to get mystical about just who any given poem is addressing: I wonder about the “you.” Is it a friend, a(n unknown) reader, a lover, God? Is it merely a pronoun without any fixed referent? In this case, everything was even more complex because the writing voice was not exactly an “I”—it was a third voice, closer to a “we.”
YOUR NEW BIRTHDAY
You sink when you think about it. You sink when you think about other things, up again at night, the town slowing shifting back and forth.
The dolls are around the doll table having a pretend doll party.
It’s four in the morning. They’re in the window of the only room with the lights on in the house.
A figure in the dark around the garage,
and the different things animals can do which make them look almost like people for a second, until you blink.
Which is make-believe.
In the child museum it’s 4 a.m.
You wake, and all the squirrels of the city are in a circle around your bed, watching you intently. There’s a periodic loneliness inside this book that I’m tempted to blame on the postmodern conditions of consciousness, etc. etc. It’s a book—the voice of the poems, the third voice that emerged from the collaborative process—that wants company, that sidles up to this “you.” The animals weren’t quite up to meeting our needs, I’m afraid. Nor are the dolls. Then again, in the child museum it is always 4 a.m., isn’t it? As it is in Giacometti’s palace. Maybe Giacometti’s palace is the child museum, after all? I like that. I think I would like that. John Gallaher: The “you” and the “we” in these poems were the ways I felt most comfortable writing. As soon as I first wrote “I,” it felt, more that it has to me in the past, rather lonely and, well, me-ish. The “you” and “we” on the other hand seemed more natural. The “you” was particularly interesting to me in the writing of these poems, because it felt very you, very much like I was saying G.C. Waldrep. I had a lot of fun with that, picturing you, G.C., as the you in these poems (in the ones you wrote as well as the ones I wrote). G.C. Waldrep on a train, on a bridge, having a birthday. G.C. Waldrep walking around town. You, G.C., became both actor and audience for these poems. I miss that. It was a way of imagining audience that was completely new to me. For years I’ve been hearing poets ask and try to answer the question of “who are you writing for,” or “who do you picture as your audience.” I had no problem with that in these poems. Dean Gorman, in his essay “The Third Mind: American Collaborative Poetry & Its Roots,” speaks about collaborative poetry, as a genre, as “the international waters of poetry.” I find that a nice way to imagine collaboration. It belongs to everyone who’s there, equally and without flags. So, we met in international waters. Artists usually have a very strong sense of authorship. There’s a lot of “I” statements in the arts. What I’m trying to do. What I want. That’s fine and all, it just doesn’t appeal to me the way community does. This book was my trebuchet, sending me over the fence and out into international waters. It’s been difficult coming back to shore. I never told you about that you I was seeing in our poems while we were writing. I was enjoying it too much and was worried that might make you approach to the “you” differently, but now I have. I think I mentioned that at a reading first. You were a little surprised. I enjoyed that moment as well. GC: Well, surprise is worth something on its own terms, no? For me, part of the generative mystery of the collaboration was wondering just who this “you” was, as poem pelted into poem from either side of the e-net. Of course, this paralleled the evolution of the speaking voice, the third voice. Another one of the beautiful things about the collaboration we haven’t mentioned here is that we had little to no meta-conversations about the poems as we wrote them. Indeed, while we were writing, we didn’t much talk at all, otherwise—in e-mails, on the telephone, in person. So the poems became their own sort of conversation. It was a strange and beautiful way to live, to have a friend, for a little while.[caption id="attachment_401" align="aligncenter" width="240" caption="G.C. Waldrep's Hat. BOA Poet Hat."][/caption] G.C. Waldrep’s previous collections of poetry include Goldbeater’s Skin (2003), winner of the Colorado Prize; Disclamor (BOA, 2007); and Archicembalo (2009), winner of the Dorset Prize. His work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Ploughshares, APR, Boston Review, New England Review, Threepenny Review, Colorado Review, Tin House, Harper’s, and The Nation, as well as in Best American Poetry 2010. He was a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Literature and received a 2008 Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative American Poetry. His anthology of creative, critical, and personal responses to the life and work of Paul Celan, co-edited with Ilya Kaminsky, is forthcoming from Marick Press. He lives in Lewisburg, Pa., where he teaches at Bucknell University, directs the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, and serves as Editor-at-Large for The Kenyon Review. [caption id="attachment_1212" align="aligncenter" width="103" caption="John Gallaher. BOA poet. "][/caption] John Gallaher’s previous collections of poetry include The Little Book of Guesses (2007), winner of the Levis poetry prize, and Map of the Folded World (2009). His work has appeared in such journals as Field, Denver Quarterly, Ploughshares, New American Writing, Colorado Review, and The Kenyon Review, as well as in The Best American Poetry 2008. In 2010, he won the Boston Review poetry prize. He is currently co-editor of The Laurel Review, and, with Mary Biddinger, The Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics.