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Part 5 of John Gallaher and G.C. Waldrep on Your Father on the Train of Ghosts

[caption id="attachment_1206" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, poems by G.C. Waldrep & John Gallaher"]Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, poems by G.C. Waldrep & John Gallaher[/caption] Your Father on the Train of Ghosts is one of the most extensive collaborations in American poetry. Over the course of a year, acclaimed poets G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher wrote poems back and forth, sometimes once or twice a week, sometimes five or six a day. As the collaboration deepened, a third “voice” emerged that neither poet can claim as solely their own.  In Part 5 of John Gallaher and G.C. Waldrep’s engaging discussion about the ircollaborative process, the pair continue their exploration of community in poetry, challenging the notion of the individual artist and reminding us of the voice that haunts every poem. You can read earlier parts of the conversation here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5: Literature & Community 5-2 G.C. Waldrep: Following up on the “you” and the speaking voice—one thing I had long been wondering, before we started working together, was why poetry had to be such a lonely enterprise, the act of composition something that takes us away from those we love. It certainly wasn’t for the Dadaists & Surrealists, and it still isn’t in other genres: musical performance, architecture, the larger visual arts with their fabrication requirements, etc. Somehow in poetry, though, it seemed to me that we’d all slipped back to the Romantic notion of the tortured soul toiling away in his or her garret, into the night. Sometimes it is like that, of course (pax Virginia Woolf). But weren’t there other possibilities? What might a poetry of community look like? IN THE FILE OF DISCONTINUED THINGS It looks like no one’s showing up again. But let’s do the show anyway. The one called Lincoln. Or Ban the Bomb. There’s a reason for it as there are reasons for most things. Smoke. Chocolate. The way old paint looks like a sunburn. The floor of overlapping shadows from the television and approaching fires. Let’s say the show is over, or everything is over. The next show or the war show, where the teenage male is obsessing over girls, which we take to mean teenage males obsess over girls. It’s late, I’m watching television while reading the Constitution. Which is easy. (We the floor shine.) (In order to order faster delivery.) It’s winter. And snow. Whole wedding gowns of snow. Towns under wraps and we know this already. Hey, let’s be the town anyway. We are free for a limited time. We can go to the show where no one goes. I like the way this poem moves back and forth between the “I,” the “you,” and the “we,” and between that intimate triad and everyone else—the larger social organism in which we are implicated. And it does so tenderly, or with a tenderness I couldn’t otherwise have placed. JG: We’re having this exchange just as I’m re-reading the Dean Gorman piece from Gulf Coast I mentioned earlier. A friend turned my attention back to it, because in it Gorman talks a bit about this ongoing romance of the Romantic: “The romantic concept of the Individual . . . will probably never go away,” he writes. It’s part of what he sees as a general skepticism a lot of people have about collaborative work. But, as you say, this isn’t the case in the other arts. Poetry seems to be more like painting in this regard. Collaboration, as I see it, and as we’ve discussed, is really just a more overt version of what we’re all doing anyway. Gorman gestures toward that, as well, when he writes that collaboration brings us to the question that have always been there: “Can something be truly singular, or is it always built from what preceded it, what already exists?” 5-3 In our case, that is specifically how we wrote the book: each of our poems was written directly from what preceded it, even if that no longer directly tracks, now that we’ve had to take many of the poems out for publication. Even so, all the parts are out there in space somewhere, in sequence. But more generally, all artists work in something akin to that way, one thing begets another. In the things one reads or views, we’re all tuning into a version of Spicer’s radio, finding out what the Martians are broadcasting today. GC: Or the ghosts. Sometimes I think every poem is haunted. And yes, YFOTTOG is haunted—at least for us, the authors—by the poems that didn’t make it into the book, their ghost presences. There’s a great silence in between poems in any collection. The difference in this case is that we know what some of that silence is concealing. 5-1 Some of what that silence is concealing, mind you. Nobody knows what the rest of the silence is concealing. Or we think about it, for a long time, as in Keats or Donne or Oppen or Stein. (Stein used a lot of words to conceal the silence itself, inside a constant flow of language.) The thing is, as you say, every writer, every artist is already working from other art—collaborating with ghosts. For a poet, Keats and Donne and Oppen and Stein (or Dickinson or Whitman or the Gawaine poet, substitute as you will) are all still communicating presences. Their poems are their traces. [caption id="attachment_401" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="G.C. Waldrep's Hat. BOA Poet Hat."]G.C. Waldreps 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. "]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.


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