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

[caption id="attachment_1015" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="Your Father on the Train of Ghosts. Poems by G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher."]Your Father on the Train of Ghosts. Poems by G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher.[/caption] Your Father on the Train of Ghosts is the culmination of a year-long exchange of poems between the poets John Gallaher and G.C. Waldrep.  Over the past few weeks, the poets discussed the process of this collaborative endeavor. The conversations have tread a wide range of territory, and now, in the final of those exchanges between Your Father on the Train of Ghosts authors  the pair revisit their haunting experience at The International Circus Hall of Fame, providing personal stories that helped fuel their writing that allows them to go where no one goes. You can read earlier parts of the conversation here: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 The Show Where No One Goes John Gallaher: I’ve always been drawn to the Terra Incognita that improvisational jazz can get to, and that Neil Young also speaks of as a wall. There’s this wall, he says, where well-trained musicians can play right up to, but when they get to it, they stop. He likes going through that wall. It’s different than rules, or forms, it’s a version of playing away from what you’ve learned. Apples and monkey wrenches, say. It’s also why I like Spicer’s metaphor of the Martian radio. These are all metaphors for going, for listening to what is from someplace else, and hopefully bringing something back. This idea we had during the writing of the book, this “show where no one goes” that is both “the show no one goes to” as well as “the show where everyone stays”—these are two versions of community, aren’t they? “Let’s go somewhere that isn’t completely played out” and “Let’s go somewhere where we can all remain, accounted for”? At least that’s how it felt for me, as we were exchanging emails. One of the things you’re fond of saying, how you don’t play the music, the music plays you, comes back to me in this regard. And then, quite literally, we visited The Circus Hall of Fame Museum in Peru, Indiana, which seemed a place where no one went, a place full of ghosts, mildew, and cobwebs, where these pictures sprinkled through these exchanges came from. You found it on a roadside attractions website of some sort? It’s an amazing place. 6-2 G.C. Waldrep: The International Circus Hall of Fame. I’ve known about it for years (vaguely) (but the curious can find it at either www.circushof.com or www.roadsideamerica.com). Somehow I always thought of it as a modern museum, depressingly antiseptic—lots of plexiglass and state-funded enrichment programs for elementary school students. I had no idea it was what it is, a fabulous trove of obsessively-collected circus memorabilia in a cavernous dilapidated barn in the middle of a field in Indiana. It felt like the perfect coda to the book (and by “perfect,” I mean both appropriate and standing outside the book itself). I liked it best when the lone volunteer guide couldn’t see us, didn’t know we were even in the building (barn). We walked around the exhibits a few dozen paces behind him, listening to him offering his spiel to the one other human being on the property. After that other person left, we were human again. (I think I preferred being a ghost.) I can’t decide which photo caption was my favorite: “The Canvas Spool (1927)” or “Tusko Before He Broke His Tusks.” And there is something poignant about the carefully archived badges from the Circus Model Builders National Gathering.... 6-3 There are tribes out there that we can barely imagine. We may turn out to have been one of them. JG: A field by a river that floods. It seemed we were visiting something that was no longer there, or, as you say, perhaps it was we who were no longer there. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it turned out there was no one there that day. “George Washington enjoyed the circus” was my favorite thing the guide said. There was enough in that to ride out the rest of the week. “Clown Six-Shooter” was the sign beneath a perfectly realistic looking pistol. “Father Will Take the Children to the Circus” was the caption beneath a young woman with a fetching look over her left shoulder on the cover of a Chicago Sunday Tribune from July 15th, 1923. Fathers have always been a complicated subject for me. I’ve had two. The first one named me Martin Lynn Enquist, Junior, and when I was adopted by the Gallahers, I became John Jerome Gallaher, Junior. It’s interesting how this book, a collaboration, gave us the freedom to explore subjects such as these in some ways more directly than in the past. I always thought, or I was always led to believe, that collaboration was a party game. Maybe it is, but, as you said when we were driving, it’s a game that can kill you. Or save you, I suppose. Or both. GC: One of the earliest poems we actually worked on—that made it into the final book—was called “The Circus of Probable Sighs.” At one point one of us probably knew what prompted that poem. There’s a Doppler effect where poems are concerned: we move away from them in time, become other people, remember and forget. This is true whether we’re the writer or the reader. But the poems don’t change. JG: My inclination at such times is often to give a sort of shrug, and say the father still takes the children to the circus, though they all speak Esperanto and wear silver jumpsuits. It goes back to what you were saying before about who is the actor and who is the acted upon. Often when I go back to things I’ve read, it seems that it’s not just me who has changed. Sometimes it seems everything has changed. It’s my version of hopefulness, I suppose: if everything changes, then what’s to say it doesn’t change back? It’s at least a mathematical possibility, I’ve read, if highly improbable. But we, at least in possibility, can return to the show where no one goes. In fact, we can be that show. GC: Sometimes, in our present culture, I wonder whether poetry isn’t itself “the show where no one goes.” This is part of the irony and intimacy of the art: we can go where “no one” goes. And the show goes on, whether we’re there or not: Stevens and Clare and Stein and Ashbery and Hill, all of them, all of it. 6-1 We are that show anyway, maybe. Maybe the poems watch us. Maybe we keep them entertained, after all. . .

[caption id="attachment_401" align="aligncenter" width="240" 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.

1 comment


  • Maybe mainstreams only exist in reetrspoct. The backward look simplifies and so falsifies what was, in fact, an almost-chaos of individual practice. I say “almost” because there are certainly anti-entropic forces at work, though they work as they do in real streams: there are swirls, eddies, rapids and backwashes, rain that swells and freshens, droughts that shrink and encourage stagnation. Only after the season has passed does it seem that we see general movements but there are no “general movements.” They are figments of the reetrspoctive view a view denied to the present. We think we have a sense of whose poetry, right now, is “major” and whose isn’t (the Library of America has already devoted a volume to John Ashbery), but that sense is a fantasy a kind of hubris.

    Miguel on

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