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James Galvin


Poems - Bio - Interviews - Reading

James Galvin

Three Sonnets
Where I live      distance is the primal fact   
The world is mostly      far away and small
Drifting along through cause and effect      like sleep   
As when the distance      unlikeliest of stems
Bears the unlikely      blossom of the wind   
Engendering our only weather      dry
Except in winter      pine trees live on snow   
So greedy      pulling down these drifts that bury   
The fences snap      the trunks of smaller trees   
If the forest wants      to go somewhere it spreads   
Like a prophecy      its snow before it   
Technology      a distant windy cause   
There is no philosophy      of death where I live   
Only philosophies      of suffering
Hematite Lake
There is another kind of sleep,
We are talking in it now.
As children we walked in it, a mile to school,
And dreamed we dreamed we dreamed.
By way of analogy, consider nightfall.
In relation to the light we have, consider it final.
Still falling from the night before
With ourselves inside it like ore in the igneous dark.
So I went for a walk around Hematite Lake
To watch the small deer they call fallow deer
Dreamed to life by sleeping fields.
Someone had taken the water,
Don't ask me who. The wild swans were
Still there, being beautiful,
And the geese lay down in the grass to sleep.
The shallows, now dry, were peopled with lilies:
Their poor, enormous heads reeled in the aquatic air.
The path was drifted in with gossamer
From the tree-spiders nightly descent:
A monumental feather the geese flew over.
What happens is nothing happens.
What happens is we fall so far
Into a sleep so manifold,
Not even nightfall, whose gold we are, can find us.
James Galvin is the author of several collections of poetry, including Resurrection Update: Collected Poems, 1975-1997 and X (2003); a novel, Fencing the Sky (1999); and The Meadow (1992), a prose meditation on the landscape of the Wyoming-Colorado border and the people who live there.

Galvin's work is infused with the genuine realities of the western landscape, while at the same time not shirking difficult questions of faith, the vicissitudes of life, and shifting intimacies. Poet and critic Mark Tredinnick commented, "All Galvin's writing arises from and expresses a musical engagement with the world." Tredinnick also found Galvin's work to be "profoundly ecological," stating that "[h]is writing, particularly The Meadow, but all of his prose and poetry, starts from the principle . . . that we are the land's, not the other way around."

Galvin has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation for his poetry. For many years he has been on the permanent faculty at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, spending part of the year in Iowa City, Iowa, and the remainder in Tie Siding, Wyoming, where he grew up and still ranches.


  Poems - Bio - Interviews - Reading

The Pleasure of Ideas: James Galvin Describes Why Poetry Endures —an interview with Winston Barclay, the University of Iowa Spectator

Winston Barclay: Only a tiny percentage of the population actually reads poetry, new or old. Why should we care about poetry?

James Galvin: Actually, more people read poetry in America today than ever before. This could be just a matter of literacy. But it does remain true that compared to the number of people reading People, Us, USA Today, junky airport novels, or even good novels, poetry is largely neglected. Hence, National Poetry Month, which serves to remind us that poetry in English has always been monumentally important to our culture, and that poetry is the most powerful use of language that there is (in a good way, meaning not so much persuasive as evocative).

Great political orators aspire to it. To some extent, the power of poetry inheres in its apparent powerlessness. Compared to language used for advertising or political persuasion, poetry doesn’t seem very imposing. But poetry is not a commodity. It takes a stand against commodification, even of other art forms. It is relatively free from the capitalist paradigm, so poets can say whatever they want.

National Poetry Month is an opportunity to acquaint or restore readers to a natural relationship with the art. Nobody looks at a painting or hears a piece of classical music and responds with, “What does it mean?” as they often do with poetry. People mistake poetry for philosophy-in-a-can, or a secret message that needs to be decoded. That is often how it is presented in school.

But poetry, like any art form, is about pleasure. It is primarily a somatosensory experience: sounds, senses, images, and, yes, the pleasure of ideas. Poetry has the greatest capacity to accommodate ideas of any art form, but beautiful ideas are pleasure. Poetry, like any art, is just a way of talking about the things we can’t talk about.

WB: Since poetry is not a commodity, it seems perfect for the Internet. Nobody is writing poetry for a living and now anyone can easily “publish” their poetry. Of course, this also means there is no critical mediation. What is your take on the impact of the Internet on poetry?

JG: I wish I knew more about e-publishing and blogging. I know there are many electronic magazines, along with the overabundance of print magazines. But I really think you put your finger on the problem, especially concerning blogging, that there is no critical mediation. Self-publishing is an ancient and honorable tradition (Blake, Whitman), but who could keep track of what’s out there?

At least small magazines with good reputations save time. If everyone just published themselves on the Internet, that would be an overwhelming amount of data. Some of it would surely be bad data. And since so many people already write about being overwhelmed by information and technology...could word of mouth keep up as a replacement for critical mediation? Maybe.

Critical mediation is not in the long run what determines the poetry that lasts. It does save time, but readers staying interested in a text over time is all that really matters. Poets like Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins hardly published anything during their lives, but over time they have emerged as two of our greatest poets.

WB: Why would someone want to be a poet? It seems like lots of people write poetry, but most of them don’t think of themselves as poets. You teach in the workshop and have a page at www.poetry.org. Do you self-identify as a “poet”?

JG: I think that people write poetry because they have to. There are anxieties that can’t be addressed any other way. I guess I only feel like a poet when I’m writing poetry, when I am actually engaging language as poetry—then and when I haven’t written in a long time. Mostly, though, I just feel like a person who writes poetry. I feel alive and mortal on earth.

James Galvin Video Interview for On the Fly

James Galvin is interviewed on KCRW's show, The Bookworm


  Poems - Bio - Interviews - Reading

Click here to listen to James Galvin read at the University of Iowa, 2001 

Buy's Galvin's books here
James Galvin

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