Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Habitual Poet: Lucia Galloway

Installment #8

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org.

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

I have a number of sources: readings and book signings; used bookstores (good for finding single-volume editions of well-known poets’ early work); Amazon. I also like to patronize indie bookstores as a way to keep the literary culture of our country vibrant and healthy.

Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

I own around 250 books of poetry. I’ve probably read about 60% of them cover to cover. The other 10% I may have started and abandoned, or simply not read at all.

Q: When, where and how do you usually read?(i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

First thing in the morning while enjoying my first cup of coffee in my quiet study (for poetry); the Honnold Library at the Claremont Colleges is a good spot for serious reading (including poetry). Otherwise, coffee shops, airplanes, waiting rooms, under the dryer at the hairdresser’s.

Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

Stanley Plumly’s late 70s volume, Out-of-the-Body Travel, (Ecco Press), and Carl Dennis' Unknown Friends (Penguin 2007).

Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

Fanny Howe’s, The Winter Sun; Kate Atkinson’s When will there be Good News; Vanina Marsot’s Foreign Tongue; Tom Drury's The End of Vandalism, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping; also Harper’s, The Sun; Poetry Magazine; Crazy Horse, Prairie Schooner.

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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

When the internal pressure gets high enough and I can find external quiet. Either I compose at the computer, or I write with a blue ballpoint pen on the back of used computer paper that I’ve folded in half. Why do I write? Out of a twofold desire: to document the circumstances, desires, and complexities of life as I know it; and to test the limits of language to express tones and colors inherent in human experience that had not been able, hertofore, to be expressed.

Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

It all depends . . . on lots of things. During the month of April, I drafted a poem a day. Most months I write drafts of 2-3 new poems.

Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

I start revising almost immediately, then I wait several hours and do another round; then I wait several days or weeks or months and go at it again. Actually, most of my writing hours are given over to the revising process.

Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

I never KNOW that it’s done. But most poems I consider done once they’ve been published or have won a prize or been read at someone’s wedding . . .

Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

I doubt it. Occasionally, I rearranged a lunch date to accommodate my writing time.

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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

What system? Seriously, I use an old-fashioned card file to keep track of submissions; and I file submission letters, acceptances, and rejections in an old-fashioned 3-ring notebook. Those are the mechanics of it. The decisions about where to submit are subject to whimsy and serendipity. I do keep a short-list of journals here I’d like to publish and try to submit to them whenever I have something that seems suitable.

Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

Rejections are never “expected”; but then, neither are acceptances. Hope springs eternal, and all that.

Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

Both in print and on-line. Each has its advantages. I like the on-line potential to reach a large audience, and I like the heft of a print journal in my hands and its presence on my shelf.

Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

The most gratifying experience I’ve had with a journal editor is having all 3 of the poems I submitted accepted and published in the same issue. One of these was subsequently nominated for the Pushcart.

Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

Fan mail only from friends, but even that felt good.

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Practical considerations:

Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

Until recently, I worked as an on-line writing instructor for Johns Hopkins CTYOnline, a program for gifted and talented youth. This is a job I might resume if and when the national economy revives enough to make the demand for these courses healthier. It was a good, part-time job and kept me thinking about writing: using strong verbs, vivid images, figurative language, etc.

Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

My husband has recently retired from a long career as a physicist at Caltech-JPL doing research and development. His “occupation” as a retiree is somewhat less-well defined, a situation that has challenged me in managing my writing time.

Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

Since I started writing seriously about 15 years ago, I’ve had some relatively brief dry periods. For instance, I simply cannot write while entertaining house guests or relatives in my home. Also, it’s hard to write during illness or high-stress periods. When all else fails, I write in my journal anything that comes to me.

Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

No, but I’ve been fortunate to have enough discretionary income to support my poetry habit.

Some of the funds for attending writing conferences and the travel they entail comes from the joint budget of my husband and me.

Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

This question would require such a nuanced answer that it would inflict suffering upon the reader of this survey. Aside from my in-laws, I don’t think I’ve inflicted much suffering on anyone in the name of my art. One person was embarrassed, I think, to have been featured in a poem of mine. Otherwise, well, I’ve made my husband wait for supper a few times.

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Random nonsense:

Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

As far as I know, I’m all too human.

Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address
b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed
c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)
d.) Do none of the above; instead you

Hope she doesn’t turn over in her grave. [Forgive the irreverence, Mom, wherever you are.]

Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

I don’t know.

Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

This is a hard question because each vowel has several sounds, depending on its context. Also, the vowels as sung are different from the same vowels as spoken. Then there’s the look of a vowel on the page. Although the letters a and o are more comely than u, i, or even e; nevertheless, I like using the i-vowel in poems—capital, lower-case, short or long. I like the softness of short-i and the strengh of long-i (which is actually a diphthong: pronounced ahhh-ee).

Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.

A diligent minuet is the dance you covet?

Trade your Brahms for Luly, said the poet.


Lucia Galloway is the author of Venus and Other Losses, forthcoming from Plain View Press in the Fall of 2009. A chapbook, Playing Outside, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2005. Galloway’s work has appeared widely in print and on-line magazines: Columbia Poetry Review, Cumberland Poetry Review, Flyway, Gertrude, The Lyric, The MacGuffin, Poetry Midwest, Poemeleon, Prism Review, Redheaded Stepchild, Sierra Nevada CollegeReview, Spillway, Thema, and Verdad, among others. Nominated for the Pushcart, her poem “For a Woman Washing Vases” also took a first-place award in the 2005 Artists Embassy International Dancing Poetry Festival. Galloway is the recipient of the Robert Haiduke Prize from the Bread Loaf School of English and Honorable Mention in The MacGuffin National Poet Hunt. She holds the MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and has taught writing to academically gifted students in the Johns Hopkins program CTYOnline. Galloway co-hosts the monthly Poetry Reading Series of the Claremont Public Library. Contact information and samples of her work are available at www.luciagalloway.com.

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