“The Anx­i­ety of Not Know­ing”: An In­ter­view with James Galvin

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Daniel Kha­lastchi

For more than three decades, poet and prose writer James Galvin has re­mained a re­mark­ably in­flu­en­tial fig­ure in Amer­i­can arts and let­ters. The au­thor of eight award-win­ning vol­umes of po­etry and two crit­i­cally ac­claimed books of prose (in­clud­ing The Meadow, a clas­sic med­i­ta­tion on Moun­tain Western land­scape and the peo­ple who in­habit it), Galvin has re­ceived fel­low­ships and recog­ni­tion from a cho­rus of ma­jor lit­er­ary or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts, the In­gram Mer­rill Foun­da­tion, the Lan­nan Foun­da­tion, and the Guggen­heim Foun­da­tion. He has taught at the Univer­sity of Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop for over thirty years, and he cur­rently serves as a mem­ber of its per­ma­nent fac­ulty and di­rec­tor of the po­etry pro­gram. I first met Galvin dur­ing my time as a grad­u­ate stu­dent in the Work­shop, and his in­tel­li­gence and ped­a­gogy con­tinue to shape my own work as a writer, ed­u­ca­tor, and pub­lisher. Over the years, we have had a num­ber of wide-rang­ing and vi­brant con­ver­sa­tions about the state of con­tem­po­rary po­etry, many of which oc­curred around his kitchen ta­ble in Wy­oming, af­ter long af­ter­noons cut­ting wood and mend­ing fence. To mark the pub­li­ca­tion of his af­fect­ing and con­tem­pla­tive new col­lec­tion— Ev­ery­thing We Al­ways Knew Was True, pub­lished by Cop­per Canyon Press in fall 2016—I sat down with Galvin for one such con­ver­sa­tion, this time to dis­cuss his history, his work, and his writ­ing process. The in­ter­view that fol­lows was con­ducted at his home in Iowa City.

Daniel Kha­lastchi: You grew up in north­ern Colorado, dur­ing which time you did ev­ery­thing from alpine rock and ice climb­ing, to con­struc­tion and ranch work; you even ap­pren­ticed to be a luthier af­ter at­tend­ing An­ti­och Col­lege. How did you come to study­ing and writ­ing po­etry?

James Galvin: If you were a boy raised in post–world War II Moun­tain Western Amer­ica, all you were ex­pected to do was hunt and ride horses and be tough. You could go your whole youth and ado­les­cence and no one was ever go­ing to ask you to ex­press your­self cre­atively—no one was ever go­ing to ask you to write a poem, or paint. So when I went away to col­lege, I met peo­ple who were sen­si­tive, and creative, and tal-

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