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