Getting to Know Kevin Gallagher and His New Book Loom
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
Like most American schoolboys I first encountered poetry in grade school but the last thing it did was stick. Indeed, my son had the same reaction such that I ‘translated’ it into one of my Freddy Sapienza poems:
April is (the cruelest) Poetry Month
Freddy’s son comes home from school and screams Dad!
They’re telling us this is poetry month?
We have to read a poem every day!
When we’re done, we have to talk about it!
I know you like poetry so I try,
but I fall asleep after a few lines.
You should see these things Dad. They’re filled with ‘thou,’
with ‘doth,’ and ‘thee.’ They aren’t talking to me
or anybody else in my whole class.
Dad, you have to do something about this.
You have to write a book of kid’s poems
and get it in by the end of the week!
I can’t take another week of this stuff,
I’d even settle for some extra math!
My first ‘poetic encounter’ was as a mid-teen upon listening to Bob Dylan for the first time. I was taken by the lyric imagery and sensibility of Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row, and many others. I then went backwards from there—Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, Walt Whitman, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Reverdy, Li Po and Homer. First in Dylan, then in these, I knew I could connect me to the world and the other world through language, through poetry.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Lyric poetry comes to me, I can not come to it. So my short lyric poetry is often light that hits me in the car, in a conversation, in a living insight. For that reason, the majority of the lyric poems of me disappear because I don’t have the time or moment to capture them and put them on paper or screen. My recent poetry are epic narratives, those hit me like a lyric poem but have an arc that can be seen and takes more time and vision to play through. I wish I had the time and routine to make those flow but my only routine is to know that I can’t live without getting it out so I have to take any moment to do so. At this point in my life that is rough, but okay. Frank O’Hara said that poetry is often not as good as the movies. Being my son’s soccer coach, being silly with my daughter, walking my dog, and loving my wife come first, are more fun, and poetry in another way.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Kenneth Rexroth, Charles Olson, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Muriel Rukeyser, Denise Levertov, Pierre Reverdy, Li Po, Catullus, Octavio Paz, Homero Aridjis, John Brooks Wheelwright, Frank O’Hara, Ezra Pound, James Laughlin, Rafael Alberti, Robert Lowell and Fanny Howe are poets I read on an annual basis.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
Antebellum Boston was the “Athens of America” that spawned a new American architecture, the first public hospitals, the dawn of secular music, and the country’s first globally renowned poets, writers, and philosophers.
Less known is the fact that the rise of Boston, and the United States as an economic and cultural power in general, was due in no small part to what Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner called the ‘unholy alliance’ between the ‘lords of the loom’ and the ‘lords of the lash.’ LOOM is a book of poems, or a poem inspired by and derived from the letters, speeches, and lives of lords of the loom as they converted from slave power to stark mad abolitionists.
In 1854, just days after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act--allowing new states to decide whether they would be pro-slavery--escaped slave Anthony Burns was convicted in Boston for violating the Fugitive Slave Act. A riot ensued in the streets of Boston where abolitionists tried to rescue Burns from the Court House. United States Marshalls were brought in to escort Burns and Virginia troops to the Boston Harbor through a riotous crowd of over 50,000 carrying black coffins.
At that moment Amos A. Lawrence said he and other Cotton Whigs became ‘stark-mad abolitionists.’ Indeed, he himself went on to finance John Brown’s efforts to turn Kansas into a free state and to recruit the Massachusetts’ 54th ‘colored’ Infantry. This conversion was pivotal to the course of American history.
View a sample poem from Loom here: