Stan Galloway, nominated Best of the Net in 2011 and 2012, teaches English at Bridgewater College in Virginia. His chapbook Abraham is available from Sierra Delta Press. His full collection Just Married is forthcoming from unbound CONTENT. He has also written a book of literary criticism, The Teenage Tarzan (McFarland, 2010).
When Lucille Clifton passed away, less than a year later, I felt that loss both personally and professionally. Her images were grafted into me, in a way, and I was motivated to speak for her, and for me. I wrote an elegy for her, “Miss Lucille,” honoring and lamenting her passing, as a way to start myself down a path that she would have understood and approved.
It would be wrong to say, though, that I write because I can. There are many things I can do, that I don’t. Rather, there is a satisfaction in creating that comes from very few activities. Inside each of us, the image of God, the creator, tries to get out. We all find ways to create, and for me words are the paint I use, the clay, the nuts and bolts. The teacher in me wants to write things that will make a difference, make people say, “Oh, I never thought of it that way, but it’s true.” There can be a kind of intimacy created in a poem, because a poem reveals something of the writer, sometimes overtly, more often covertly or even subconsciously. And sharing those secrets draws the heart of the reader closer to the writer than most other kinds of art and even other kinds of writing.
So, I share my life, my dreams, my hopes in poems. Sometimes a poem is an observation about choices. In “Kentucky Blue,” for example, I hope that the reader says, “I know a person like that, despondent because he won’t let go.” I believe there are many people like that. The art of the poem is that vertically the line lengths look like a heart monitor; that is, if the poem is turned sideways it looks like the measure of a heartbeat. This is a poem about a heart.
Sometimes a poem will come from an experience or a conversation. “Crossing the Ohio” is one such poem. It was sparked in a conversation on a hotel balcony in Louisville, looking out across the Ohio River. My friend said something about the hope inherent in the view. That started me thinking about different ways one might “look” across that river. I tried to lay those thoughts on top of each other, realizing that chronology was insufficient in conveying the complexity of the multiple views. So I tried to express the fact that the mind does not move in straight minutes of time. The numbers indicate a chronology that differs from the presentation which jumps like the human mind to various temporal points.
Another motivation in writing is trying to say one thing in terms of another image. Poetry does that better than any other art. “Locking the Bathroom Door” is a poem that avoids its own subject by focusing on images that “feel” like the undisclosed subject. The wall and the fire are metaphoric for the frustration and loss lying behind the image.
I’m also a romantic at heart. I like love and affection. Many of the poems I write try to show how love and affection are shown in little ways, a simple kiss in “Honolulu Elevator,” for example, or the simple presence of another, shown in “Morning Coffee.” Love takes so many different forms that it is often overlooked. I want to find it in the most ordinary of circumstances. I write out of that desire, too.
To name all the motivations in my writing would be impossible. But whichever motivation is at hand, I end up writing a poem every week at least. It doesn’t have to be written on my to-do list; it will happen. (Now, submitting those poems is another matter.) I think, like most writers, I write because it comes out of me without coaxing, and it addresses my need to be heard, to be truthful and relevant, and potentially to be loved.
Published in In Motion Magazine October 20, 2012
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