Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Somerville Native Son Kevin Gallagher: From COMPOST to BOSTON UNIVERSITY
Interview by Doug Holder
Back in 1995 I was published in a unique Boston-based literary magazine COMPOST, and read at an arts center in Jamaica Plain with Boston poets like Sam Cornish, Jack Powers, Joe DeRoche, and others. Kevin Gallagher was one of the founding editors, and some years later I had the privilege of publishing a poetry collection by him. Gallagher, who was born in 1968, is a native Somervillian and his mother taught at St. Joseph’s some 40 years ago.
He is the author of three books of poetry, "Gringo Guadalupe"
(Ibbetson Street, 2009), "Isolate Flecks" (Cervena Barva, 2008), and
"Looking for Lake Texcoco" (Cy Gist, 2008). Gallagher is a professor at Boston University and currently lives in Newton,MA. with his wife and newborn son. His poetry has been published in Harvard Review, Partisan Review, Green Mountains Review, LitVert, Jacket, and elsewhere. His recent books are: Putting Development First: The Importance of Policy Space in the WTO, and Free Trade and the Environment: Mexico, NAFTA, and Beyond.
I interviewed him on my Somervile Community Access TV show: “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”
Doug Holder: You were a founding member of COMPOST magazine based in Boston some years ago. How did it start, and how was it unique?
Kevin Gallagher: I was an editor, and I was an original member of the collective. We started in the early 90’s when MacIntosh and the computer were in style and you didn’t need a printing press to print something. It was before Blogs and other stuff. So we occupied this ten-year period in which out of our living room we could make a magazine. We were young, bohemian, and revolutionaries in Jamaica Plain in the early 90’s. Now we are over 40, mortgage-owning, adults with kids.
DH: But you still have your idealism, no?
KG: Absolutely. I live it every day. So as I said we started in the 90’s. A group of poets who were upset with the ingrained academic perspective that the publishing wing of Boston was all about at the time. You had to be involved with an academic quarterly-- that didn't look like fun--they didn't have any art and poetry. We wanted to include other genres of art. We wanted to be more inclusive. This was the late 80's and early 90's; the world was opening and Communism started to fade away. We had a global perspective. We also thought that American poetry, particularly in Boston, was very provincial. We focused a lot on the literature of other countries.
DH: You also had an all Boston issue.
KG: Yes. We focused on our own community, we focused on the country, and we focused around the globe. Each issue had a section that focused on Boston area poetry. We had people from all schools of poetry. We had national poets like Alan Dugan and Robert Pinsky. We had a 14-year-old girl from Roxbury. We were the first magazines that did an exclusive section of poetry from North Vietnam. Kevin Bowen was the guest editor--he is the director of the William Joiner Center at U/Mass Boston.
DH: How did it end?
KG: It was different things for different people. One person moved to Manhattan, one person gets married. We held together a little bit, but things changed.
DH: You edited an article for Jacket Magazine that concerned the one time Somerville poet Denise Levertov.
KG: I love to edit poetry. I edited an article for Jacket Magazine--I crafted a feature on her work. I asked her friends, academics, etc... to assess Denise Levertov in the 21st century. Mark Pawlak and others talked about her.
She was originally from England. She started out as a very formal poet. When Robert Creeley gave her a book by William Carlos Williams--it changed things for her. She fell in love with the American idiom. She transformed herself and became one of the core of new American poets. She had several books with New Directions. During the Vietnam War she became very political in her work. She read in front of huge crowds during demonstrations. Towards the end of her life she was an environmental poet.
DH: You are a professor at Boston University now. How does this fit in with the writing life?
KG: My day job is not about poetry. I'm glad--I do a lot of different things. I am an economist that looks at the world economy and tries to see ways to create a world economic system that can make everyone better off. I spend a lot of time in Latin America--my poetry is part of that.
DH: Can you talk about your latest collection with the Ibbetson Street Press:
KG: To a certain extent my last two books "Gringo..." and "Looking for Lake Texcoco" ( Cy Gist 2008) are story sequences of poems written when I was in Mexico working on environmental issues. Lake Texcoco was a huge lake that was filled in, in Mexico City. A noted poet in the United States translated the collection. This book deals with the contrast between the indigenous people and global forces. There is something about soul and fate in it. The "Gringo Guadalupe" is a book that is a little sardonic. It deals with the birth of Christ. It is a series of sonnets about a husband and wife: Joe and Mary. Joe takes a job in Mexico. While he is in Mexico, an angel appears to his wife in the States, and tells her she is going to bear the Son of God. And she believes it.
DH: The last section of "Gringo..." is titled: "Frescos" These poems are short, tight, with crisp imagery. Some would say it is easier to write a short poem, that a wordy, more elaborate one. Your take?
KG: It is harder in my opinion. As a professor at Boston University--when I ask someone to do two-page paper, it is much harder than twenty. Each word counts more. So in this section, each poem is like a picture that tells its own story. Each poem has to have imagery--a strong lyrical quality--to get across the story.
by Kevin Gallagher
I sat cross-legged swinging on my swing
feeling less alive than a marionette.
The neighbor’s children danced under the sunset
pulling each other’s hair while singing
songs that had a particular ring
that made them impossible to forget.
So I wasn’t surprised when the bullet
hit my head. I was too busy smiling.
I smiled when they put me in the casket.
I smiled when they lowered me under my stone.
It took my death to bury my hatchet,
the roots around me remind me of my bones.
They shot the living daylights out of me.
I can’t see. You can’t see me. But I be.
Copyright © 2002 by Kevin Gallagher