Author of poetry collection CRASH
Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I come from a line of self-made men who could build anything, fix anything, me who worked hard every day, but who also found time for music. My grandfather played violin, his father was a published composer who immigrated from Italy to New Orleans; my father played flute in both the Army Airforce Band and the New Orleans Philharmonic. My great-uncle Achille played cello and repaired violins for a living. Not sure any of them every read much less thought about poetry, though I often heard my father quote Omar Khayyam. I always felt inferior to my grandfather and father because it seemed they could do anything almost instinctively. I was destined to go into their businesses, but fate intervened. I enrolled at Tulane University as a freshman and, voila, discovered literature, which changed the course of my life. Naturally, I have felt guilty my entire life about defecting from the family business. But I was hooked on poetry mostly, though I too was a musician, playing piano, flute and tenor sax in a rock and roll band.
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
I wrote my first poem when I was either four or five years old. I did not know it was a poem at the time or that it was a pretty bad poem. It goes like this:
Daddy is good.
Daddy is very good.
I love Daddy.
I think I still have the original copy in a box stored in the attic. After that, though, I turned mostly to drawing cartoons, even entire comic books. I complete around thirty volumes of them—and these too are still stored in my attic somewhere.
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
I have three books of poetry forthcoming, but the latest I have actually received from Adelaide is entitle Clearing the Attic. What inspired it was my futile attempt to clear out my attic literally of years worth of stuff and more stuff. I found a box with all sorts of mementos from my remote past, mostly old Mardi Gras beads and throws from the carnival krewes in New Orleans, things my family and I actually caught as the parades rolled by. I inspected each one of them and were saving them for my daughters whom I assumed would cherish them as I did and do. My youngest daughter happened to be sitting in an armchair across from me as I pulled each doodad out of its box, and as she notice her name written on the box: for Madeleine. She looked at me and asked, “What is that stuff?” I told her and explained that I was saving it for her and her sister. She frowned, smiled and said, “Daddy, we don’t want that shit. Sell it on eBay.”
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
I write very fast, set texts aside for a while then go back and revise, revise, revise. I must have ten thousand files of poems, stories, essays, whatever. I have always felt compelled to write, even as a little kid, I wrote, I always wrote, a day without writing seemed horrifically empty. I have always considered it a curse, but what can one do when so cursed. Write. Since my latest book is a poetry volume, the poems were compiled from a few years of work, so it’s impossible to say exactly when they were written. Sometimes I find files I had saved on disks from decades ago and cannot not ever remember having written the poems therein; same is true for old print literary journals. Sometime I actually publish NOW a poems I had written forty years ago!
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I used to—back before computers. I needed a clear desk, a cup of coffee, a fountain pen, blank sheets of paper, a sixty-watt student lamp focused only on the white sheet of paper, the rest of the room dark. I wrote out everything by hand in those days, then transferred the writing to an old mechanical or electric typewriter. With the advent of computers and word processing, I have no particular rituals. I just sit before the screen and write. Only rarely now do I write by hand—only when waiting in the car, usually. I despise laptops, so I keep a pad of paper and a pen on my dashboard. I never wait in the car without writing something, anything, good, bad or ugly.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I admired painters and tried my hand at painting, but, alas, I was a dismal failure at it. I tried sculpture with slab of marble, but, again, failed. I can draw cartoons in a James Thurber fashion, but it’s merely a hobby for me. I was first flautist in my secondary schools until graduation. We played classical music then—Beethoven Schubert, Dvorak, et al. I must have been pretty good because upon my Freshman entrance to Tulane, the orchestra director gave me a call and asked me to try out for a flautist position. Well, I walked into the auditorium, took my place beside the other flautist, took one look at the score—something by Stravinsky—and walked out, apologizing to the director en route. Reading music had always been my downfall. I could play by ear pretty well and I could play well, but reading music and Stravinsky killed me. I did go on to play tenor sax in a New Orleans rock band, and my band even won the New Orleans Battle of the Bands one year. Funny thing is I cannot remember the name of that band even though we featured a number of Ray Charles numbers, Ray being one of my all-time favorite popular music singers. To this day, I adore Ray Charles, and I even cried on the day that he died. But my musical career sort of ended after high school. I still play piano every now and then but mostly by ear. I can even play the slower etudes of Chopin if I read the scores carefully.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
Oh, man, that list could be endless. I was a double-major in philosophy and literature, so I have been influenced by both. One of the first philosophic texts I read as a college Freshman was Plato’s Republic—and it blew my mind. I had never heard of philosophy before. To read Plato/Socrates was a revelation, especially the Allegory of the Cave. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the novelist Walker Percy who was intensely influenced by European existentialism, and thus I read deeply into Camus, Sartre, Marcel, Jaspers, Heidegger—also, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. These ideas influence me deeply, and I steer towards novelists who echo their ideas. The only writing styles that influences me among philosophers are Camus and Nietzsche. Otherwise, with philosophy, the influence of ideas is what matters. Among writers I have been influenced by The Odyssey, The Bible, Lao Tzu, Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare (of course), James Joyce, Emily Bronte, D.H. Lawrence, Yeats ( I LOVE Yeats), Keats, Coleridge, Eliot’s Prufrock and Four Quartets, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Doctorow’s Ragtime, William Vollmann’s Europe Central, Flannery O’Connor, Anne Sexton. . . I could go on and on and on. I consider Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights, perfect novels.
I like ANYTHING by Walker Percy, especially Lost in the Cosmos. But the one novel that I love most is One Hundred Years of Solitude (Un Cien Anos de Soledad) by Gabriel Marquez. I adore it and when I first read it I felt my head explode. I would have give parts of my body to have written that book.
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I write poems all the time or drafts of poems. I go over them repeatedly and edit incessantly. I am also doing a lot of flash fiction, much now published, though the form seems rather limited to me. I used to write many short stories but have dwindled in output there, the markets for long stories rather diminished in the flash age. Right now I am compiling new volumes of poetry, reworking and redoing them constantly.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I have never thought much about it. I have no idea who reads my work, though sometimes I get fan letters from people I don’t know at all. I know lots of editors like my work a lot and continue to publish it, issue after issue. And I assume they know what their readers like as well. I do have an imaginary audience when I write, and that audience consists of people who think the way I think, who appreciate humor and philosophic touches in fiction or poetry. That may sound egoistic but c’est la vie. I truly cannot imagine any profile of my readers.
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Yes, very simple, never stop writing, never give up no matter how high the rejection slips pile, trust mostly your own judgment, get inspiration the fiction writers and poets who most appeal to you, trust your instincts, observe, observe, observe . . . a poem or story may- just happen to lie in the direction of your glance.
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Not sure I’ve heard any, let me think . . . maybe from Verlaine (or was it Valery?) never stop editing, editing can go on forever until that moment when you declare the work finished for good even if more editing can still be done. I think one could edit so relentlessly that one would be left with one word only: OM.
How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I read countless books annually decade after decade. I usually read two or three at a time. Right now, and this will change maybe by tomorrow, I am reading Raymond Carver’s All of Us
(his collected poems which I like better than his more famous short stories), C.K. Williams’ Collected Poems (one of America’s greatest contemporary poets, alas deceased), and Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters (a fantastic volume, almost every poem about his wife, Sylvia Plath—convinces me that Hughes is the greatest contemporary British poet, despite Larkin), though he too deceased.
My favorite genre is poetry, though I do read many novels and short fiction as well. My favorite novels are those with poetic flourishes stylistically. I prefer style over plot. Plot often seems mechanical to me. Some novels, though, do both brilliantly: One Hundred Years of Solitude.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
Relevant? With the advent of the Corona Virus I began to think that everything, especially poetry, was irrelevant. Then I started a Facebook Group called Gallo’s Poetry Students Jam. Within one day, we had over 170 members sign up, each posting their poems, students from every era, decades apart, all reading and responding to each other’s poems. I realized that far from being irrelevant during a global crisis, poetry, of all things, was brining people together, giving them hope and joy and aesthetic satisfaction. What I hope readers remember about my work is the humor, often very dark, the intensity, the grievous yet potent sense of nostalgia, the irony, the style, the sense of tempus fugiting relentlessly, the tragic sense of life (Unamuno) while at the same time the reverential Proustian privileged moments—say, when you play with your dog during a global pandemic, and her innocence and purity transcend the morbidity and mauvais foi engendered by that pandemic.
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
It is changing so rapidly that I can’t keep up with it. Not too long ago I believed that digital platforms for literature could never compete with old-fashioned print industry. I have completely changed my mind as the years progressed. Some of the digital platforms are much superior to their print equivalences, not all, but many. Authors must keep informed about calls for submissions from outfits like New Pages.Com, Submittable, Poets & Writers, etc. Editors tell you exactly what they want and you can decide if you fit in. You can find sites that publish extremely long fiction, a rarity today—I just got a very long novella accepted for publication this way–, or flash fiction, or poetry, or whatever. It is also necessary to keep up with WHAT is being published these days so you know if you are way off base or on the money. The major publishing houses of old churn on but they rarely take chances, tend to publish only what is trendy or assured of sales, require literary agents. But thanks to the internet, no more SASE’S, that ordeal; on the other hand, the wait time is often just a long.
What, aside from other literature and art, are you main influences (muses)?
I regard all of my, and all of everybody’s writing, to be essentially autobiographical. However “objective” an author strives to be, it all passes through his or her brain and must therefore be
mediated by that brain and that brain’s experiences and memories. My work is unabashedly autobiographical. My muses are first and foremost, my beautiful wife, and then my two daughters with her. Almost every story I write “uses” them as characters in one guise or another. Same with my poetry. When I write about women, mostly, I am writing about my wife, Cat. SHE is my muse. She gives me ideas, inspiration, a raison d’etre. Of course I often deviate and write about other things but they are almost always things I know, have experienced, remember. I write a lot about nostalgia, the yearning for the past. I have a volume of poems entitled Archaeology which explains this thoroughly yet in short lyric form. The past for me is very electric and alive. The present moment does not exist. The moment you say NOW, it’s already the past. The future is too weird to call and also does not exist—it funnels almost instantly into the past. One of my major interests and themes is memory, its slipperiness, its potency, its defects, its magic. I have this Proustian obsession with memory—the taste of the madeleine cakes, the smell of lacquer on the banister.