From a Newtown Literary contributor: Robert René Galván
Writer Robert René Galván’s work was featured in issue #18 of Newtown Literary. Born in San Antonio, he resides in New York City where he works as a professional musician and poet. His collections of poems are Meteors (Lux Nova Press), Undesirable: Race and Remembrance (Somos en Escrito Foundation Press, 2020), Standing Stones (Finishing Line Press, 2021), and The Shadow of Time (Adelaide Books, 2021). Recently, his poems were featured in Puro ChicanX Writers of the 21st Century (2nd Edition) and in Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought. His poems have been nominated for Best of Web and the Pushcart Prize. His poem, Awakening, was featured in the author’s voice on NPR as part of National Poetry Month in the Spring of 2021. Below, he returns to interview himself for our blog.
What is the last thing that moved you?
Standing in front of my chorus for a live 9/11 commemorative performance at the Fulton Street Stage in lower Manhattan on September 11th, 2021 after having endured a long hiatus these last two years. They sang wonderfully.
What is a book that changed or greatly influenced your life?
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. As Henry Miller said, it is “more potent medicine than the New Testament.”
What is your first memory of poetry?
I remember reciting William Blake’s "The Tyger" at the age of three. Also, traveling with my father all over the Southwest when he read his poetry on the Círculo Hispanoamericano when I was a child.
What poem do you continually turn to and why?
"The Enigmas" by Pablo Neruda. As always, he conveys a sense of wonder at the intricate plexus of nature and of his own place in the cosmos. The sheer beauty of the imagery and language astonishes me. The late actor John Heard recites the entire poem in the movie Mindwalk. I have made my own translation with input from my father.
If you were to identify a poetic lineage for you work, what would it be?
My father, who is 98 years old, was a linguist, lexicographer, and poet during his long academic career. Both myself and the excellent poet Tino Villanueva owe a great deal to his influence. David Wevill continues to be a mentor and confidant. Dad had a personal library of many thousands of books and the house he still lives in was built specifically for them. I remember watching the carpenters creating the floor-to-ceiling shelves when I was 5 years old. Tino and I both profess an early admiration for the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, but my lineage also includes poetry in multiple languages—a result of my translations for my performances of world choral/vocal music, many of which feature the greatest poems of all time.
How has this last year changed you, and what is something that you will take with you into a post-pandemic world?
I have had to become quite inventive in my approach to my musical ensembles. I have been doing private lessons and group rehearsals online during the pandemic and have learned to create multi-track videos. Poetry preserved my sanity. I sent out three books during the past two years and hoped that one of them would be published, but all three have been released. I hope to perform more live concerts and readings as the pandemic abates.
If you were to collaborate with any artist on a project, who would it be and why?
I have plans to compose a chamber opera using my wife’s short play Ouroboros as the libretto. It is about the chemist Stephanie Kwolek who invented Kevlar. It takes place on a moving train.
Why does poetry matter?
Percy Bysshe Shelly said, “Poets are legislators of the world.” The genre has mattered from the beginning of civilization. It gives voice to the ineffable, structure to the deepest stirrings of the soul, a flaming lance cast into the darkness.
Are you working on anything right now that you can tell us about?
I am proofing my fifth collection of poems, Table of Elements, which features a poem for atoms 1-101 in the Periodic Table of Elements. The book was inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson when we met for the first time at a Sloan Foundation event. I am also in the process of curating my sixth book.