James Galvin

recorded in Iowa City, IA


James Galvin

My name is James Galvin and I live most of the year in Iowa City, Iowa, but I spend all of my summers in Wyoming where I was raised, and every chance I get I go to Italy. I think my poems owe more to the landscape that I was raised in than to any other particular place. And I think that in a landscape as spectacular and overwhelmingly cast as the one I grew up in, what happens is the landscape gets inside you and it becomes a large part of who you are, so you’re kind of turned inside out. Wallace Stegner once said you can’t know who you are if you don’t know where you are, and that’s at least half true. Probably quite a bit more than half true. But anyway, I feel that way, so I go to Wyoming every year and sometimes for more than just the summers, and a lot of my poems are grounded in that particular sense of place because I feel that is most deeply who I am, is a place. And I belong to it. I teach in Iowa City because it’s, I think, the best job I could possibly have in what I do. And I like going to Italy because it has a lot of great art and a lot of good wine and a lot of really good food and beautiful weather and landscape and a vastness of sense of history that one could compare with the vastness of the landscape of the Western United States. When you go out West, you feel small in that landscape, and that’s a good thing, and when you go to Italy, you feel small in history, and that’ a good thing.

The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think there are regional voices? Like if we talk to people here, do you think we’d find a Midwestern voice in writing, or if we go out West, would we find one out there?


I would go so far as to say I think there’s a rural voice and a metropolitan voice. I think people who live in cities, people whose sense of place is a city, come to feel, through no fault of their own, that reality is basically a circumstance of human actions and their consequences, whereas if you live outside of a city, you feel as if reality is weather and distance and elevation and whether or not there’s a river. So I think those are very different sensibilities. And people who are formed by, say, living in New York, have a very different rhythm and sound and they pay more attention to people and psychology, and there’s a certain kind of nervousness that can be really interesting, like in Frank O’Hara. And I would hesitate to say there’s a difference between the sound of someone who lives in Montana as opposed to the sound of someone who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Actually, if I think of one person in particular who’s lived in both of those places, it didn’t change how he sounded. I’m talking about Jim Harrison, who I think is a genius. But I think basically there’s a rural voice and an urban voice. I’d be nervous to go any further than that.

On the Skeleton of a Hound by James Wright


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