This is the first collection of poetry by upstate New York writer Matt Galletta. The book consists of 32 poems, 13 of which have previously appeared in small press publications, such as, Headlock Press, Red Fez, Rusty Truck and Pigeon Bike. The writing is typically first person, free verse & minimalistic in style. The subject matter focuses on the childhood traumas of growing up, the joys of pregnancy & birth and the ongoing tightrope walk between hope & darkness.
Julie Michelle Sparenberg’s striking cover represents three small sailing vessels caught in raging night storm. The title poem ‘The Ship is Sinking’ follows a conversation in a pub between the speaker, presumably Galletta, and an unnamed friend. In a graphic extended metaphor, the speaker describes his marriage as a “sinking ship.” In the interview which follows this review, Galletta explains the book’s conception and title, “When I put together the book and considered both the subject matter and the sort of water theme I saw running throughout, it seemed like an obvious choice for the title. I’m so glad I landed on that one, too, because Julie really killed it with the cover. My response when I first saw it was something like, ’Holy shit, don’t change a thing.’ ”
The writing in the collection is clear and minimalistic and usually centred on ordinary experiences. Galletta says in the interview, “A lot of the work in the collection is rooted in some lived experience. That said, I don’t feel any particular obligation to stick strictly to ‘what really happened’ when writing. This is poetry, not memoir. There are things in the collection that are exaggerated, that are glossed over, that are fabricated entirely. But I’d like to think they’re ‘true’ in some wider sense of the word.” Two poems in particular, spring to mind, Inflated’ which drifts into the territory of magical realism and ‘Take It Back’ which personifies the ugly, vicious side of the speaker.
One of Galletta’s strengths is to weave some of his best poems around a central metaphor to make a wry, often understated comments about his life. ‘Twelve fluid ounces’, ‘A Dull Ache’, ‘This Mess’, ‘Clown’, ‘Take it Back’, ‘The Ship is Sinking’ and ‘At best’ all effectively use this form. In ‘Clown, for example, a “skinny blond” is described as a “banana peel” and his friends were so sick of his “juggling act”:
they were just
to watch me
take a fall.
Galletta says in the interview, “Writing the extended metaphors can be fun, like in the one with the windbag neighbour who turns into an actual hot air balloon and floats away (‘Inflated’). But in general, I think it can be a pretty effective way of approaching a subject. Writing explicitly about ‘big’ concepts, like love or death or the continued defeats and failures in life, can make for dull and unengaging poetry. On the other hand, the image of a child losing over and over at an arcade game (‘At best’) can have more immediate impact on the reader.”
A number of poems in the collection are reminiscences of significant childhood events. Notable amongst these are ‘Eight Years Old’, ‘My Struggle’, ‘The Tide’, ‘In the Garage’ and ‘Mixed Tape’. The best of these is ‘My Father’s Severed Head’ which combines a macabre sense of humour with a darker, more gut wrenching truth:
My Father’s Severed Head
While my mother
was picking me up
from the kindergarten,
the center leaf
dining room table
and cut a hole
in the tablecloth.
under the table
and poked his head
through the hole
When we got home,
it was the first thing
on the table,
into the skull.
My mother and I
and he burst out
to contain himself
just another entry
in her list
all these years later,
about their marriage,
about marriage in general,
I have to wonder:
In that moment
when we first
when she first
saw his head
of my mother’s scream
was really just
(reprinted with the poet’s permission)
In the collection the reader will also discover many domestic poems, particularly centred on Galletta’s partner’s pregnancy and subsequent birth. ‘Placenta’, ‘The Hunted’, ‘Hibernation’, ‘Ultrasound’, ‘Morse Code’, ‘Cut the Cord’, ‘These are the miracles’ and ‘Sunday morning’ are all delightful, highly observational poems which exude the joys of sharing a life together and which counterbalance the bleakness of poems such as, ‘Take It Back’ and ‘The Ship is Sinking.’
At the heart of this collection lies the ambiguity, succinctly expressed at the conclusion of ‘Rinsing Empties’:
When it’s all
going down the drain,
the least we can do
to enjoy it.
We might be like the man in ‘Better Today’ struggling to keep his head up in the raging ocean before the next wave strikes, but as Galletta expresses in one of the last poems, ‘I only just saw it myself’:
There’s no time
for a practice run,
and there will be
no dress rehearsal.
the only take
The Ship is Sinking is a highly readable first collection which scoots the thin rim between joy and a looming darkness. Images of a baby laughing in ‘These are the miracles’ are contrasted with the defiled beetle in ‘this will be there’ to create an impressive complexity of tone and mood. These poems will take you by surprise and you will want to mouth Galletta’s lines in his opening poem, ‘Twelve fluid ounces’:
Buy a signed copy via PayPal here for $15: http://www.mattgalletta.com/ship.html
For more information about Galletta’s previously published short stories & poems”: http://www.mattgalletta.com/writing.html
Visit his home page: http://www.mattgalletta.com/
AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT GALLETTA ON 29 JANUARY 2016
How did you find the process of your book being published?
What I remember most about the process was how difficult it was for the printing company to get the spine label right. They had trouble lining the text up on the spine. I lost count of how many proof copies we went through. But Wolf doesn’t settle for less than the best, so he kept at them until they got it right.
Can you tell us the story behind the choice of title and Julie Michelle Sparenberg’s front cover?
The poem “The Ship Is Sinking” came first. It had a different title initially, but later the Tom Waits song “God’s Away on Business” came to mind. Waits repeats the line “the ship is sinking” in it, and it felt like a good fit for the poem. Actually, a handful of other pieces in the book also got their titles from songs (“In the Garage,” “Stephanie Says,” etc.).
When I put together the book and considered both the subject matter and the sort of water theme I saw running throughout, it seemed like an obvious choice for title. I’m so glad I landed on that one, too, because Julie really killed it with the cover. My response when I first saw it was something like, “Holy shit, don’t change a thing!” I’m very grateful for her work. I think it’s one of the best-looking small press book covers around.
It appears that most of the poetry in the collection is triggered by real people, places & events. To what extent is this statement accurate?
I’m not sure what a poem not triggered in some way by something real would look like, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be worth reading.
So yes, a lot of the work in the collection is rooted in some lived experience. That said, I don’t feel any particular obligation to stick strictly to “what really happened” when writing. This is poetry, not memoir. There are things in the collection that are exaggerated, that are glossed over, that are fabricated entirely. But I’d like to think they’re “true” in some wider sense of the word.
How would you describe your use of style and who has influenced its development? You are particularly keen on extended metaphors, for example.
Writing the extended metaphors can be fun, like in the one with the windbag neighbor who turns into an actual hot air balloon and floats away.
But in general, I think it can be a pretty effective way of approaching a subject. Writing explicitly about “big” concepts, like love or death or the continual defeats and failures in life, can make for dull and unengaging poetry. On the other hand, the image of a child losing over and over at an arcade game can have more immediate impact on the reader. And it still conveys something about that same concept.
Where do you go from here? What projects do you have lined up?
Since right around the release of the poetry book I’ve been wrestling with a novel. It was winning for a while, but I think I have it pinned down now.
Find out more about Matt Galletta’s writings here:http://www.mattgalletta.com/