Poetry of the Wild West

James Galvin read a selection of his poems for the English Reading Series.

PROVO, Utah (Feb. 3, 2017)—“I was married for 25 years and then I wasn’t.” That was the only introduction the audience got to James Galvin’s poem, “Cherry Blossoms Blowing in Wet Blowing Snow,” which quickly set the tone for the rest of his reading. However unfeeling his description of marriage, his poem reminisces,

“In sickness and in health

In pain and the celebration of pain.

In the hammock under the aspen. In all the emergencies.

In toleration. In retaliation

Weren’t we something?” 

As part of the English Reading Series, poet James Galvin read a selection of his work,
most of which focused on nature and his experiences living in rural Wyoming. In his poem, “A Thousand and One Avatars,” he describes the otherworldly appearance of a huge flock of white pelicans. “They appeared like a bullet hole in the day-lit stratosphere that leaked a bright, white light / It whirled to the north and came down like a comet’s tail, then like a cloud of frost, slowly lofting – a fuzzy galactic avatar . . . / Coming to rest on our modest lake in their ordained sortie from Florida to the Gulf Coast and Panama to their home in British Columbia.”

Galvin explained that he has spent his entire life around horses, and told the story of one horse in particular, a black mare. “I bought this horse for 400 dollars because nobody could ride her. And I rode her for 20 years. But she wasn’t an easy ride.” Despite her difficult personality, it was clear from Galvin’s poems about her that they had a special connection. “Her name was Sarah,” he read, “And . . . all she wanted to do was run. / Ears back, flat out, nose pushed into the next life.”

When the mare was old and it came time for her to be put down, Galvin did it himself. “I have shot horses,” he said frankly. “I think that if I was a horse, I’d rather be led into the woods by someone I know and stick my nose in a bucket of grain, and then suddenly not be there.” But it is clear that killing this mare was harder for him than times previous. In his poem, he writes, “If I ever get to Heaven, / I’d like to overhear my daughter tell a story to her children / ‘Sometimes my dad used to ride this black mare.’”

In addition to focusing on nature’s beauty, some of Galvin’s poems were more thoughtful and focused on the quiet sadness of life. “Five Paintings of Clara Van Waning” is written in the voice of Galvin’s childhood neighbor, a painter who died by suicide when Galvin was young. In the poem, Clara says,

“I paint my own front yard. The big pole gate

Left open so the subject can become

The narrow two-track road, which turns away,

And vanishes . . .

The open gate

Means someone left, and I am waiting for them

To come home.”

Galvin’s poem “Giving Up the Ghost” also focuses on loss with a melancholy tone, but not without a touch of humor. As he copies his friends’ addresses and phone numbers from his old address book to his new one, he says,

“My address book was a tree full of falling leaves,

Full of butterflies, dead and dying . . .

There were more dead friends than I’d guessed and I thanked each one

For not making me write down their info.”

Olivia Madsen (BA French language, ’18)

Olivia covers events for the English Department of the College of Humanities. She is a senior majoring in French with a minor in international development.