Gabrielle Calvocoressi: The Biggest Heart

GA 5 | Becoming A Poet

 

The Biggest Heart: Poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi @gabbat wears her huge heart on her sleeve, and she will make you fall in love with her. She sees the world through a lens that is what she calls, beautiful/terrible. She describes poetry as a way of making sense of experiences. Her humor and compassion are as amazing as her talent and courage. She’s the kind of human being we need more of.

Listen to the podcast here:

Gabrielle Calvocoressi: The Biggest Heart

How did you love my Gaby? 

She is so special. 

Isn’t she unbiased? I’ve known her for so long since college so it’s hard for me to stay objective because I adore her but the fact that you did too, nix it. 

Within an hour, she had my heart. She is a heart stealer. 

She wears her heart on her sleeve. She is this accomplished incredible poet with three published books under her belt, a fourth on the way. She’s been published in The New Yorker. 

She is a tenured professor at North Carolina. The openness, the vulnerability and the heart that she brought to this episode are more than I could have ever dreamed of. 

She talked about her mother who was mentally ill and she went through some deep, dark and hard things with her mom. 

She’s figuring out her own identity at the same time. I can’t even imagine what she went through, but to come out on this other side as such a loving, fun, bright and intelligent. You’re lucky you have her. 

I feel lucky and I’m so glad that I got to share that with you and hopefully with everyone else who’s reading. She wears her heart on her sleeve. You can’t help but be totally in love with her. At least that’s what we think. 

We help you fall in love too. 

 

We are here with Gabrielle Calvocoressi. There’s so much to say about you and we have a long history because we went to college together, but I’m putting that on hold because your life is far more interesting than wasting it on boring and pretentious old me in college. Let’s talk about you and your seemingly endless list of accomplishments. You have three published books. You published the last one, Rocket Fantastic, when? 

The last one came out in 2017. 

I should say that you are a poet. Does anyone say, poetess? 

Most of the times people say, poet. Sometimes people say poet and laugh. There’s a big long pause. There’s some time where someone will say, “Gaby is a poet,” and then the person next to me would be like, “I’m a poet too.” Everyone’s poet. 

I wish I could claim that but I can’t. 

You’d be amazed at how many people can. 

I feel that I have met that but in different capacities but you are a real big deal poet. 

In my third day at Columbia, my teacher Richard Howard walked in the room and there are nineteen of us. He looked around the room and he said, “Saying you are a famous poet is like saying you are a famous mushroom.” I think about that every single day. I have a very lucky life. 

More than any other medium that is hard to make a name and a living for yourself, the poet is probably one of the hardest. People like Rumi, Hafez and Mary Oliver, those are pretty much the big three. 

If you said the name of most other poets, even poets who I might consider famous mushroom because the average person would be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  

Not everybody is cracking open some poetry books. 

Probably not most people. 

They should and we should. 

Almost everybody has written a poem at some point or another. That’s something that is interesting. There is always this conversation of poetry being dead and that’s silly because tremendous amount of people read poems. Even people who’ve never read a book of poetry, most people at some point in their life have written a poem. It’s also interesting in that way too. 

It’s like the, “Roses are red, violets are blue,” rhyme things. 

It’s like a haiku. bet Clive had written a haiku at this point. 

If you went down deep, if a person’s parent has died or they fell in love with someone, they’ve written a poem. 

Not everybody is cracking open some poetry books, yet almost everyone has written a poem at some point or another. Click To Tweet

They feel that poetry, even the word connotates so much emotion. That is one of the big things about it that people feel probably uncomfortable with because emotions are scary. I should take it back. You were born and raised in Connecticut. 

I was born in Central in Hartford, Connecticut on November 11th, 1974. My father was very young. My mother was a little bit older than him. My mother was pretty mentally ill at that point. It progressed throughout her life. The stories I have always been told is that she was quite ill by that time already. She already had a hospitalization. Its clear to me that she had postpartum depression. 

I can relate to that. 

In general, it was not diagnosed back then. 

Her mental illness was not diagnosed? 

Her mental illness was but I imagine because they already thought of her as mentally ill, postpartum depression was something they didn’t even think about. 

Your mother and father, were they neighbors? 

When they met, they were sixteen or seventeen years old. My grandparents were living in this little town called Little Hadham. They had a neighbor two doors down named Diane and she was married to Ralph. They were the hip young couple who had moved up to the country. They lived down the street and my grandparents got to know them. They became good friends. They all liked each other a lot. My grandparents were going away for eight weeks. 

I love your grandparents. I knew them in college. They are fun, adventurous with a zest for life. They are wonderful people. 

I think they were off to Egypt. They left and they asked Diane if she would watch their house a little bit. Also, they had their sixteen-year-old son who was a wild child. They asked her if she could look in on him, which I believe she did significantly more than looking on him because when they got home eight weeks later my father and my mother were a couple. My mother was leaving her husband. 

She had already decided Ralph was out. 

She was already talking about leaving her husband and it is unclear to me whether my father and my mother had known each other before a little bit. That is a little bit of a mystery story, a blurred line. By the time my grandparents got home, my father who was sixteen or seventeen was with the woman who was going to become my mother. She was going to leave her husband and my grandparents were no longer friends with my mother. 

Were there signs of mental illness at this point? Was there anything looking back? 

There was a lot. First of all, she was probably 26 at that point. A 26-year-old woman, she was interested in a sixteen-year-old guy, that’s something. I don’t know if they knew at that point how deep but when she was sixteen, which would have been in 1964. She had sex for the first time and she got pregnant. This was before Roe v. Wade. Her mother sent her to one of those homes for Catholic girls. She was doing laundry and stuff in knee-high sinks until the day she gave birth. Soon after that, she had her first breakdown. 

What happened to the baby? 

She had a son who I did not know about until after she passed and that boy was given up for adoption. It turned out that he was adopted by a family who lived half a mile from her home, which is so wild. She must have been going to church with her child, which I can’t even wrap my head around it. 

That’s trauma and that could lead to mental illness. 

We’re thinking about mental illness. Where does it begin? There is certainly a world in which her mother was quite ill or did things that were not healthy to do to your child. 

She had her first breakdown after that child. Did she have time in a mental institution? 

That I don’t know but I know that she had been hospitalized once before my father knew her. When they were first together, she was given a bad dose of LSD and had a psychotic break and was hospitalized. After I was born, she had severe postpartum depression. She became psychotic and she began threatening my life. 

Do you remember? 

I don’t remember because I was young. She was hospitalized when I was six months old and my father and my mother then were never together again after that. 

I know your father is complicated person. 

I try and think about a world of compassion now around him. I think to myself, “What must it have been to be eighteen years old and you’re with this person?” He was super volatile. 

You know he has complications. The fact that he recognized that your mother was threatening your life and something had to be done, you’re very grateful and thankful. 

My mother was hospitalized. He took me with him. He was 21 at that point. He tried for a little while to raise me and then realized pretty quickly he couldn’t. He was too young and he’d been through his own trauma. He brought me to his parents, who you met. They were the best grandparents. Getting raised by your grandparents is pretty awesome. I then went and lived with my grandparents. 

Would you see your mom and dad sometimes? 

GA 5 | Becoming A Poet
Rocket Fantastic: Poems

I would see my dad on weekends. He would usually come by on the weekends. My mother, I would see sometimes. She spent much of my early life hospitalized a lot of the time. She was gone a lot of the time. She loved me and she had a complicated relationship to being a parent and to being a person. As opposed to my father and my grandparents who were quite well off, she was very poor and she was compromised in lots of ways. I would visit her and then when I was thirteen, she took her life. 

Had she tried before to take her life? 

She had tried a number of times. I can’t remember if I knew that she had tried. 

Did she kill herself with overdosing? 

She overdosed. She had tried other things before. I always had a sense that she had tried. This is maybe one of the reasons why I became a poet because I’ve been writing poems way before. 

When did you know? 

I don’t know that I knew. The first time somebody used the word poems with me was about a year after my mom had taken her life. I was fourteen and I had been like many people who grew up in a world of mental illness, addiction and suicide. There were these huge silences in my life. There were all these things that people didn’t talk about. Nobody talked about my mom killing herself. I went to school the next day. 

Did they sit you down and tell you? 

I came home from school. 

Was your father now with someone? 

When I was thirteen, I was living with my father and my stepmother. When I was seven, I left my grandparents’ house and I moved in with my father and my stepmother. I was in eighth grade. 

What a hard time in general. 

Can you imagine being bullied like a queer creature? 

Did you know then that you were gay? 

I didn’t have a name for it, but it was like, “Something is going.” I’d watch Falcon Crest and I’d be like, “I love Melissa.” The kids in my rural public school knew. They had a name for it and the way of letting you know what they thought about it. I remember I came home and my father and my stepmother came home later that evening. My father sat me and he said to me that my mother had killed herself earlier on the day. What I was told was like, if I wanted to watch an extra hour of television. I remember I want to watch Moonlighting and I did. The next morning, there was no question. I went to school. I started writing in a journal. 

Can I say how advanced you are as a person because that’s now what everybody’s advised to do? The fact that you were writing your feelings out in a journal, you’re clearly an evolved soul. 

I was writing and I didn’t have words for what had happened. I was trying to make language do something and also have someone to talk to about it even if it was some piece of paper. I went to summer camp. It wasn’t the summer after but the summer after that. I showed it to a camp counselor and they said to me, “These are poems.” I was like, “Poems,” like it’s very important. 

You didn’t know before then. 

I had no idea but the minute they were like, “You’re a poet.” I was like, “That sounds very important.” 

I have not read those poems from that era. 

Have you kept that notebook? 

It’s terrible to say but I don’t. Every other poet keeps everything. I don’t know if I didn’t keep it or if it wasn’t kept. I was still at that age where I don’t know if my parents got rid of it. 

I haven’t read those poems but I’ve read many of your other poems. The way you write a social media update, you view the world from such a heartbreaking, heartwarming and life-affirming. It’s all the things together, the beautiful terrible. I feel that thank goodness for that counselor to recognize that because how helpful to be told that, to be given the name for something like, “This is what I do.” 

It’s like poems or whatever when someone gives you a language for what you’re doing and what you are and all of a sudden, you’re seen in some way. That person saw me and then that helps me begin to see a path. I was like, “A poet, what is that? Who does that?” I had this vision with the frilly neck thing and the beauty sleeves, that’s a poet. Then it was like, “You’re a kid whose mom committed suicide. You’ve got a violent and crazy household that you feel scared a lot of the time. You’re trying to make sense of that.” That’s also like what a poet is and can be, which is you’re trying to find a way to make some sense of the world, which for me a large part of what poems are. 

Every text you write you do see the world from such an incredible vantage point. It’s with all the stuff mixed up. I love that and I love that counselor who told you that. Did you go to a fancy boarding school for high school? 

I had been in this public school in which I don’t even know what was going to happen to me. 

They had a special name for gay. 

Anyone can be a poet. Click To Tweet

Yes, which was Gaby. My grandparents had a sense that I was not safe there. They began talking to me and to my father and my stepmother about private school. I don’t even know how I got in because I was a day student when I got to this fancy school, I spent four years trying not to fail out but I had the time of my lifeI loved it. 

They probably read one thing you wrote and they were like, “Yes.” 

I think that so much of anybody’s life is getting in front of the right person who sees you. There are many people that if they’d looked at me, they would have been like, “This child is not prepared to be at a school of this level.” They’re intelligent, but they don’t know how to speak French. They don’t know how to do all these things. Somebody there saw me and was like, “This kid needs some help.” By that point, I found out my mother killed herself and then the next day or two days later, I found out I got into Choate. They didn’t know any of those stories. 

Where’s this located? 

In Wallingford, Connecticut. I go to this fancy school for four years. It was a place where poetry was something you could do. You could write poems. In my other school, I’m sure there were people who were writing poems, but it was not something that you did publicly. I was taking English classes and we had poets who came to read at the school. 

Did that open your world in the biggest way? 

Seamus Heaney and Donald Hall came within one year and I was like, “I want to do that.” 

Did they read? Having a poem reading is a performance. 

They came, it was amazing. I also got my first job at Library Hours Bookstore in Wallingford, Connecticut. I asked the woman Pat if she would pay me in books instead of money and she was like, “Okay.” It was a great bookstore to work because it was going under, which there were lots of free time to be reading. It was also going under because she would allow people who didn’t have the money to buy books to borrow books. I sat and I read every poetry book I could get my hands on. That was when I started realizing there was writing poems and then there was someone called, “The poet who did that.” 

There was this world of taking it seriously in a different way just like acting or being a chef. I’m like, “I’m going to place my full attention on this.” That’s where I started to do that. I was looking for a college to go to and I was like, “What I want is a place where I can write poems and where there are a lot of lesbians.” This was before the age of search engines. I don’t know how I found it like not Google but giggle. I was like, “Where could that be?” I don’t know who said Sarah Lawrence to me but it totally fit the bill.  

I met you at Sarah Lawrence and Mark Doty was your first teacher. He’s a wonderful poet and an incredible mentor to you. 

He was such a big deal but I had no clue. I was a kid and so I was like, “Mark Doty, he’s great. He’s cool.” 

I feel that way about Viola. Viola was the head of the Dance Department and that was my thing at Sarah Lawrence. She was an unbelievable dancer. Merce Cunningham’s former wife is one of his main dancers. I was like, “She’s this older woman. I think she used to be a dancer.” The big dealness of her was lost on me. 

You probably have this too. Even if it’s just someone who you just know growing up and then you forget they were a big judge. 

That’s how I feel about you now. Mark Doty was your teacher and mentor and a big advocate of you. 

First of all, he had an extraordinary amount of patience. When I think about the poems I was writing, they were the worst most earnestly. 

Earnest is a college student specialty. 

It’s like going in every week with the poem in the voice of Virginia Woolf. Walking into the river putting the rocks in their pockets. He’d be like, “Why don’t you put yourself in it?” I’d be like, “Okay.” It would be Virginia Woolf and me. We had this thing at Sarah Lawrence where you would meet with your teacher every other week for half an hour. The dawn system. I would go to his office and he would look at me and he would read my 700 pages of poetry I would bring him to read. I’m like, “I know you have time to look at this.” I think about it now as a teacher. 

Do you want to die? Do you want to slap yourself? 

When I’ve seen him, “I don’t even know how you did it.” I would show him all these poems. I would also do that thing that probably we’ve all done at some point in our life where I would look at him like I was listening, shaking my head but the whole time I was just thinking about the next thing I was going to say to him. He would sit there and read my poems and then he’d be like, “There is a thing called a voice and you have it. You just haven’t found it yet.” I’d be like, “Would you like to read my poem about Barabbas?”  

He was unbelievably patient and finally, he somehow got through to me. I remember writing the first real poem I ever wrote and it was about my mother. It was the first one I had written about my mom outside of my journal. I stopped doing that for a while. I remember going into class and putting the poem down. Everybody was reading it and I remember I looked across the table and he had tears in his eyes, which at the time I found moving. NowI realize he looked like someone who had been let out of a Turkish prison. He would finally be released from the worst torture on his life, but he was amazing, his patience and willingness. It’s also amazing because I was with him at the University of Virginia. I was reading with him there. There was a panel of the two of us talking about something. 

How cool is that after all these years? Now, you’re doing panels with him. 

The minute that you could all of a sudden be with your teacher, it’s like, “Holy moly. The amazing thing is he was like, “I don’t remember that story.” That is nothing to say about him because he’s extraordinary.  

That will happen to you with students when you’re on panels with them later. 

I was the center of my own world. 

It’s supremely selfish and narcissistic. Everything is you. Did you go to Columbia right away after that? 

No, I got out of Sarah Lawrence and then I spent two years working at a private school as the world’s worst assistant. 

GA 5 | Becoming A Poet

 

Where was it? 

It was on 89th and 5th and I was a disaster. 

An assistant teacher? 

No. 

As an assistant to the principal? 

You can’t even imagine it because you know me. 

Mandana asked me, “Has Gaby had any other jobs?” I said, “I don’t know that there’s anything else she could do.” I know the bookstore. 

Even that I could only do it because no one was buying books and I didn’t ever have to use the cash register. To say that I was a good administrative assistant, will simply be a lie. 

Jenny and I can relate to that. 

I will be a dismal failure. 

That’s the hardest job in the world. 

You don’t know until you do it. I was beside myself when I did that. 

Have you done that as well? 

Yes, I have. I’m not good with the admin. 

Nor am I. Admin is my nightmare. 

In my life now, teaching and working, anybody who is rude to anyone in an administrative position, I can’t handle it because I feel those are the people that I know because I was the destroyer of worlds. Those are the people who keep everything going. By the time I would leave in any given day thinking I had done okay, they should have just burned the building down. 

The problem with you is that you are accomplished and have many big things that you’ve done and I have to get through them, we have to get through them. You’re a terrible admin assistant, then you go and get your graduate degree from Columbia and the mushroom, being a famous poet is akin to being a famous mushroom. You received the Stegner Fellowship from Stanford, which is a huge deal and a lot of assets that I clearly have trouble with. Was that right after? 

Yes, because I was at Columbia and then I applied for this thing at Stanford called the Stegner Fellowship and its bonkers. If you get it, they call you and they say come to Stanford and come write poems for a few years and we’ll pay you. You can also teach a little bit. It’s where I learned to teach. I think so much in terms of what success means for us is working hard but also being lucky because I had a lot of student debt from Columbia. I was not someone who got a full fellowship. I was never someone who my classmates thought was the greatest. 

I thought of you as the greatest. 

At Columbia, this one woman pulled me aside and said, “We want you to know, we think you’re doing well now because for the longest time, we felt that you were probably the weakest poet in the group.” I was always that person. 

Did you hear about the Lady Gaga Facebook group? 

No, what happened? 

Apparently, when she was at NYU, there was a group of mean people on Facebook called, “You’ll never be famous, Stefani.” That was the title of the Facebook group. 

Some of it is just working hard and not being a jerk. That’s what I did. It’s interesting to me because I think that I worked hard. I tried to be as nice a person as I could be at all times. I’m continuing to do that, my talent, whatever talent I had rose up to meet that. I ended up being very lucky and getting this thing at Stanford. 

You are at Stanford, you are the Stegner Fellow, you are being paid for two years to write poems and learn to teach. 

I was living in California for the first time which is awesome. 

This was when I came to your commitment ceremony wedding and it was so wonderful. After Stanford, you come to LA. 

Poetry, for the large part, is just trying to find a way to make some kind of sense of the world. Click To Tweet

I did two years at Stanford and then I did another three years. I stayed and I got a teaching fellowship and I taught for three years. Those five years were super important because it was the amount of time where I was not paying my student debt and I had time to write. 

Is that when you wrote, The Last Time I saw Amelia Earhart, which is your first book? 

I wrote that when I was there. Angeline was like, “We’ve been doing your poetry thing for a long time. I have a life and an identity and a self. I’m going to apply to graduate schools.” She had done her Master’s in New York. She applied to UCLA. 

That was a beautiful time for me because you were both here. 

You had just gotten here. 

We both moved here at the same time. 

She’d been in England. Jenny was always and is always and has always been the most glamorous person I knew. That’s the time you are the empress of so and so. She’s like, “NoI’m just a normal person.” I’m like, “You lived on the moon. How’s that possible?” 

I had just gotten back from England. You were here. That was wonderful for me. 

You showed me around LA for the first time. We talked on the phone and I was like, “I think we’re going to maybe move to LA.” You are living in that loft downtown. You took me to places that I ended up being the places I always love. Jenny always knew the things that I was going to love. 

How about your second book that we haven’t even gotten to? The second book, Apocalyptic Swingthat was written while you were in LA? 

That was in 2009 when that book came out. We got here in 2005. 

Is it the same publisher? That to me is the biggest deal to be taken on and your publisher is Persea. 

They’re distributed by Norton. That’s nice because Norton is this big press that has a lot of distribution and Persea is smaller. You get remarkable attention there. My editor is unbelievable. You have the best of both worlds. I’ve been lucky to have all three books with them. 

Rocket Fantastic was what year? 

You do book tours and readings of all of them. 

It’s bonkers to think about how lucky I’ve been. I work hard, but the idea that I get to fly around and read poems, the idea that I teach at UNC Chapel Hill, but I got that job because of poetry. All of my income comes in some way or another from poems. 

That’s mind-blowing. Only a few can say that. I feel the life and practicalities of being a poet are hard. While you are a baby poet writing books and writing tons of poetry, you are always trying to get up tenured position because that’s where there are stability and protection and the feeling of belonging. 

There are plenty of people that don’t want to do that. We went from the Bay Area to here and I loved being in Los Angeles. Initially, I was like, “We’re broke. It’s no big thing.” At some point, “We are broke.” I cannot afford health insurance. Some people are able to have the strength or purpose to keep going with that. I hit a place where I do think about when you’ve had a parent who takes their life or a sibling or a child. I think that to some extent that door is always open. One of the things I live with and think about is it’s a remarkable thing to live with that door open.  

We should talk about your poem in The New Yorker. It’s gorgeous. On The Days I Don’t Want to Kill Myself, is that the right title? 

It’s called Hammond B3 Organ Cistern, but the first line is, “The days I don’t want to kill myself are extraordinary.” I was in Los Angeles and I hit this place where I was like, “This is beginning to feel like desperate where I can’t keep doing it.” For me, getting a tenured track job, it meant leaving LA, which I was heartbroken to do although I’m very happy where I am. For my own well-being I was like, “I think I need them.” 

You’ve been at UNC for how many years? 

This is my sixth academic year. 

You’re a tenured professor. We also have to talk about LARB and your activism, politically and in the queer community. 

We’re talking about us. 

We’ve got to get through this. LARB, how do you do it? 

I was the senior poetry editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books for a long time. I started out with them as a poetry editor and I adore them. I am still an editor at large, a contributing editor. They are an extraordinary group of people and an extraordinary magazine. I realized there were a couple of things. One, I’d moved to North Carolina and I was able to do that from a distance to a certain degree. I did feel one of the things about Los Angeles Review of Books is that there is a way in which it’s useful for one to be close to LA or at least one to the editors to have an eye on it in a certain way. I loved being the senior poetry editors so much and as someone who was a poet and wanted to do things, I was being asked to do things like judge book contests. I decided it was too much power. There were too many ways in which I could affect the lives of other poets. It was a monopoly that I could have and I didn’t want to be part of that economy. I was like, “I want to judge book prizes and I want to do stuff like that.” Maybe I’ll be an editor at large or contributing editor and still be part of this thing that I love and that I believe in so much and move my ability to help into another venue. 

GA 5 | Becoming A Poet
Apocalyptic Swing: Poems

You get to help now. With activism, you live in the South? 

I live in the South. I live in Carrboro, North Carolina. 

You are a very LGBTQ activist in general. You live in the South and there’s a lot of beauty and dichotomy and contradiction there like anywhere. With the politics that we have in our country, I admire and respect your activism and you go house to house. You do try to get people to vote the right way. 

I grew up in Connecticut, but I grew up in a part of Connecticut that was rural, pretty racist, very conservative in the central part of the state. In some ways like North Carolina, there are parts of it that remind me a lot of where I grew up. It’s very conservative. There were plenty of confederates flags around where I grew up. I remember the Klan marching in the town next to ours. It was terrifying to be a young queer person there. The other thing that’s funny about North Carolina to me is I live in this town that’s very near rural places. You drive five minutes and you’re at a farm, but it’s also because there’s a college, there are bookstores and coffee shops. I often say, “The only reason I left rural life was it never occurred to me that you could live in a rural place and get a cup of coffee and go to a bookstore and have nobody kill you.” Once I found a place where one could do that, I was amazed. I like it very much. 

I think that certain other states, but certainly North Carolina, we are a blue state that because of gerrymandering is red. I don’t even want to call them right wing. Just an extreme far-right legislature who makes it impossible for most people to live healthy, happy lives where our waters are being destroyed. If one likes to be an activist, North Carolina is the place to do it. In large part also because there is a history of activism there, that was nothing I had ever been part of. I’ve never been anywhere else where most people I know over the age of 65 have been arrested in the last six or seven years for activism. 

You write poetry, you don’t want to judge people. You want only to be the editor who helps people. You’re politically active. You’re a saint. When did the bow tie start? I love it. 

When I was little, I identified as a boy and then I think I always withheld that gender identity. Then I got into Catholic school when I moved in with my father and my stepmother. The nuns told me two things. They said I had to stop wearing boy’s clothes. I couldn’t go to the boy’s bathroom anymore because even in my little rural town, I had been allowed to go to the boy’s bathroom. The third thing was I have this visual disability and I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs at that point. They said I had to be able to get up and down the stairs by myself. This is before the Americans with Disabilities Act. I had always wanted to present this way. My second year at UNC, I don’t know what happened. I was wearing bow ties. 

I feel like it was a big moment for you. 

It was also a big moment of bravery and going into the classroom. UNC Chapel Hill is a very progressive campus. If you’ve been watching the national news, there are also a lot of things going on on the campus that are pretty terrible. There was a shooting at UNC Charlotte. There is a Confederate monument on campus that the students pulled down, but there have been a lot of white supremacists action on that campus. One day, I bought three bow ties and then asked my friend, Dan. I said, “Dan, where did you learn to tie a bow tie?” He said, “Mr. Charles on YouTube.” If you do, “How to tie a bow tie, Mr. Charles.” I told the waiter about this at the restaurant because he stopped me and he was like, “I love your bow tie.” This is something that I enjoy about wearing a bow tie because I wear it almost every day. It is interesting what it does because I have been in airports and had the person who works at Brooks Brothers calling me over to teach some guy how to tie his bow tie. 

It’s not an easy thing. I’ve watched my husband tried to do it a couple of times. 

Mr. Charles on YouTube. He’s clearly in his kitchen. He’s so dapper. You will learn to tie a bow tie in five minutes without using the mirror. I don’t use a mirror. That’s Mr. Charles. I can’t take any credit. I went and I put one on and the first day I walked in I was like, “What’s going to happen?” It’s amazing. 

I feel that it’s a little bit of a talisman for you. 

Do you know when you find yourself? All of a sudden, everything felt great and the students love it. One of the things I realize is I like showing them the respect of dressing up for them. Dressing up for myself, but also doing that. It’s also interesting because of many classes, young men who are in fraternities. There are always be some young man or group of young men who at the end of the term, “Give me a bow tie.” They take it so seriously. They’re like, “This is where I get my bow ties.” They think about it. 

You’ve written three books. You received so many awards, you travel all over, you read all your stuff, you’re amazing. Everybody should go and look her up. You’re @Gabbat on Instagram. 

I’m also on Twitter, it’s @RocketFantastic because of the book. 

It was beautiful and that poem in The New Yorker is that from Rocket Fantastic? 

No, it’s from the book that I’m working on.  

I didn’t know there was a fourth book. 

It’s not out yet. It’s a dream book. 

Does it have a title? 

I think maybe it’s called The New Economy, but it’s new. I write for a while and then I realize it’s horrible and I failed at everything and then I have my existential crisis and then poor Angeline has to deal with it. It’s going to be a while. 

That poem in The New Yorker came out in November of 2018. It’s stunning and it’s called? 

It’s called Hammond B3 Organ Cistern. It’s a poem about why don’t we talk about how many of us on any given day thinking about killing ourselves, want to kill ourselves and then don’t. Why isn’t there a word for that joy or that feeling of “I’m not going to kill myself?” That poem has been pretty amazing in terms of letters. It says in the poem, “Why don’t we talk about it?” I do think that. I’m always being asked why do people kill themselves because my mom killed herself but to me, the question is like, “Why doesn’t everybody kill themselves? I don’t mean that and it sounds awful. Look at this world we’re in. Why doesn’t everybody do that? I think the answers to that are very interesting. 

Will you come back? 

If you have me back, I will come back but we should interview Jenny about her life because I have a lot of other stories. 

With your book four, will you come back? 

Yes, I will. 

So much of anybody's life is like getting in front of the right person who sees you. Click To Tweet

I love you. Thank you. 

I love you and I am so grateful to be here. 

Thank you so much for your time. 

Thank you. You’re the best. 

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About Gabrielle Calvocoressi

GA 5 | Becoming A PoetGabrielle Calvocoressi is the author of The Last Time I Saw Amelia EarhartApocalyptic Swing (a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize), and Rocket Fantastic, winner of the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including a Stegner Fellowship and Jones Lectureship from Stanford University; a Rona Jaffe Woman Writer’s Award; a Lannan Foundation residency in  Marfa, TX; the Bernard F. Conners Prize from The Paris Review; and a residency from the Civitella di Ranieri Foundation, among others.

Calvocoressi’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in numerous magazines and journals including The Baffler, The New York TimesPOETRYBoston ReviewKenyon ReviewTin House, and The New Yorker. Calvocoressi is an Editor at Large at Los Angeles Review of Books, and Poetry Editor at Southern Cultures. Works in progress include a non-fiction book entitled, The Year I Didn’t Kill Myself and a novel, The Alderman of the Graveyard. Calvocoressi teaches at UNC Chapel Hill and lives in Carrboro, NC, where joy, compassion, and social justice are at the center of their personal and poetic practice.

 

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