Brendan Walsh will celebrate National Poetry Month with the launch his new poetry collection, “Go,” at Lyric Hall in New Haven this Saturday evening, April 2nd, at 7:00 p.m. This event will feature readings by Walsh and Nikoletta Nousiopoulos and is free and open to the public; copies of “Go” will be available for purchase/signing. More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page. Location: 827 Whalley Ave.
Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Brendan Walsh.
Walsh is the author of the recently released poetry collection, “Go” (Aldrich Press). His debut collection, “Make Anything Whole,” was published by Five Oaks Press in 2015; Walsh’s poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Off the Coast, Connecticut Review, Mason’s Road, Anak Sastra, Lines+Stars, Cobalt Review, and LONTAR. His work has been awarded the Anna Sonder Prize of the Academy of American Poets, the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize, and a Freedman Prize for poetry in performance. Walsh has been a featured reader at The New American Writing Festival, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival’s Connecticut Young Poets Day, and the Poetry Institute New Haven. He received his MFA from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, CT, and currently serves as the school’s Assistant Director of International Education. A native of New England, Walsh has also lived and taught in South Korea and Laos.
“Go” has won rave reviews from Walsh’s contemporaries. Kenneth Hart, author of “Uh Oh Time,” praised: “Part coming-of-age travelogue, part ‘internalizing the great world,’ and with an acute eye that sees other cultures through the ancient lenses of hope and desire, the poems in Brendan Walsh’s Go are uniquely grounded in place (Laos, Korea, America, the heart…), people, and everyday speech. The self that travels and experiences, and returns to one’s home expanded and transformed, then tells the stories that–– in Walsh’s lively poems–– make us laugh, lament, and bear witness to our own failures and joys.” Further, Jeff Mock, author of “Ruthless,” noted: “Brendan Walsh’s Go is a playful collection of poems. It takes on, on many levels, the play of imagination and the play of possibility, and it explores the ways each enlarges and is enlarged by the other. The world in Go is itself large and enlarged … an energetic and wise first collection, and its travels continue well past the final page.”
From the publisher:
The newest collection from Brendan Walsh, Go (Aldrich Press) grapples with nothingness, the primal ecstasy of movement, and the variance of human consciousness and desire. The focus begins on Lao voices–those of a foreign speaker interacting with Lao monks and women planting rice, a quiet observation of an unknown but familiar place. It moves to South Korea, inhabiting the voices of two Koreans and an outsider at odds with a foreign culture. Finally, the collection ends in the United States, the former home of a speaker who feels empty but sees flashes of brilliance on road trips and in day-to-day life. Ultimately, the collection reconciles its longing with movement, finding answers outside of concrete explanations, but through the act of doing and being purely in the flesh.
Now, Brendan Walsh invites readers to travel with him through the world of “Go” …
John Valeri: What inspired your forthcoming collection, “Go” – and what do you see as being the underlying themes of the work as a whole?
Brendan Walsh: “Go” is the amalgamation of my former lives in Laos, South Korea, and the US. I’ve used this phrase so many times, but I really love to say it’s about the primal ecstasy of movement. “Go” inhabits voices in Laos, South Korea, and the US while establishing commonalities in spirit and vast differences in experience. Overall, the theme is in the title—movement is often the only thing that makes sense. In times of loss, anxiety, anger, elation, and sadness, getting out and exploring this vast existence is a comfort and necessity. “Go” is about restlessness confronting contentment and trying to make sense of it.
This collection is energetic, ecstatic about movement, communities, and human relationships, but constantly aware of universal suffering. I hope readers feel strong connections to places they’ve never been and people they will never meet. I also hope “Go” encourages readers to concede to restlessness when movement beckons them. Travel isn’t running away—travel is finding ways to live and thrive in the unexpected and unknown.
JV: The collection represents both a literal and spiritual journey. What appealed to you about this construct – and how do you see it as being representative of life’s inherent contradictions?
BW: Seeking, through physical movement or spiritual exploration, is in my biology. I’m always trying to bridge the unfathomable gap between physical and spiritual needs. I can’t speak for all of humanity, but I am intensely physical and annoyingly spiritual. My restlessness is a manifestation of these dual longings for physical exertion and spiritual actualization. In early MFA workshops, my work was usually criticized for dwelling too much in imagery—the physical manifestation of experience. I wasn’t quite ready to transfer my emotional/spiritual selves into poetry because spirituality seemed too vague, but the intangible essence of life is vague for everyone! Some poems in “Go” are purely physical: sex, eating, drinking too much, these activities can be novel for their separation from spirit. Not always, but sometimes (of course each one could be spiritual in its own way, and the physical can be spiritual too).
The contradiction of the literal and spiritual journey is that both seek transcendence from the imperfect elements of existence. We move physically to transcend physical boundaries, and we are spiritual to escape the boundaries of selfhood, our oft-oppressive minds, and the physical condition of being alive. Mindful Travel is about departure and discovery; in a perfect existence there would be no need for transcendence, physical or spiritual, but since we are far from perfect we must move and be moved constantly. There is no escape from one’s self, but there is constant discovery, exhilaration, beauty, and energy-energy-energy everywhere.
JV: How have your travels influenced your writing – and in what ways do you believe that we can take “home” with us wherever we go?
BW: My travels influence every waking moment, like countless former selves lagging behind this body that can’t quite consolidate everything. I will never be in all the places I’ve been at once, and some days that crushes me. Writing helps me materialize those other selves in small, significant ways. My two collections are travel-themed above all else—there is an observational eye in these poems, as if every speaker is grappling with belonging while seeing things as an outsider. In traveling, I am always searching for that duality of remaining an outsider while still belonging to a community. We want to connect with others to bridge that human gap, but we also seek to retain our individuality, our sense that we have a unique perspective to lend the world.
More concretely, travel has provided me with lifetimes of images, emotions, experiences, and voices. My poetry is image-heavy, and in each location the images and stories weigh the emotional impact of the poems. Travel has provided much for my inward self, but it has also given so much physically—nothing compares to the physical experience of Lao hot season, or Korean sunrises atop mountains, or nicotine-fueled, sleep-deprived US cross-country road trips.
I believe more in the nomadic spirit than I do a concept of home. There are familiar places, and familiarity is useful and comforting, but there’s something terrifying about stagnation—at least at my age/in my life. Home is anywhere and nowhere for me. I’ve been home in Laos, Korea, England, Maine. I’ve felt alienated and out-of-place in Connecticut, which most people would call my “home.” There are places to put down my stuff and take off my shoes for a while, but as of yet, I am home in so many places, and always, always, always with particular people. Sorry for three-word repetition again!
JV: You are an activist who uses the written word to help inform. Tell us about the causes you support and how you believe that creative expression can illuminate the world around us …
BW: I’m flattered to be described as an activist. I try to support things close to my experiences which have a strong connection to those being helped. I donate the royalties from my first book (“Make Anything Whole,” Five Oaks Press) to cleanbirth.org, which is a New Haven-based organization that promotes clean birthing practices for women in rural Laos. Infant mortality and death during childbirth is a massive issue in the developing world, and there are inexpensive, simple steps to combat it—cleanbirth.org facilitates those steps. Both of my books have a major connection to Laos and its people, and I owe the people of Laos so much more than I think I could ever provide them monetarily and through service. I also support IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), World Education, Fulbright, WNPR, and any US political movement that stands to correct inherent evils in our system.
I try to be quiet about my political affiliations and beliefs, because I understand there are people fighting the good fight better than I can. Instead, I use writing to highlight the human experiences of suffering, what compassion looks like, and our universal commonalities. People who haven’t met the variety of human existence on this planet might not understand how similar we all are. Art is the best way to break the layers of culture, language, and geography that sometimes get in the way of connecting. I am forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had in traveling, and I’m not delusional about the fact that my profound privilege has allowed me to travel and meet wonderful people everywhere. I feel it’s my job and my compulsion as a writer to make these moments impactful for readers. Every person that turns experience into a tangible, consumable object is doing the job of illumination. Economists that make graphs of income inequality are creating art with impact, so too are musicians that detail heartbreak, actors who inhabit other lives, and novelists that explore vast emotional landscapes. All creative expression has impact, and really good expression allows us to empathize in a unique, personal way.
JV: You are also an educator. In your opinion, how much of writing can be taught (versus what is intrinsic talent) – and what is the role of resilience in success?
BW: With writing and teaching, it all comes down to sentences. I’m of the impression that most skill-acquisition can be turned into a fitness metaphor: if you can’t do one pushup, don’t try to bench press 300 pounds. If you can’t walk a flight of stairs, don’t try to run a marathon. Same as writing—if you have trouble creating a solid, clear sentence, then don’t write a novel. Sentences are foundational. I think you teach sentences, and from that base any structure can be applied—poetry, fiction, business writing, blogging, etc. Writing is a means of communication, nothing more. It seems so often that talent is conflated with overreaching and bloated sentences—students read Faulkner and think that’s how writers write—but I disagree. If you can’t communicate on a basic level then your writing is lacking what is essential about language. What taught me that, above all else, was reading Allen Ginsberg’s collected works when I was a teenager. Ginsberg’s first poems were very structured, simple, and clear. Once that was mastered he moved on to monstrosities like “Howl” that maintain clarity while being cumbersome. All of my great teachers taught sentences first.
I’m not sure if I’m talented at all, but I am passionate. I want to reduce and refine my sentences, and in doing so, create better poems. If I can teach students to be passionate about some aspect of writing, then they will work to create something clear and honest. Resilience is just protracted passion. I don’t think there is intrinsic talent vs. anything else. Writers need to write because they are compelled to. We all have our mediums for creative output, some have more than others, but someone who loves to write, regardless of any success, will NEED to compose.
With thanks to Brendan Walsh for his generosity of time and thought.
Don’t forget: The author will appear at Lyric Hall (827 Whalley Ave.) in New Haven this Saturday evening, April 2nd, at 7:00 p.m.