Peter Gabriel Res is an editor by day, and a poet, singer/songwriter, and musician by night. In the fall and spring, he teaches as Adjunct Professor of English at Westchester Community College in NY. You can find his poetry at his website, and if you feel like it, you can listen to his band, Midnight Brigade too.
All proceeds from the sale of his book, The Softest Girl On Earth, go to a wonderful charity, To Write Love On Her Arms, that works to spread much-needed mental health education and awareness among the youth.
Geosi Gyasi: Could we start with your poetry book, “The Softest Girl On Earth” published by After the Pause Press. How did you come to write it?
Peter Gabriel Res: Interesting question. I don’t quite know how to answer it. I think that it came through me. Many of the book’s themes center on things that I have always been fascinated by about the human condition: our ability to find happiness in all areas of life, our culture’s peculiar love/hate relationship with violence, the subtler nuances of the beauty, betrayal, and benevolence of family and history. Popcorn and lemonade on a hot spring day, or the warmth and glow of a fire on a rare snowy night in October. The book is all those things to me, all wrapped up in a perfectly disfigured package.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you hear about “After the Pause Press”?
Peter Gabriel Res: Interesting question. I first came in contact with Michael Prihoda (the publisher) through his wonderful literary journal of the same name. I submitted a handful of poems from the book through email, and we began a correspondence. Michael loved the work, and I jokingly noted that if he ever started a press, I would love to publish the full collection of poems. A few weeks later he reached out to me to tell me that he’d been thinking about what I said about starting a press, and that he’d like to do so, with The Softest Girl On Earth as his first release. I accepted immediately. We agreed that since the book centers on mental health, that all sale proceeds would go to the charity To Write Love On Her Arms. The charity part was Michael’s idea and I loved it. That was the beginning of what has become a great press, and I am honored to be a part of it.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you classify the poems in “The Softest Girl On Earth” as prose poetry?
Peter Gabriel Res: Hard to say really. I think that some of the more sentence/clause driven poems might qualify as prose poetry, but I think that they are, on the whole, too image-driven and free of prose structure to be so named. I don’t have the patience to write prose poetry. I am an imagist at heart.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write “The Softest Girl On Earth”?
Peter Gabriel Res: I think I completed the first manuscript in about a month, but it took a good three years before I was through with the revisions. Two of my great teachers, the exceptional poets Ilya Kaminsky and Carol Frost, both taught me, in each their own way, that revision is the most important element of great poetry. Slash a poem one way, move the structure around, turn it inside out, and you have a whole new construction.
Geosi Gyasi: What excites you as the presenter of the New American Writing Reader Series? Are you still with them?
Peter Gabriel Res: New American Writing was years ago at my alma matter Hartwick College. I loved being there with the other poets and fiction writers. It was exciting to feel the energy of inspiration, and to read my published work for many of the professors who had taught me so much.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your experience with Vista Health Solutions as an editorial writer?
Peter Gabriel Res: Yes. Vista was an interesting experience. I was writing for them during the months leading up to the Obamacare roll-out. I did learn a lot about consumer-based writing, and healthcare writing. It was a good experience for sure.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever get rejections from editors for your works?
Peter Gabriel Res: All the time. It comes with the territory. A necessary good, it keeps us writing, and at times, laughing. Everyone should be rejected by an editor at least once. It’s a character builder.
Geosi Gyasi: How was it like determining acceptance or rejections when you worked as Submissions Editor for Collective Fallout Literary Magazine?
Peter Gabriel Res: That was tough. Naturally, I didn’t want to reject anyone. Acceptances are easy. All you have to do is say: Hey, your work is just what we want! Rejecting someone’s work takes care and finesse. I made a point to say something genuinely praiseworthy about writer submissions in each rejection email, and people really appreciated it.
Geosi Gyasi: Is the any real difference between teaching and writing?
Peter Gabriel Res: Yes. Teaching has more to do with the process, and there is never a finished product in teaching. It is constant unknown territory. Much like performing music in front of an audience, teaching is at once the scariest and most natural thing in the world, the desire to be understood by others and to help them to understand, coupled with the weight of knowing that you yourself cannot fully comprehend anything in its entirety. Teaching is the great equalizer. Writing is an exercise in the creation of experience. Far simpler, in this respect.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you get paid for writing poetry?
Peter Gabriel Res: Yes. But the pay I get is much more meaningful than money.
Geosi Gyasi: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?
Peter Gabriel Res: Great and very difficult question. My greatest challenge has been to capture as much of a single moment as possible. The great french writer Georges Perec wrote an entire 500+ page novel about a single moment in time. We are so lucky to be alive in each moment. There is so much happening, and I struggle to capture it all.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit down to write?
Peter Gabriel Res: No, not really. It depends on my mood, really. I wrote an entire series of poems on the NYC subway once, riding the 1 train all the way uptown and back once a day for about a week.
Geosi Gyasi: I read from somewhere that one of your hobbies/interests is meditation. Could you explain this?
Peter Gabriel Res: I consider myself to be Buddhist at heart, and I follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn. Meditation and mindfulness are very important to me. Sometimes I will just sit and breathe. Focusing on my breath. Thich Nhat Hahn asks us in many of his books, rather beautifully, if we ever stop to thank our hearts for beating. For keeping us alive. Returning to the body and the breath, and thus, to all the life around me. That to me is meditation.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you belong to any writing groups?
Peter Gabriel Res: No, but I should. I live in the suburbs, but I’m working up the courage to find a group.
Geosi Gyasi: I’m eager to know your experiences as the radio host of “Sunday Nights with Pete Res”?
Peter Gabriel Res: Oh man that was a blast. College radio. I used to play all sorts of music. Jazz, punk, classical, show tunes, rock, oldies (on vinyl too). I loved being on the radio. And our studio was old, so it looked and felt like a real recording studio. Often times, I would bring my friends on as guests, and we’d talk about the music. It was one of the best times of my life for sure. Pure contentment.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell me anything about your book, “Smoke and The South”?
Peter Gabriel Res: I was living in Atlanta at the time, and I just became so enamored with life there: the sounds, the people, the culture, the music, the food, and especially, the homelessness and poverty. It struck a cord with me as a boy from Jersey, and so it was my way of saying thanks to the city I suppose.
Geosi Gyasi: What preparation goes into the writing of a book of poems?
Peter Gabriel Res: Interesting you should ask, because I don’t know, really. For me, there has to be a clear vision. Sometimes you know you’re going to write a book from the start and it just happens. Other times, poems form over years in pockets of time and you have to find the best ones, sort them out, revise them, and arrange them, like a musical score.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?
Peter Gabriel Res: Oooh good question. To name a few and why: Robert Frost for his sadness. Allen Ginsberg for his light. Ted Berrigan for his relentlessness. George Oppen for his wonder. Mayakovski for his humor and rage. Chekov for his irony. Lorene Niedecker for her imagery and absence. Charles Olson for his poetic geography. W.H. Auden for his gracefulness. Alice Notley for her wisdom. Cesar Vallejo and Gabriel Garcia Marquez for their undying love of life. And, last but not least, Richard Adams, for writing Watership Down, the best novel ever written…about rabbits.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any question to ask me to end the interview?
Peter Gabriel Res: What do you consider to be your reason for living? What is your favorite food? Is democracy an illusion? And are people inherently good?
Geosi Gyasi: To have a purposeful life with the gift the creator gave me and having identified that, the joy I get from interviewing writers like you is gratifying.
For my favorite food, I will introduce you to a local Ghanaian dish – fufu and palm-nut soup.
Depends on the way you might want to look at it, but for my case, democracy in my part of the world, I believe, is not as is practiced. If you have a system of governance where the winner takes it all, to the detriment of the people who voted them to power, would you call that democracy!
Fortunately for me, most people who have come my way are good. I guess I’m lucky.