For our April potluck (Saturday, April 27th at 6pm), local poet Alex Gallo-Brown will be visiting us and reading from his new book of poems, The Language of Grief. The Healing Center will provide a complimentary copy of Gallo-Brown’s new work to all who attend.
Born and raised in Seattle, Alex Gallo-Brown is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer currently living in Atlanta, Georgia. His essays and stories have appeared in publications such as Salon, The Oregonian, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, and more. His collection of poems, The Language of Grief, was self-published in 2012. His father, the Seattle journalist Nick Gallo, died in 2007. His mother, Laurie Brown, has been an active member of The Healing Center community. The following comprises the book’s introduction.
I never meant to write grief poems. I never meant to write any poems, in fact. Over the last seven years I have identified as a poker player, a student of creative writing, a restaurant worker, a political Leftist, a caregiver for people with disabilities, a labor organizer, a literary essayist, and an apprentice farmer. Almost never, however, have I identified as a poet. The reasons for this are complicated, I’m sure, not least to do with the paucity of poetry in our culture. (Try telling someone you’ve just met you write poems; now watch their eyes glaze over with incomprehension and embarrassment.) Mostly, though, I have been reluctant to identify as a poet because I never really felt like one. The version of myself that walks and talks and moves around in the world feels different from the one who summons poetry.
Nevertheless, the poems have come and continue to come, in bursts of creative energy, like wind gusts, that leave me disoriented on the page. Usually I am surprised at what gets put down there. Sometimes I am ashamed.
Even still, the poems collected here do, I believe, cohere into something almost resembling a narrative. This is a story, finally, about grief. There are exhortations of love here and gasps of fear, flashes of self-discovery followed by descents into confusion and pain. Apparently I have been grieving for longer than I even knew.
When we think about grief, we usually consider the intense feelings following the loss of a loved one to death. And for good reason. Losing a partner, parent, friend, or especially child can be spectacularly painful for everyone involved.
I would like to take a moment here, however, to complicate such a conception of grief, to expand its definition to include all feelings that result from a dramatic loss in a person’s life. We can feel grief when we leave one living situation for another. We can feel it after a longtime partner leaves us—or even after we begin a new relationship (grief for our own lost solitude, in the latter case). We can feel it when our career path changes or when our values gradually shift (thought, in some cultures, to occur every seven years, the amount of time it takes for a snake to shed its skin, the amount of time it took for me to write this book). We can feel it when something occurs in our political imaginations, such as after a presidential election, the declaration of a war, or the onset of an economic recession. We can feel it when we are physically or spiritually degraded by our work (grief for our lost dignity), after we enter a shopping mall (grief for the commodification of our objects), or after we eat a cheap, processed meal (grief for the poverty of our food). In the America I know, grief is omnipresent.
It is particularly troubling, then, that our capacity to talk about grief, to process it in some socially significant way, is as poor as it has ever been. With so few common rituals to turn to, diverted by our innumerable screens, many of us alienated from meaningful labor, and often distant geographically from the people we love, we struggle in the moments of our most urgent loss to recover a language that communicates our lived experience, engaging our memories and our understanding of history, and that spurs us on to new action, efforts, and creation. Without access to a common language, we find ourselves silent and alone, awash in a commerce bereft of communal context.
This isn’t how it has to be. The poems that follow comprise my own raised voice—a shout against the silence.