The corner of Memory and Desire. That’s where the prose poems of Joe Gastiger take us. They’re inhabited by a diverse cast: Aunt Joan, Commander Cody, Snow White on a can of tomato paste, Kurt Vonnegut, Magdalene mermaids, fathers more comfortable with tools than words, and leggy Mary Shulski. They all find a home here, along with the “wheatback penny on a plate beneath the geranium.” Loose Talk is a warehouse of theremins and fluoroscopes, a library of radio dials and mystery underwear, a lost litany for the unforgiven, a libretto (in a dead language) that reminds us “the destroyer of worlds and Our Lady of Fatima soul kiss at the mall.”
—John Bradley, author of Trancelumination
These prose poems are like transcriptions of what the angels hear in “Wings of Desire” when riding a bus at noon in Berlin, only in English. The sentences are not just assemblages but crystalline snow flakes that are fitted together like the jeweled gears of Ezekiel’s wheels at angles which turn the axes of meaning with perspectives and paratactic contexts generating new meanings. Any paragraph can contain hurricanes devastating coastal cities over centuries, play, loneliness, hope, the wonder and awe of reckoning lost love against the compensations that fall in our laps, the invention of the atom bomb, and Serbian ethnic cleansing, the collective result of which makes you sigh for humanity. By now the irony of Loose Talk should be apparent; it is anything but loose, and it contains multitudes, entire panoplies of experience: take it slow, or the wisdom and beauty might overwhelm you. It is written by a man whose name is Joseph, another great interpreter of dreams.
—Bill Tremblay, author of Shooting Script: Door of Fire
About the Author
Joseph Gastiger grew up in Westbury, a working class town on Long Island, where many of these ruminations hitchhike back to. In high school, he went door to door for McCarthy, ran from the hoods who wanted to beat him up, got parts in plays, and rode the train in to see shows at Fillmore East when he had the money to. Joe attended college at SUNY Stony Brook, where he was active in antiwar work, then went to Iowa where he took poetry workshops and almost wound up teaching high school. After a sorrowful stint as a bank teller in New York, he escaped westward to Fort Collins, earned his M.A. in creative writing, and wept when he left. From there, he took a job as an English instructor at Northern Illinois University. After getting a PhD, and working for twelve years for NIU’s Honors Program, he opted to be something else when he grew up. Joe turned up at Chicago Theological Seminary and, since 2001, has been a pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeKalb, Illinois. Over the years, he’s continued to write—his poems have appeared in plenty of journals, but this is his first honest-to-God, bona fide book.
THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Wisconsin Bookwatch: July 2012
The Poetry Shelf
LOOSE TALK poems by Joseph Gastiger (Lost Horse Press, 2012)
c/o University of Washington Press
PO Box 50096, Seattle, WA 98145-5096
ISBN 978-0-9839975-3-5, $16.95, www.losthorsepress.org
A long road of history behind him, Joseph Gastiger has turned experience into poetry. Loose Talk is a collection of poetry from Gastiger as he reflects on his life, his runs with politics and runs with a not so perfect world. Gastiger uses a freeform style that blurs the lines between typical poetry and prose, and makes for driven work. Loose Talk is a fascinating blend of memoir and verse, very much recommended reading.
I grew up on an island, miles off the mainland, where sky matters, hopes get used to feel of a separate, more limited place. Maybe by changing my key chain, I’d change who I was. I remember a horse I fed out of my hand at the bottom of our hill. I remember his rough black tongue. It was the sea—I did believe this, but I don’t remember why—that gave us horses. I remember a boy in an airplane hanger once, scooting from chair to chair, winning and losing sixty games of chess all at the same time. And for Christmas one year, my girl cautioned me, open it upstairs, not in the living room—The Joy of Oral Love. Imagine her buying that book for me, her mother in the store. On a single lane road I biked heartsick ten miles to Muttontown, to see that bare wooden cross rise behind the ghost mansion of King Zog. Nowadays when honeysuckle wafts close, walking my block at night, I remember shuffling home from her room in a trance with her voice in my hands. Listen, the smallest roses in the world grew along that roadside.
HIS FATHER'S SON
I’m at the Y, see, after breakfast Wednesday, not a stitch on, combing out my wet beard at the sink. Right after dozing in the shower, after sweating in the hot box, after huffing weights, machines, under an hour. I squint and brush and hear the tiny plink and try to snatch it, miss—my locker key slides off the shaving tray. It dips and catches in the drain. My finger barely reaches it—I try to wiggle it up, out—but something sharp glitters there also, in the hole. Along with greasy hair, what else, that slime or wax lining the tube, I see a razor blade stuck sideways, with my key. So, here’s the deal: my shorts are locked up good, my shoes, my bag, my towel. Nobody else around, this place empties for work. No one’s outside except the young and healthy mothers at the desk, folding warm towels, watching a talk show, taking calls. I’ve got a choice—to step outside bare-assed, explain, get a new key—or else I slice my finger, fishing, slip mine free. Between the bright surprise of blood, or getting tagged as a baboon—we’re in America, and I’m my daddy’s son. It takes a couple tries, but, yeah, I hook the key. Wad a few tissues, watch them soak carmine through white.