Waiting for the G Train: An Interview with Gabriel Don

Gabriel Don chats with Thomas Fucaloro

Gabriel Don received her MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction at The New School, where she also worked as the chapbook and reading series coordinator. Her work has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, Short Fast and Deadly, A Place We Know Well, The Brooklyn Rail, and The Saudade Review. She is a PEN prison mentor, part of the editorial staff at LIT, and is also the Poetry Editor of Night Mag. Although she is Australian and grew up in Singapore and Dubai, Gabriel is now never leaving New York City's Lower East Side.


TF: Your poem "Fuck the G Train" is fantastic...but my question to you is, why should we?

GD: Thank you very much for your kind words about my poem. My dear friend and collaborator Joseph A.W. Quintela, said playfully “because one should fuck anything that moves.” I say fuck it because it left me stranded and waiting for way way too long. Never have a one-night stand off the G train—especially on a Sunday in a snow storm. Fuck it because it is unreliable and lets me down constantly. It is never on time. It doesn't cross Manhattan. It's like this nightmare train out of Beetlejuice. On reflection the G train could be me, though at the time it wasn't. I needn't put forth obvious arguments if we take the title that way.

TF: "You are not good in those eyes" is such a great opening line. Did the poem start there?

GD: You are far too generous and I like it! Let's hang out and have a mutual appreciation goddess circle of sorts. The poem did start there, as I sat tired on a hard subway seat, listening to my friend (the talented poet Sean Damlos-Mitchell) read excerpts from Gravity’s Rainbow at around two in the morning, awaiting the train that seemed like it would never arrive. (The rest of the troops abandoned us when the train didn't appear after an hour.) I began there because it was the beginning. They were the first seven words that found the page. Lewis Caroll wrote: "Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop." Greg Johnson in workshop would always recommend a writer begin with another part of their story. I become superstitious about first versions. While I appreciate clean copy and editing, sometimes the way it was is the way it ought to be.

TF: You are very active in the poetry community. Any advice you can give to some of our young writers out there?

GD: I read my father this question and he said, “Have you told them you are young?” I told him you are very well aware of my age. Advice, golly… Go to readings. Every night in New York, so many, especially in fall and winter, you can see major writers read for free. My first week of being in New York I heard A.S Byatt and Salman Rushdie read and I decided to move here. There's so many going on. I write down places and times and do not even take note of who is reading. I always learn something. Read your work in public. Find open mikes. Participate in the writerly world. It's out there and we don't bite… hard. Word at 4F for example started by Rammer Martinez Sanchez and Angy Abreu fosters magic. Respect your contemporaries. It isn't over, it is happening now.

And support your literary community. Subscribe to publications. Read, write, submit. Read, write, submit. Don't take rejection personally. Stay up past sunrise reading to each other. Collaborate. Copy edit. Appreciate criticism. Talk to your idols—they are humans too and like to make new friends and most are open to give advice when asked. Try to sleep with Thomas Fucaloro. Keep a journal. Write every day. Get your heartbroken. Believe in unicorns.

TF: You just finished your MFA in creative writing at the New School. Has that helped or hurt your writing?

GD: Absolutely helped my writing. My MFA in creative writing at the New School has been by far the most beneficial investment of my life. My writing improved and I did a lot more of it. My editing skills developed and it also helped me find more like-minded friends—people with whom I can discuss a comma with for more than two dirty martinis—and a community to help me keep on, keep on.

TF: You also write fiction. What is the difference, if any, on how you approach the medium of poetry and fiction?

GD: I think I have more of a need for cohesion in my fiction. Even if fragmented, it has to function as a narrative whole. I feel freer in poetry. In fiction I approach the story like a hill up ahead: I can see a bump, I want to climb. (A free public John Irving lecture at Columbia taught me hill strategy!) I like to have a turn at the end, the last sentence that changes everything. Roald Dahl is the master of this in his short stories. Jolted, it lingers. The Australian poet Robert Adamson once asked me if I wrote poetry and I said "I have outbursts." There's immediacy in poetry that I dilly-dally with in fiction. Saying that, some of my fiction reads like poetry (in terms of formal qualities like line break). I don't believe in time or grammar so maybe that adds to it. I approach other mediums of expression besides fiction and poetry—including music, acting, photography—and I think the approach depends on the impulse, an urge to express, and the idea regardless of medium.

TF: What readings do you host?

GD: I host two monthly series in New York. One is called Pies and Scribe, a reading series where actors and writers (writing plays, screenplays, prose, poetry, whatnot, whatever with words) can intermingle and play. Shy writers can put their words in others mouths (but can also read their own work if they please). Scripts in progress can be read out loud and developed, revised and brought back again. People sign up and we coordinate/cast on the night and share and listen while drinking and eating. The other I call a soiree, salon, gathering, shindig, whatnot happening, which usually takes place in my community garden in East Village but this month I hosted it in a friend's backyard in Bushwick. Attendees can do absolutely anything, but participation—doing something, anything—is required. We’re all venerable. I want everyone to feel safe and I don't want it to be a freak show or frat party. Back to the days without TV or radio how we would entertain each other with various skills, talents, knowledge, stories etc. Often people who think they have nothing to share and feel the most nervous are the most appreciated. People have lectured on horticulture, performed monologues, set up a painting table for everyone to dabble with, presented fashion designs on an impromptu cat walk, broke an apple in two, played music, baked a cake, ranted about how they weren't going to do anything, screened a film, showed a photograph or architectural sketch. Endlesslessless. All are welcome but all must have their moment.

TF: Where do you see the world of poetry in ten years?

GD: See or want? Thoughts become things so I anticipate: Thomas Fucaloro and Joseph A. W. Quintela slamming (a dual complete with white gloves pulled off sweaty poet hands’) on a weekly basis. Collaboration. Hope. Sincerity. Fun. Performativity. Personas. Money. Respect for rap and rhyme. Desire to play with form and admiration for it. More women represented. Equality: everyone’s experimentation is valid. Freedom. Light. Online wonderments making use of hyperlinks, video, sound, international, audience participation and all the wonderful things new electronic media opens up for poetry. A global exquisite corpse! Poetry as popular entertainment (similar to in Iran where poets are revered and are celebrities. They record audio of poetry that goes viral with stars like Maryam Heydarzadeh). Carefully handmade, staple, ribbon, pasta, or somehow physically bound and loved chapbooks (to hold onto with ones toes while reclining on horseback). Silliness.

TF: What's next for Gabriel Don?

GD: Who knows? I never know what I'm doing till I'm doing it. Hopefully subsidize my love of poetry, writing in general, and all the creative arts, with jobs that pay me to survive while I produce a bigger body of work. Apply for grants, teach, administrate, connect, take photos, run events, finish my books. Get an agent. Make music. Act in films. Ideally acquire a bureaucratic assistant to do all the draining dire tasks so I can play all day with glitter glues and words. Inshallah the continued blessing: to consider my work recreation. I would love to have an artist-run-space warehouse in the Lower East Side where a collective lives and works while running a revenue-producing venue. 'Tis my dream.

Gabriel's poem "Fuck the G Train" is published in our collection The Understanding between Foxes and Light

Gabriel will be reading at our Brooklyn book launch at Pacific Standard on Wednesday September 4th 2013.