DeKalb Author Waxes Poetic In Prose

Jun 13, 2014

Joe Gastiger, author of Loose Talk.
Credit Dan Klefstad

Joseph Gastiger writes prose poems, a hybrid form that reads like fiction but uses poetic imagery. He prefers writing this type for two reasons.

"I found it made certain stories in my life more available," he says, "rather than break whatever it was I was trying to say into lines."

In an interview with WNIJ, Gastiger said the form allowed his sentences to flow more easily, and led to more surprises. The other reason:

"When I'm trying to write a poem that is in lines, that has certain breaks and forms," Gastiger explains, "I need an uninterrupted block of time, otherwise it slips away from me."

With prose poems, the author says, he can pick them up the next day and remember, "Oh. That's not the word I want. This is the word I want."

Gastiger's book, Loose Talk, collects more than 50 poems, some of which were previously published in journals. Many of these are based on childhood memories of a working class neighborhood in Westbury, New York. The language is plain, like everyday speech, sometimes with violent imagery. Take, for example, "The Finger":

Any moment, the drive shaft can drop on an school bus. A scaffold can snap loose so easily. Tell me you've never poked a pencil in a fan. Once in July, during a thunder shower, Andre, JP and I get playing factory even deeper in the garage. We flip my bicycle upside down, to crank the pedals with our hands -- faster and faster, like Chaplin in Modern Times. I've just turned eight, so this makes Andrew Seven, brother JP's five. We like this thrill of wheels, velocity, and torque. When JP jabs his finger in between the spokes, he seems to laugh so quick, it snaps off like a twig and flies away. Across the room, landing in sawdust; spray of blood I almost taste then, JP's howling halfway home. Andre takes off. I know I have to say what happened, but I crouch. Lips forming O. Mortality is fixing supper, through the door. How will I ever tell my mother what is wrong?

Other poems contain religious imagery and icons of faith, such as Joan of Arc. This might not be surprising for an author who's a pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeKalb. But none of his poems are overtly religious, which might surprise some.

"I come to being a pastor rather late in life," Gastiger says, "and my faith commitment is certainly strong. But I tend to think of poetry as a way of looking at everything rather than looking at certain things."

Loose Talk is Joseph Gastiger's first collection of poems. It's published by Lost Horse Press.

Next week, our Summer Book Series continues with Barrie Jean Borich's award-winning memoir, Body Geographic. Listen Friday morning at 6:34 and 8:34. In the mean time, enjoy this book series jingle written and performed by Bill Leighly and Erica Ensign: