First Cut: Interview with Gabriel Hart

The 12th book in the First Cut Poetry series, Hymns from the Whipping Post by the multi-talented Gabriel Hart, was released worldwide yesterday. I was honoured to blurb this sublime new collection. Here’s what I made of it…

Brooding on the vagaries of an unbridled life and the pitfalls of passion, Hymns From The Whipping Post is an exquisite, indelible, defiant creation forged from personal destruction. These poems are taut in presentation yet contain immeasurable depth; the syntax is emphatic yet tender; the pace inexorable; the content more vulnerable and revealing than any other work in Hart’s oeuvre. The reader becomes privy to the poet’s grim self-examination, compelling moments of wild abandon, and quietly devastating epiphanies salvaged from the wreckage of a romance. This collection, a departure from Unsongs Volume I, is like a dirty fingertip on an exposed nerve: these are words that sting, verses that ache, pages that consume.

To celebrate its publication, I’ve had a chat with Gabe about Hymns from the Whipping Post, his writerly habits, and what’s next for him.

hymns

Tell us about Hymns from the Whipping Post?

Hymns is a development from last year’s Unsongs [Book #5 in the First Cut series, released April 2021]— looking back at that collection, I think I was still transitioning, trying to break away from lifelong songwriting instincts, so many of those poems were still slightly formulaic in that respect. Hymns feels like a step forward, a clean severing from anything so tidy or resolute. I’m hoping my third volume will be even more so. The poems were written from December 2020-December 2021, and it’s chronological in the order I wrote them. I wanted to see what would happen if I presented them in that kind of sequence, what kind of sub-narrative might pop up, though it’s far too early for me to psycho evaluate it — that’s the reader’s job anyway.

Sum up the main themes in your collection in 10 words or less.

Reclaiming independence, sidetracked by an absolutely nauseating maudlin sentimentality.

Your favourite poem(s) in the collection and why?

Idiosyncratic desert life shows up more often in this collection, so I feel close to ‘Signs of Life Support,’ which documents the last night of an infamous roadhouse out here. It focuses on the onstage banter of my dear friend, local musician Pat Kearns, who was sort of heralding its anti-climactic apocalypse that night.

I say fuck it

I can’t take it

I get up to leave

But duty calls

“And now my friend is gonna pass the hat around

‘cause tonight your money goes to the house of cards…”

he says, handing me his wide brim

and we made it rain

under the desert stars

– excerpt from ‘Signs of Life Support’
© Gabriel Hart / Hymns from the Whipping Post / Close to the Bone (2022)

The other really desert one ‘Shelter to Cinder,’ I wrote the day after me and my neighbors tore apart this old shack where tweakers were squatting at one point, ‘cause winter was coming and we needed firewood. I wrote it as a sort of roundabout reflective spell to beckon a new woman into my life, and now, four months later, it seems to have worked.

SHELTER TO CINDER

I tore apart the tweaker’s shack

now, firewood for the winter

my little way of getting back

at them, when they burnt

their shelter to cinder

their field mice

escaped

to bunk with me

assuming they were evading

flame

yet all I’m doing here: waiting

for the half-sane

human being

to earn

my heating

a reason

to learn

the discipline

of a controlled

burn

© Gabriel Hart / Hymns from the Whipping Post / Close to the Bone (2022)

What are your writing habits?

I write every single day, in three two-hour spurts: morning, afternoon, early evening. I feel its atonement for something, maybe just for all the free time I have, since I’m out of work with chronic pain. I’m not sure how long this will last so I’m trying to not waste a single moment. So, this weird, displaced guilt of freedom is definitely a motivator, it seems to lubricate the mind for even more intrusive thoughts to just kind of glide right in there and onto the page.

Name 3 books: 1 book from your childhood, 1 you’re currently reading, and 1 you’re looking forward to reading.  

The Dark Half by Stephen King was a pivotal book for me as a twelve-year-old — that concept of unreliable narration, how the author can be a character as well, sort of blew my mind.

Later in my teens, reading The Primal Screamer by Nick Blinko took that one-step further in a psycho-dramatic autofiction sense.

Right now I’m reading an advanced manuscript of James Nulick’s Lazy Eyes for a piece I’ll be writing on it later this spring. I’m really looking forward to reading What Are You by Lindsay Lerman and Characters by Derek Maine. I need to get my act together and read Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, I’ve been putting that off for ages.

What’s one poem you wish you’d written?

I don’t think I wish I’d written any poem that wasn’t mine? I realize that may sound arrogant, but it feels too invasive of a hypothesis — poetry is such a personal thing. I’d never want to take that away from someone.

Tell us about your future writing plans?

Shopping a novel around, finishing up another short-story collection. Tearing apart/reassembling another novel. Writing a third from scratch. Slowly starting a third poetry book. Our new arts/culture site The Last Estate is steamrolling, full-speed towards anyone who says “full-stop.” I’m hosting our first Last Estate literary event in L.A. April 14th, where we’ll be focusing more on what people are wearing rather than what they’re reading. Soon, they will call us The Last Aesthete.

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GabeNYCmannys

About the poet

Gabriel Hart lives in Morongo Valley in California’s High Desert. He’s the author of Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell and Hymns from the Whipping Post, both out now from Close to the Bone, U.K. Other works can be found at Expat Press, Misery Tourism, Terrorhouse, Shotgun Honey, Bristol Noir, Crime Poetry Weekly, Punk Noir, Rock and A Hard Place, and Ligeia Magazine. He’s a regular contributor to Lit Reactor, Los Angeles Review of Books, and a co-conspirator at The Last Estate.

 

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Get your copy of Hymns from the Whipping Post.

Get your copy of Unsongs: Vol I by Gabriel Hart.

Check out the other books in the First Cut Poetry series.

Follow Gabriel Hart on Twitter: @GabrielHart77

Follow The Last Estate on Twitter: @estate_last

Follow First Cut Poetry on Twitter for book news,
giveaways and a National Poetry Writing Month 2022 challenge
where I’ll be tweeting poetry prompts every day throughout April.

Follow me on Twitter: @HLRwriter

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