Gabriella Gonzales: Breath Before A Dream, an interview

Imagine the moment before you wake from a dream—the vivid immersion into your subconscious secret desires—and then the slap awake, the breath, your eyes shot open, brought suddenly, startlingly back to reality. Gabriella Gonzales is able to capture both the dream and the awakening in her poetry. Her poems—"Texts From Last Night", "Metro Diner", and "Daisy’s Apocalypse", all appearing in Volume Three of WTR— read slow and lush, fiercely honest, self-conscious and intimate. She writes of regret, desire and loss so expertly that with the scarcest of details, her characters—melded versions of the people in her life—feel familiar to her audience. Her poems showcase her skill at intertwining narrative with emotion, her grasp of female sexuality and her ability to convey the trauma of love in a voice that is strongly her own. She forces the readers to intensely fall into her characters, soft but sure, a steady, lonely thrill.



Nicole Delcore, WTR poetry reader: At WTR, we always have the previous interviewee leave a question for the next one. Kristina Thalin left: "What is a crucial step in your process from concept to final product?"


Gabriella Gonzales: Usually I'll do most of my writing in a notebook, but when I start putting it together on the page, I need to be in front of the computer. It'll take days and months for me to get all the ideas and material I need for my poem but once I'm in front of my computer everything comes out in a few hours. The result will be far from the final product but for me those hours are the most crucial—I need to be able to sit down, in silence, no interruptions, because I'm too scared it will stagnate if I decide to come back to it at a later time.


Nicole: How long does it usually take you to complete a piece?


Gabriella: Maybe a month or so if I'm really committed to an idea. Sometimes longer, but sometimes I can pull something together over a weekend.


Nicole: Do you think the work you take longer on means more to you?


Gabriella: No, I don't think so. I need to come at different poems different ways and some of them are just simpler, more straightforward, and so much easier to put together, but that's not because the poem means any less to me. And sometimes I'll try to shape a poem in a way that is very different from the approach I've started out with, and that process of experimentation is a time suck.


Nicole: What does your writing space look/sound like?


Gabrella: It depends on what stage of the writing process I'm in. When I'm freewriting to gather material I can be anywhere—maybe the subway, maybe on a bench in Riverside, maybe a diner. When I'm further along in the process, I have to sort of engineer the space I'm in to create an immersive and evocative experience for myself—I have so many playlists on iTunes and Spotify that I've created specifically for a poem. Other than that I have to write in complete silence. Usually in bed, usually at night.


Nicole: Can you think of a specific piece of writing that you associate with a specific location?


Gabriella: So, I wrote a poem called "Metro Diner," and while there is a diner called Metro Diner in NYC, I envisioned it taking place in different diner a little further down on the Upper West Side called "Old John's."


Nicole: Is there a reason that you didn't just title it "Old John's"?


Gabriella: Yeah, I mean it doesn't really have the same impact I think, it invites an image of a diner that is cozier and more friendly than the sleeker, chrome diner I wanted to create. Metro Diner also sounds more unforgiving and much more generic.


Nicole: Is aesthetic important to you? Do you catalog things because they match how you wish your world looked? Do you deliberately try to create certain aesthetics in your writing or in your life?


Gabriella: In life, sure, I like clutter and color in my clothing and in other things but I'm not so sure if that translates into my poetry. In hindsight it's bleak, placid stuff; blues, grays. Still cluttered, I guess. I come into writing poems with certain images in mind that guide my writing and the images I choose to incorporate are, of course, a deliberate attempt at creating atmosphere.


Nicole: Do you think your work is at all autobiographical, or biographical at all? Do you tend to write about real people or imaginary ones?


Gabriella: Autobiographical. Unfortunately for everyone I know. But it's screwed up—the people meld into each other, as do the places, and times. What I write is certainly not transcription, but I do draw heavily from experience.


Nicole: How often do you write?


Gabriella: Everyday. It's not like I'm writing a poem a day, but usually I'll do a freewrite. Some days all I'll do is take notes.


Nicole: Is your writing influenced by writers you like, or do you try to maintain a distinct style?


Gabriella: I've been reading a lot of "gurlesque" poets—Ariana Reines, Amy Lawless. Their writing is very feminine, campy, very blunt, shameless. Love it. Also been reading a lot of Eileen Myles. I think I do draw from them.


Nicole: One of your poems mentions the question "What would you save in a fire"—do you have an answer to that?


Gabriella: My phone! What a fucking terrible answer, but how else am I going to get help? And anyone else in the house with me...God, I'm thinking and thinking but honestly I can't think of anything I'm really attached to. Books and clothing are the obvious choice but I have too many of those to choose. Lame.


Nicole: So you don't have sentimental trinkets or anything?


Gabriella: I have a box of old letters and papers I keep in my closet. I'll get a letter and get very excited and read through it and think I've got to save this so I'll put in the box. And then it'll sit in the box and eventually I'll get too embarrassed to read them again anyway. But I love my friends! And I love their letters!


Nicole: Do you think writing is something that can be taught?


Gabriella: I do, but I think the learning process extends far beyond the classroom. There needs to be commitment. One needs to read, of course, until you have an idea of what sounds good, rhythmically, tonally. And one needs to incorporate a willingness to be truthful to oneself and a desire to transcribe whatever it is they discover with shameless accuracy, which means a willingness to buck cliches and to explore unusual use of language.


Nicole: How would you describe your poetry to someone who speaks very limited English?


Gabriella: “It loves women.”


Nicole: What is your least favorite thing about writing?


Gabriella: My favorite thing about writing is also my least favorite thing The process of writing feels like an itch, which is a miserable feeling, honestly, but I have to keep going. Because I know the way I want my writing to sound but it's difficult to get at that without putting in the work. It’s a torturous process but it's also a head rush.

Also, the recognition, which will usually happen around then, that I need to give myself distance and time away from the poem in order to rework it with a more objective eye which is frustrating for someone as impatient as I am

So it's those moments sitting in front of the computer at 3AM trying to format the lines and rework certain passages and feeling miserable about yourself because everything seems a little off and feeling like there's not much else you can do that are my least favorite and also most favorite. 


Nicole: What's more important in a piece of poetry: emotion or narrative? Do you have to sacrifice one to get the other?


Gabriella: Narrative. It won't always take a traditional narrative form. Maybe the writer has, as I do, an image or series of images that informs the writing. The emotion should follow naturally, it's part of the story. To enter into a poem with the aim of making someone ache, while I would love it if that happened, could end up a little aimless. And no, I don't think they're mutually exclusive at all


Nicole: Do you have a favorite piece of your own?


Gabriella: I don't know if I do. Right now it might be "Metro Diner." Writing it was so liberating and surprising.


Nicole: It’s an amazing piece! Finally, what's your question for the next interviewee?


Gabriella: Wow, thank you! Ask them if they have any writing rituals.


To see more of Gabriella's work, read "Texts From Last Night" here, and be on the look out for Volume Three of WTR for "Metro Diner", "Daisy's Apocalypse" and tons of other excellent poems, short stories and art pieces!