Domestic poet

Gailmarie Pahmeier

Photo By David Robert

Gailmarie Pahmeier was just named a 2007 Governor’s Arts Awards recipient. The poet, writer and UNR creative writing and literature instructor is being recognized for what the Nevada Arts Council calls her “outstanding and enduring achievement, commitment and service to the arts.”

What does getting this award mean to you?

Oh god, well it’s an incredible honor. I don’t even know how to articulate that, it’s such a great honor. It’s important because it’s the state of Nevada. I moved here in ‘84, and I knew within the first couple weeks that this is where I wanted to be. And one of the first things I did was take the bus to the state Arts Council. So it all comes back … I’m absolutely delighted.

What are some common themes in your writing?

Hmmm, well, relationships. I’m called a domestic poet, which is the term actually used in the field. The first time I heard it, I thought it was supposed to be an insult—'So does that mean pedestrian work?’ I was horrified by the term. But it means one who writes primarily about family, community and relationships of that nature. I guess you’d call it interpersonal relationships. And I’m no longer offended by that term—in fact I love it. I was even in an anthology called Sweeping Beauty: Contemporary American Women Poets Do Housework.

So what’s your most recent work?

What am I working on now? Literally, a series of poems on domesticity, using a book called A Pattern Language. The primary author is Christopher Alexander. It’s about designing ideal personal and community space. He talks about how there should be places of sanctuary in public places—in other words, memorials to people. Places that remind us there were other people that have been here before us. And he talks about personal places in the home. … So I was inspired by the book, and I’m doing a series of poems where I’m looking at individual rooms in a home and individual spaces in a home and how people use those spaces. So I have a poem about a porch … and about gardens and things like that.

Sounds domestic. What do you hope readers take away from your work?

I hope they recognize something of themselves in the work. The most wonderful thing someone can say to me after reading is they’d wish they’d written the poem because it was about their life. To me, that’s an incredible compliment. … That kind of makes it all worthwhile. I do a lot of reading in rural places. One of my favorite places to read is in Fallon at the Oats Park Arts Center. I have a gig in April there with a former student of mine, who just wrote his first novel—Willy Vlautin.

Oh, yeah! He wrote The Motel Life, right? His stuff is really interesting.

Yeah, he’s also the writer and lead singer of Richmond Fontaine.

So how do you balance teaching and writing?

Umm, carefully. My students really inspire me. Writing is really a lonely business. To get anything done, you have to have private time and private space. But we don’t really work in a vacuum. … My students are doing great work. Some of them are writing poems I wish I’d written. My colleagues are very supportive; I have a very supportive community … I think we feed off of one another. I can’t imagine a better life, really. I don’t want to be a domestic goddess housewife.

Just a domestic goddess poet. What’s your most recently published work?

The most recent full book is The House on Breakaheart Road, [1998]. That’s actually several years old because I took a journey into prose, and, oh well, I learned a lot—let’s put it that way. But I’m back on track. There may be a book in the next year.