Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.
Today I am so excited to share with you a brief conversation with Daniel Nathan Terry. Many of you already know the work of this fine poet (and fiction writer—Dude! Welcome to our playground!) I was lucky to be on the program with Daniel at Southern Illinois University’s 2012 Devil’s Kitchen Fall Literary Festival (sponsored and curated by Grassroots Undergraduate Magazine.) His work is stunning. Check it out immediately.
Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?
I worked on revisions of the few poems from my current manuscript that remain unpublished. Well, I call them revisions, but I think of them simply as poems that are not finished yet. It’s all drafting, to my mind, until the poem lets me know that it’s done with me. The one that just finished with me has been very difficult to get out. It’s about the stillbirth of one of my best friend’s daughter and the movie Wings of Desire (Sky Over Berlin). I have been negotiating with the poem since 2009, trying to free it from the movie, but, in the end, it would not abandon the film and so it is called “This Day Needs Peter Falk.”
What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?
I wrote my first poems when I was quite young. I don’t remember writing them, but my mother has the evidence: a few poems (mostly religious, as my father was and is a Baptist preacher) scrawled in huge block letters on that paper which has the dash lines between each solid one. She keeps one framed on her sewing table to this day. I won’t quote it here, for my own sake. The first thing I remember writing was a short fantasy novel called The Four Kingdoms. I think I was 13 or so, and I was madly in love with Tolkien, Bradbury, and Bradley. It was, I’m sure, terrible, but I worked on it even during school, sitting in the back of the classroom pretending to take notes. No idea what happened to that draft or the maps and drawings I made of the kingdoms and characters. The only thing I truly remember about the story was a queen who had given her life over to controlling the savage storms that besieged her kingdom. She had to forgo any sort of life or happiness and remain in a high tower channeling the storms through her body until they fell as gentle rain on the crops. I was also reading a lot of myth and lore at the time–and poetry, of course, which I was raised on. Yeats was my go to poet at the time.
What are you reading right now?
Kristin Bock’s first collection of poetry, Cloisters. It seems I am always reading that book. It’s like no other book of poetry I’ve ever read, and it continues to give and give to me whatever I need at whatever time it is in my life. So much beauty and pain. It cannot be described; it must be read. I’m also reading Jason Mott’s new novel, The Returned, and Rebecca Lee’s collection of short stories, Bobcat. Both are wonderful, though very different. But then my reading tends to be all over the place. And I am always reading reference books and nonfiction–usually about horticulture or whatever has possessed me at a given time. Right now that is Drayton Hall, a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina that is the model for Sothern Gothic novel I am currently writing between poems.
What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)
I can think of two things–one writerly, one not. The first was from my first writing teacher in undergrad when I was 18 (I think his name Ben Miller–he looked like a very handsome version of John Denver, and I had a massive crush on him). He told me that my stories and poems usually began about a third of the way into my first draft. He was right, though I resisted him at the time and was determined to write “opening lines.” I think that impulse to open something brilliantly before the piece is written is the root of most cases of writer’s block. At least it is for me.
The other came from a rather obnoxious and opinionated customer of mine when I worked in retail. No matter how difficult she was, no matter how demanding, I smiled and did what I was supposed to do according to my job description. One day, as I was completing her transaction, a fake smile plastered on my face, wishing her gone, she said, “You know, if you don’t like someone, they don’t like you either. Doesn’t matter how well you pretend–the other person can feel it.” I was dumbstruck. I thought my dislike of her was a well-kept secret of mine and that she adored me–after all, I treated her like a queen. That insight has proven to be so valuable over the years. Now, I hope, I never fake it. At least not for long.
If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…
A crow–no doubt about it. Beyond the obvious symbolism (darkness, death, memory), I feel, and hope, that my writing is omnivorous, wandering, moving between the world of the animal and of man, the living and the dead. Loud and harsh at times, but always beautiful if caught in the right light. Capable of flight and of being communal but of also walking solitary on the roadside. I think crows appear in my poetry more often than any animal other than humans. And it’s odd–they’ve been used so often in literature, you’d think they would dry up, and maybe they have as an intentional metaphor, but as a subject they seem as boundless as humans. Maybe because we are so much alike. I think that’s why so many people hate or fear them–they don’t like the mirror they hold up. I think it was Coetzee who wrote (and this is a butchered paraphrase at best) something like, “We hate the animals that refuse to be destroyed or subjugated by us, that survive us, that flourish in our trash, in our excesses despite our efforts to eradicate them–the rat, the cockroach, the crow.”
Daniel Nathan Terry, a former landscaper and horticulturist, is the author of four books of poetry: City of Starlings (forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015); Waxwings (2012); Capturing the Dead, which won The 2007 Stevens Prize; and a chapbook, Days of Dark Miracles (2011). His poems and short stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in numerous publications, including Cimarron Review, The Greensboro Review, New South, Poet Lore, and Southeast Review. He serves on the advisory board of One Pause Poetry and teaches English at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he lives with his husband, painter and printmaker, Benjamin Billingsley.
For more info about and other writing by Daniel Nathan Terry:
→Thank you so much, Daniel! And thanks to all, as always, for reading. -PMc←