Indecency (Seven Kitchens Press, 2013)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
Thematically, the poems in Indecency are about addiction and disease, very corporeal issues, and I wrote them all within a few months of each other when I found myself preoccupied with images of bodies, of bodies rotting, of what Catholics call The Accidents, or “the sensual distractions.” I wanted the poems to operate in a unified manner, even if most of them will appear, sometimes in a different order, in my forthcoming collection Clean.
My models for that sort of coherence (and my favorite recent chapbooks) are Phil Metres’ Abu Ghraib Arias, Michael Robins’ Circus, Liz Ahl’s Talking About the Weather, and Joy Katz’s Which From That Time Infus’d Sweetness Into My Heart, all of which feel coherent to me and pleasurably intimate.
There are some chapbooks that I regard as marketing material, as ads for a forthcoming, fuller collection, which is totally fine, but these sometimes feel a tad fragmented to me, if still enjoyable in a sort of voyeuristic, peeping-into-the-future manner. Other chapbooks, which I admire more, are coherent, small-scale collections, necessary unto themselves. It’s the difference between any number of EP’s by The Smiths (who admitted to being marketing whores and masters of re-packaging) and The Pixies’ elegant, fiercely horrifying Come on Pilgrim.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
There are only five poems in the collection, although two of those are super long. The oldest poem (I think) is the ten-part sequence “Danny Starr,” which is both a letter to a missing friend (I presume he’s dead sometimes) and a compulsively rhyming tribute to the poet Thom Gunn. Essentially the poem is about meth, and I worked on it obsessively for several weeks. Once I located its epistolary address and sort of crazed rhyme scheme, I got hooked – ‘perhaps addicted,’ I write in the poem – and regarded the poem like a sort of drug-infused crossword puzzle, filling out its rhymes, tossing in bits of Gunn along the way. I was hooked and didn’t eat some evenings, which is odd for me.
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
As I stated above: addiction, primarily, whether that means addiction to crystal meth, to sensual pleasures, or to the act of speaking itself. My earlier chapbook Breakfast in the Suburbs is much calmer and safer, I think, more grounded in poems about the distant past, about childhood. Indecency, as I believe my mom pointed out, ain’t too suitable for the kids.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
Because all of the poems are told in second-person, I knew I needed to start with a literal epistle, “Letter to Curtis, Dead at Twenty-Four,” and I wanted to end with the Old Testament where God says to Noah (startlingly, after the flood) “on earth, every living thing shall be your meat.” Isn’t that shocking? That promise? That invitation to indulge one’s appetites with such abandon? It still stuns me. As shocking as my subject matter might be viewed by outside readers, I wanted to end with (to my mind) the most shocking, most arrogant bit of all. The invitation to eat absolutely whatever meat one desires.
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
I submitted Indecency to two or three contests before it won the Robin Becker Prize at Seven Kitchens.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
My colleague at The University of Denver, John Tiedemann, posted a photo he’d taken of shoes strung over a telephone wire in the Cap Hill neighborhood of Denver. A common sign for drug sales, specifically meth, I think. I saw the photo the very day I learned that the book was coming out, and I asked John if I could use it. He agreed.
What are you working on now?
A series of shorter, less graphic love poems, intentionally subtler in tone and subject matter, all more or less sonnets, each titled after the name of a past or dreamed-of lover.
What is your writing practice or process?
I write and read poetry every morning for several hours. I have the luxury of doing that, given my fairly flexible academic job and my habit of waking at around five a.m.
A question from Sara Tracey: If your chapbook was scratch and sniff, what would its scent be?
One wouldn’t want to scratch this, I imagine, but cigarettes certainly, cheap beer, drug-laced dance floors surely, two prison cells, two bathhouses (one in Indianapolis, the other overseas), sex among strangers in various public places, and a single casserole.
A question from Karen J. Weyant: If you could have a soundtrack for your chapbook, what songs would be playing?
The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead. On repeat. Plus This Mortal Coil’s cover of Big Star’s “Kangaroo.”
David J. Daniels is the author of Clean, winner of the Four Way Books Intro Prize, and two chapbooks. A former Stadler Poetry Fellow, he teaches at the University of Denver and serves as a poetry editor for Pebble Lake Review.
from Danny Starr: A Lament
I gave you my copy
of Thom Gunn’s Boss Cupid
because the bone-crushing thug
on its cover –
laced jack boots & denim jacket, skinhead
of indeterminate race –
was the lover
you were always looking for:
one younger, with deep connections, smug.
Done up, no less,
in oils, the easier to manipulate
on the palette & canvas.