Friday, March 22, 2019

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Danny Caine

Danny Caine is the author of two books, Continental Breakfast (Mason Jar Press 2019) and El Dorado Freddy's (collaboration with Tara Wray, Belt Publishing 2020), and the chapbook Uncle Harold's Maxwell House Haggadah (Etchings Press 2017). His poetry has appeared in BarrelhouseNew Ohio Review, Hobart, DIAGRAM, and other places. He hails from Cleveland, Ohio and lives in Lawrence, Kansas, were he owns the Raven Book Store. More here.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first chapbook, Uncle Harold’s Maxwell House Haggadah, opened a few more doors for me as a writer. For instance, it’s a bit easier to book readings when you have a chapbook or book out. But the biggest change was the conversion of a group of poems, previously private to me, into a more public realm. Only two of the poems had been published from the chapbook before the whole thing came out. The rest had been ping-ponging exclusively between brain and laptop for years, and all of a sudden many more people could get their hands on them. It was a bit scary.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I really love novels as a fan—I read more novels than anything else. I cannot imagine the work that goes into a good novel. How horrific! I really admire novelists for this reason. Writing a poem, with its sensible size, seemed like a much more manageable task. I’m sure my motivation when I started writing poems was that pragmatic. Now, I’ve come to love the task of telling a full story via little shards of poetry.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

The line between “starting a project” and “working full-speed on a project” is nebulous to me, especially since my large-scale projects reveal themselves gradually. Continental Breakfast started in November 2013 and is coming out now, five and a half years later. If I had to pick a point it went from “project I’m starting” to “project I’m working on,” it was maybe halfway through. Until then, I was just writing poems about stuff I thought was funny. Sometimes they come out almost finished, sometimes they’re revised for years.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Continental Breakfast is mostly poems that I wrote individually, which eventually came together to form a book. My second book was a Project Book from the very beginning. Perhaps that’s because the more I write and read poetry, the more I understand how a poetry collection works.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I love doing readings. I help run a reading series in Lawrence, Kansas with Megan Kaminski and our events start with a short open mic. If I’m at all unsure of a poem, I take it for a walk at the open mic and it quickly reveals its true colors to me. I enjoy doing readings, in part because I try to write poems that work well out-loud (I try to write poems that work well out-loud because I like hearing when other people have poems that work well out-loud).

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Every poem I’ve ever written is about what it means to exist in the suburbanized and/or gentrified Midwest during brand-centered late capitalism.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I always circle around two lines line from Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland:” “the poets down here don't write nothing at all / They just stand back and let it all be.” For my whole life (well, my whole Springsteen-listening life) I’ve had a single interpretation of that line. Then, I recently discussed the line with my friend Morgan and she had a totally different interpretation. Then, I saw the amazing Hanif Abdurraqib speak and he had a still different interpretation. Should a poet down here write anything at all? Should they just stand back and let it all be? Is the answer always the same? I don’t know. My mind changes.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Every editor I’ve worked with has been a delight, specifically Aaron Burch at Hobart, Michael Tager and Ian Anderson at Mason Jar Press, and Martha Bayne and Anne Trubek at Belt Publishing. So, as long as this luck streak continues, I declare it essential.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

I started my post-college life as a teacher. At the end of my student teaching, one of my students told me to stop teaching if it stopped being fun. It did, I did. Good advice.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I have a full-time job and a nine-month-old son, so I need to be purposeful in carving out writing time. Monday through Thursday I spend the last hour of my work day writing. I also have a writers club that meets every other week. When I’m feeling very ambitious, I have a daily writing accountability group that I join for a month at a time, where the expectation is producing a poem every day. Without these structures, I’m sure the other busy-nesses in my life would swallow my writing.  

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Reading. Always reading.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza heating in an oven, ready to scald the roof of your mouth.

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Many of my patron saints are musicians (the Sufjan Stevens Christmas albums, for instance). But the richest cross-genre inspiration for me has come from photography. I first learned photography and poetry can inform each other when I read Erika Meitner’s great 2014 book Copia, which draws from the work of Alec Soth and Brian Ulrich, two photographers I’ve come to love too. Then, one day out of the blue, the great photographer Tara Wray emailed me asking if I wanted to collaborate. Long story short, we’ve got a book coming out soon, and it’s been one of the best collaborative partnerships I’ve ever been a part of. Her work is incredible—look up her #TooTiredProject, a crowdsourced initiative which employs photography as a method to explore issues of living with depression.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d love to fly in one of the first class pod things that recline into a bed. I’d also like to get something at a restaurant that sizzles on its way to the table.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I’m a bookseller now, I already tried being a teacher. Those two, plus writer, were my only three ideas. I’m glad at least two of them worked out.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

An obsessive reading habit.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

It doesn’t come out until July (#BookstorePerks), but The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is simply stunning.  A brilliantly crafted novel that knocked me over.

19 - What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m finishing edits on the first draft of El Dorado Freddy’s, my collaborative book with photographer Tara Wray that’ll be out in 2020. My portion is 30 poems, each one functioning as a poem on its own, but also as a review of a particular chain restaurant. Tara’s part is a color photo portfolio in featuring the buildings, people, and landscapes of these restaurants.

I’m also at work on a third manuscript called Flavortown that investigates and challenges narratives of authenticity via a series of speculative poems about a Guy Fieri-inflected culinary paradise called Flavortown. The whole thing is in its nascent stages, but right now Flavortown also has poems about fatherhood, Christmas, and a crown of sonnets about the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.

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