Saturday, March 04, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Danni Quintos

Danni Quintos is the author of the poetry collection, Two Brown Dots (BOA Editions, 2022), chosen by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as winner of the Poulin Poetry Prize, and PYTHON (Argus House, 2017), an ekphrastic chapbook featuring photography by her sister, Shelli Quintos. She is a Kentuckian, a mom, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet. She received her BA from The Evergreen State College, and her MFA in Poetry from Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Poetry Magazine, Cream City Review, Cincinnati Review, The Margins, Salon, and elsewhere. Quintos lives in Lexington with her kid & farmer-spouse & their little dog too. She teaches in the Humanities Division at Bluegrass Community & Technical College.

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, PYTHON (Argus House 2017) gave me something to hold and read from. It was published after I finished my MFA and was feeling a bit like I might not be a poet anymore. I think it acted as a reminder that I made something, that I could keep making. This was very different from my debut collection, Two Brown Dots (BOA Editions Ltd., 2022), which was from a well-respected, established press. My book felt almost unreal to me, like a big dream realized, especially to be published with BOA, whose books I've thumbed through and loved since I was a budding poet.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I think I didn't really know I was a "poet" until I had a poet call me one. I wrote poems in middle school and high school, but I also enjoyed writing fiction and non-fiction. When I was an undergrad and worked at Governor's School for the Arts in the summer of 2010, Mitchell L. H. Douglas put me in his phone as "Danni Quintos, Awesome Poet" and I was so humbled and surprised. The "awesome" part obviously was flattering, but being called a poet by someone who had taught me, who I respected as an established poet, made me believe it.  

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?
My writing is a very slow process. I am not a regimented writer and a lot of the non-writer parts of my life often overshadow the writer parts. My oldest poem in my book is probably from 2012, which was 10 years before the book was published. I had some very productive writing years during my MFA, but ultimately my poems weren't ready or maybe my full book wasn't ready until I worked on the manuscript with BOA and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, who selected my book for the Poulin Prize.

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?

For TBD, I would say that it began more as a short pieces that became a larger project. I am currently working on a larger project that started as a few poems and bloomed into something bigger.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings! I enjoy the adrenaline of getting up there and sharing my work with people who are interested, I like the conversations that come from readings.  I think I used to be afraid of readings because it felt really bare and scary. Now, I do think they're an important part of my process, especially reading with other writers I admire. It's good to hear what worked and take notes on how the audience reacted (or didn't) to know what I should hold onto.  

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?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

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

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

I recently read Shelley Wong's interview in Poets & Writers and I think she had some really beautiful advice for folks looking to get their first collection published. "This is often a despairing, expensive, and vulnerable process because of the contest system. And you get only one debut. Research the presses you are already reading and supporting. Go for your dream publishers. Ask questions. Take your time, but also don’t let publication stop you from working on other projects and living your life. Stay connected with at least one writer friend by sharing work, showing up for each other’s readings, commiserating, and giving each other advice. Take a week to revise your book in a cabin. Carry your manuscript with you. Do public readings to test the work out loud. But also take breaks. Above all, be kind to yourself and others."

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?

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

I like to read the ones that made me love poetry: Li-young Lee, Lucille Clifton, Nikky Finney, Ellen Hagan, Sandra Cisneros. I like to do writing prompts with friends, other writers I admire and trust. I like to also knit and draw or watercolor to make weird mistakes or creations. Lately I've been enjoying finding an excerpt from a poem/poet I love and making an illustrated/watercolor broadside for that excerpt. Lynda Barry has some wonderful drawing and writing exercises that help me out of any funk.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Honeysuckle, freshly cooked steamed rice, garlic and onions frying in oil, fall leaves starting to decay, tomato vine

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?
I think knitting has influenced my process a lot in that sometimes one must unravel an ugly or misshapen or just not right thing, despite hours of work. To acknowledge that the hours of work spent weren't wasted but a learning process toward something better, that seems very applicable to writing, drafting, editing, and letting go of the ugly or misshapen things we write. I also love drawing and reading graphic novels, but I think because I don't feel like my expertise is in this area there is more room to play and learn and once again, make something ugly or misshapen. I mentioned her before, but Lynda Barry is a major inspiration to me and her work helps me to embrace the weird and unknown.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I think returning to teachers and peers who taught me gets me really excited to make things and teach. I've loved reading Ross Gay's essay collections, Ellen Hagan's fiction and novels-in-verse, Joy Priest's poetry and essays, Nikky Finney's poetry and ephemera, and the debut poetry collections of my dear friends like Anni Liu (Border Vista), Su Cho (The Symmetry of Fish), Kien Lam (Extinction Theory), Jan-Henry Gray (Documents), and Marianne Chan (All Heathens). I also love to return to Ai, Lucille Clifton, Aracelis Girmay, and Ruth Stone, for teaching students and myself.

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

I'd like to make something with poems + illustrations or images. I want to write another book.

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?
Well, my day job is teaching at a community college, which I really love. Maybe in the multiverse I would've been in the nonprofit world. Don't tell my grandmother, but maybe I would've gone to law school.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I've always loved writing and storytelling. I used to make little books as a kid, usually they would be backwards because I'm left-handed. I think I stuck with writing because I had teachers recognize me and tell me I was good at it. Also because I loved it.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Last great book: Alejandro Varela's The Town of Babylon or Ross Gay's Inciting Joy
Last great film: I enjoyed Nope and Emily the Criminal.

19 - What are you currently working on?
Currently working on a teen novel-in-verse! Oof, learning a lot about plot and conflict and character arc!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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