Daniel Poppick lives in Iowa City, where he is a student in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His poems have recently appeared in Colorado Review, New American Writing, and Thermos. You can read his poem, “The Animals Are Undisturbed,” in KR Online here.
KR: How do you anticipate what your reader’s imagination will bring to your work?
DP: I don’t think I’ve yet learned to anticipate much. If I’m doing my job I’d hope a reader would want to return to the space the poem provides to find some endurable mystery, even (especially) if the space itself is destabilized–so I try to write poems that branch into multiple first readings. Language breaks again and again, but it seems to keep working. I came to poetry relatively late, and the fact that anyone would bring an imagination to one of my poems in the first place feels like a very strange honor.
KR: What internal or external factors have the biggest influence on your creative process?
DP: An overheard conversation in a coffee shop in Iowa early this winter went,
CHILD: Momma, who’s that girl?
MOTHER: That’s George Washington, honey. All of these men are Presidents. I need you to sit down now.
When something like this triggers a particular strain of restlessness it means it’s time to write, and when writing from that restlessness begins to feel insufficient it means it’s time to put it into lines. There’s more, but it would make for boring reading. I can say for certain that I am very influenced by the deep shit we are in, and a handful of particularly wise friends.
KR: What exactly is poetry good for?
DP: I tell my students that at its best, poetry is a necessary interruption in our language and culture. Not all of them agree, and I respect that. There are other necessary interruptions, like dinner. But I think poetry is distinct in that it proposes different routes to sense or meaning than we are normally accustomed to (and it is not designed on the premise of selling us upgraded cell phones and nicer pants along the way); poetry might not change what one thinks or feels, but it can change how. Why do our language and culture need to be interrupted in the first place? I think an answer to that is implicit in your question, though it’s a good one and completely understandable that you would ask. Our language and culture seem largely invested in What, and that isn’t sufficient. Poetry goes a step further. So what exactly are our language and culture good for if poetry is made to sleep in a room with mildewed pillows and a radio playing nothing but the AM classical music station?
Poetry (along with the weather, movies, Calvin and Hobbes, certain people, dinner, and a few other things) is exactly good for being a potential conduit for empathy, and moreover for making me want to continue living. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way, and I don’t think it’s such an insane notion that public schools ought to give poetry a living place in the curriculum equal to math or even Catcher in the Rye. Will this happen in our lifetime? Probably not. But I don’t think I’m going to stop writing poetry, and I’m certainly not going to stop reading it. Some of those aforementioned wise friends would probably object to all of this, including dinner, but they’re not stopping either.
KR: In the spectrum of entertainment and media (music, movies, television, Internet, art, etc.) where does the literary pursuit fit?
DP: In front of CNN and to the right of mimes.
KR: What advice would you give yourself five years ago?
DP: It turns out patience means more than sitting around waiting for the right word to arrive. Be actively patient. And don’t take advice from people with time machines. Just because they have the machine doesn’t mean they know you.
KR: Is there a story behind your poem?
DP: Listening to people weather-talk in the Midwest is sort of like watching a couple gesticulate over a banana-shaped sculpture from the other side of the gallery in an art museum; you’ll never know what’s actually being communicated, but the exchange feels larger than the sum of its parts. I wrote this poem last April, almost a year after moving to Iowa City from Brooklyn, when I was finding myself involved in some gravely serious small talk about whether or not it was going to rain tonight, and what we might do instead of walking three blocks to someone’s house if it rained, and what we might miss if it didn’t in fact rain at all. I don’t even know what these conversations are about when I’m part of them, but they feel like some kind of vital connective tissue.