— a poetry interview series by Christine Klocek-Lim
1. What is your favorite poem that you’ve written? Read?
Argh. I always flunk this one.
2. Has the rise of the poetry MFA been positive or detrimental to the art?
I think it’s fine, as long as students go into it with their eyes open. The MFA is an artistic degree, not a professional degree—it won’t give a job. It will give you a couple of years to write in a supportive community where you can focus on writing in an intense way. It might very well make you a better writer. That’s a good thing.
3. Do you write for yourself or for an audience/reader?
I write the first drafts for myself. I revise for an audience/reader.
4. How much of what you write is inspiration vs. perspiration?
I’m a big sweater. Not the kind you wear. I believe writing is hard work, and if you sit around waiting for the Muse to tap you on the shoulder, your hair is going to get dusty.
5. Bonus question! Answer any one of the following:
a. Do you ever include the works of others in your readings? If not, why not? If so, who and why?
No, I don’t. While I understand the gesture, I’m not a performer. I have a hard enough time reading my own work much less doing justice to someone else’s words.
b. Why do you read or write poetry?
It puts me in touch with a part of myself that pays close attention to what’s going on beneath the surface of life and what touches the heart in a lasting way.
c. How has the way you write changed (or not changed) over time?
I spend more time revising now than I ever did. I don’t know what this means. Am I getting better? Worse? I used to be a night writer, but since I became a parent eighteen years ago, I switched to becoming a morning writer.
d. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Oatmeal and grapefruit and coffee. The breakfast of middle-aged poets.
Jim Ray Daniels wrote and produced the film Mr. Pleasant. He wrote the screenplays for two previous films, Dumpster and “No Pets.” In addition, he is the author of three books of short fiction, including, most recently, Mr. Pleasant, Michigan State University Press, 2007, Best Regional Fiction Gold Medal, Independent Publisher Book Awards.
He has also published thirteen collections of poetry, including Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City, From Milltown to Malltown, a collaborative book with photographer Charlee Brodsky and writer Jane McCafferty, 2010, and Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, 2011. His poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac,” in Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 anthologies, and Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” series.
His poem “Factory Love” is displayed on the roof of a race car. Other recognition includes the Brittingham Prize for Poetry, the Tillie Olsen Prize, the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He is the Thomas Stockman Baker Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University.