The Muse

(An International Journal of Poetry)

ISSN 2249 –2178


Volume-2                                                       JUNE -2012                                                    Number-1

An E-Interview with Jim Daniels

                                       (Interviewed by Pradeep Chaswal)

(Jim Daniels is Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. He has been teaching creative writing at Carnegie Mellon since 1981. His interests include poetry, fiction, and screenwriting. Recent books include Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry and From Milltown to Malltown (a collaboration with photographer Charlee Brodsky and writer Jane McCafferty). His fourth collection of short stories, Trigger Man, got  published in 2011. In 2007, he was awarded the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize for his collection, Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies. Two other books were published that year, his third collection of short fiction, Mr. Pleasant and my eleventh book of poems, In Line for the Exterminator. In 2010, he wrote and produced the independent film "Mr. Pleasant", my third produced screenplay. His second, "Dumpster," was filmed in 2005. Street, a book of his poems accompanying the photographs of Charlee Brodsky, won the Tillie Olsen Prize from the Working-Class Studies Association in 2006. In addition, he has edited or co-edited four anthologies, including Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race, and American Poetry: The Next Generation. My 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.

He  received the Brittingham Prize for Poetry, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies. At Carnegie Mellon, He has received the Ryan Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Elliott Dunlap Smith Award for Teaching and Educational Service, and a Faculty Service Award from the Carnegie Mellon Alumni Association.)


Chief Editor: How poetry got birth in you? Please tell us about the first few
 poems you composed?

Jim Daniels : I started writing when I was in high school, in part due to my history of speech problems that made me hesitant to speak up in public situations, and also in part due to the encouragement of a couple of great teachers. My first real poem was one I wrote about working in a corner store during my high school years, rhyming the names of candy with the names of liquor, since we sold both in that store. I was writing about something concrete, and something I knew and cared about. It began my life-long interest in writing about work as a subject.
Chief Editor: What does it mean to you to be a poet?

Jim Daniels : If poetry is like a hand reaching out toward the world, as one poet said, then I am reaching that hand out, trying to connect, hoping someone grasps that hand.

Chief Editor: Apart from being a poet you are also a writer and Professor of creative writing. What are your views on the role of poetry in

Jim Daniels : I believe that the reading and writing of poetry can help make students better human beings—it can get them to examine the world around them with careful attention and empathy. That said, on a more practical level, it helps them communicate in a very precise, compressed way, and that skill can apply to many, many situations throughout a life and a career.

Chief Editor: According to you what is the role and responsibility of poet in the present day world?

Jim Daniels : To get beneath the surface of our daily lives and explore what’s really going on. To wrestle with the complexities and not preach or oversimplify.

Chief Editor: Are you currently working on any new project or book of poetry?

Jim Daniels : My next book of poems, Birth Marks, will be published by BOA Editions in 2013

Chief Editor: What are your views on contemporary experimental poetry?

Jim Daniels : I think all poetry is “experimental,” so the use of the labels ends up being dangerous territory sometimes I think. From poem to poem, we all just try to  poem, we all just try to challenge ourselves to be the best poets we can be, and that often involves not playing it safe and trying new things.

Chief Editor: What is the social relevance of poetry in the contemporary milieu of globalization and technology?

Jim Daniels :  I think it has the same relevance it has always had—maybe even more, since technology has provided a means for poetry to reach more people around the world.

Chief Editor: Would you please share your experience regarding the composition of  your latest works “Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry” and “Trigger Man”?

Jim Daniels :  Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City is my fourth book of short stories—I continue to write a lot about my hometown, Detroit. It’s a follow-up to my book, Detroit Tales. I write fiction and screenplays (most recent film, Mr. Pleasant, appeared in many film festivals in 2011 and 2012. I have also collaborated with the photographer Charlee Brodsky on two book projects, Street, 2005, and From Milltown to Malltown, 2010, so in addition to poetry, I am very interested in crossing genres and collaborating with other artists.
Capital P Poetry includes two series of poems, The Tenured Guy poems, a series of work poems examining the academic world, and The Esperanto Poems, a series of poems in response to various types of music. The other poems in the book deal with many other subjects, including being a parent.

Chief Editor: You have been teaching creative writing at Carnegie Mellon since  1981. You have received many prizes and fellowships for your  poetic,  creative and academic excellence like “Brittingham Prize for Poetry,  two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts” etc. How do you feel about the role of awards and honors in the life of a creative person?

Jim Daniels :  Recognition is nice when we get it, but there’s an arbitrary aspect to awards in the arts that often has more to do with taste than with talent, so I try not to get too wrapped up in who gets what awards, etc.

Chief Editor: You poem "Factory Love" is displayed on the roof of a race car  please share with tell us about this event in detail?

Jim Daniels :  Out of the blue, I got an email from the race car owner, Alex Grabau, asking permission to put the poem on the roof of his car. He said that the poem, which is about a factory worker writing a love poem to his machine, spoke to the race car world in which the drivers have such passion for their cars, their machines. Since I’m always interested in getting my poems out into the world in any way possible, this was a thrill for me, and I quickly gave permission. I think Alex did a beautiful job—it looks great.

Chief Editor: Can poetry save man from ecological disaster?

Jim Daniels :  No.

Chief Editor:  What message you wish to give our readers and poetry lovers?

Jim Daniels :  I don’t think I have a message.  Poetry—it’s much easier for me to write it than talk about it.