Daniel M. Shapiro is a poet living in Pittsburgh. Due out this summer is his book How the Potato Chip Was Invented (Sunnyoutside Press). He is also the author of a book of collaborative poems with Jessy Randall entitled Interruptions and has authored three chapbooks. Find out more at his web site here.
VAH – I always find the reasons why writers write interesting – Daniel, what are yours?
DAS – I write because I believe daydreaming (or the greatest hits of daydreaming) should be documented. Writing allows you to sit down with ideas that don’t seem to make sense and to turn those ideas into entertainment, art, or a type of consciousness that might not have been articulated previously.
VAH – What was the first piece your wrote?
DAS – I write mostly poems, and my first poem was about springtime. It was titled “Springtime.” Mrs. Picard-Busse, my eighth-grade English teacher, published it without my knowledge in Reflections, the official literary magazine of Twelve Corners Middle School in Rochester, N.Y. I remember it had the line I clutch my umbrella hard. I’m not sure if this is related, but I really can’t stand umbrellas now.
VAH – And your favorite literary character?
DAS – Years ago I would’ve said R.P. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest because I worshiped that book, but more recently I’ve been reading to my kids, especially the Harry Potter series. I was always fascinated by Professor Snape and knew he would play a role in some sort of twist at the end of the series. I believed in Snape. I thought he was the most complete character. I am drawn to misunderstood characters whose truths are revealed gradually.
VAH – If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book or books would you want stranded with you?
DAS – The practical answer is Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy. I love his writing so much and have let those books sit on my shelf for years. Confessions of a Mask was what Catcher in the Rye would’ve been if Holden Caulfield had been a gay Japanese teenager. I’ve never been gay or Japanese, but I identified more strongly with the character in Confessions than I did with Holden. Anyhow, if the Sea of Fertility books were all I had, I would finally be forced to read them and would enjoy doing so.
VAH – And your biggest influence in your development as a writer?
DAS – I can think of two main influences: A.) Playwrights (Ionesco, Pinter, Mamet, et. al.) introduced to me by my high school English teacher Dr. Gary Wiener. After I told him how much I liked Waiting for Godot, Dr. Wiener pointed me toward other absurdest writing that wasn’t part of the curriculum. B.) Friends who write well. One of my best friends for the last 30+ years, Jessy Randall, has been writing poetry since before I knew her. Also, many people whom I’ve met first over the Internet and then in person (Matt Hart, Maria Chelko, Carol Guess, and others) continue to inspire me with their work and overall generosity. I am especially drawn to highly specific writing, e.g., poems that provide insight via the poet’s distinct individuality.