“Write Only What you Can Write.”
VAH – Daniel, when did you know you were a writer and what got you there?
DAS – I have known I was a writer since high school, but I didn’t start writing poetry seriously until about 15 years later. I had considered myself a music critic; I wanted to be the next Lester Bangs or Robert Christgau. Eventually, I wrote professionally as a journalist and advertising copywriter, and my experiences in those media have informed my poetry. When I was writing advertising blurbs for a catalog company, a couple of my co-workers were poets, and they would exchange poems with each other across cubicles. It was a sort of bonding experience, so I started participating in that and haven’t stopped writing poems since.
VAH – You have several chapbooks and a book – what is your best advice for emerging writers?
DAS – The only advice I can think of is that the best way to fit in is to acknowledge that you don’t fit in. Write what only you can write. Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. If you’re a reality-show-loving Samoan with a scholarship to play the tuba, write about reality shows, Samoa, and tubas. No one else can do that! If you are that person and you decide to write about trees in autumn, ocean surf, your dying grandmother, and/or a difficult break-up, I will fly to Samoa and smack you with a stick made from the tree you wrote that poem about.
VAH – Many entering writing explore the idea of the Master of Fine Arts degree in writing – any thoughts?
DAS – I do not have an MFA. I am neither for nor against MFAs.
VAH – Writers write, read and seem to travel to where other writers gather – Do you have a favorite conference or writing retreat or seminar and what makes that one worth your while?
DAS – I have attended the AWP conference a couple of times and have loved it. It is a lot of fun to stalk your heroes, meet online friends in person, read poems aloud in places you’ve never been, meet the editors who have accepted your work, and hear poems you’ve admired for years read by their creators. It’s expensive, but it’s hard to put a dollar value on its overall positive effect. I plan to keep going.
VAH – What supports you so you may continue writing?
DAS – I am a special education teacher. When I tell people this, some of them say, “Bless your heart.” My job can be difficult, but it’s not the sort of thing you would see on “American Horror Story.” If any of the work weighs on me, I turn the weight into a poem, but usually I keep my career and writing separate.
Later in the month – Parts III and four of Three by Five’s presentation of Daniel Shapiro.
(Part I – Daniel discusses favorite literary characters, influences, his first creative piece of writing and why he writes.)