Daniel Brown

How did you become a writer?

In steps:

1. Came to feel (rightly or wrongly) that I had some facility with words.

2. Tried to write fiction, but found I was doing so much chiseling and whittling that it was taking forever to get anything done.

3. Had the thought that my slow rate of production was probably more suited to poetry than prose. 

4. Didn't know where to begin, since I knew next to no poetry, had no models, and didn't have anything "poetic" to say.

5. Stumbled on Randal Jarrell's appreciative essays on Robert Frost and was blown away by the essays and Frost's poems alike.

6. Started writing pieces that sounded like Frost (and were about "country" subjects--a problem since, as someone who grew up in and around New York City, I didn't know the first thing about the country.

7. Happened to try to write a poem about something I really had, forget poetry, to say: a poem to my mother (I was in my early twenties) telling her it only looked liked I was idling in my life; that even though I wasn't producing anything, I was working hard at trying to 7) Was driven, in attempting to say this thing I really had to say, to say it as I really would.

8. Realized, in considering the resulting poem, that a) some of the "unpoetic" things on my mind were suitable subjects for poetry b) my actual voice could be the voice in my poems.

9. With these related realizations was off and running.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

As mentioned above, Frost (via Jarrell) was my first influence; came to love many poets, old and new, but wouldn't single out any of them as remotely comparable to Frost in terms of influence.

When and where do you write? 

I've always had 9-5 jobs, so my writing has necessarily been confined to evenings and weekends (and the second hour of the occasional two-hour workday lunch).  Maybe a word or two is in order on my not taking the MFA/academic route.  Having an "ordinary" job has been beneficial in my not having to look to my writing to support me (hard enough with prose, not to mention poetry), not having to write about anything I don't feel truly moved to, and not having to fit my poetry to current fashions/expectations.  The downsides are not having ready access to a network of fellow writers, mentors, sponsors, and not having as much time to write as I'd like to.  (I've tried to keep to jobs that haven't been too high-pressure or demanding, so as to have time and energy to write.)  If I weigh the positives and negatives of a 9-5 life against each other, I'd have to say the positives win (of course that's just for me; my path could be all wrong for the next person).

What are you working on now? 

Poems for a next collection (no theme or "project"; just miscellaneous things).  Also essays, since some of what I feel moved to say seems more suited to prose. (So it turned out that, my answer to 1) above notwithstanding, I am able to write prose--but expository rather than fictional.)

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

No.  I think it's because I don't start a poem until I have a strong desire to say something--and then do what people tend to do under that circumstance, which is get it said.

What’s your advice to new writers?

I have none; can only say what's worked for me--which is to start with something (an anecdote, a joke, a thought, an exhortation, a cri de coeur...) that I think would interest a stranger, and say it on the page as I'd really say it to someone.

Daniel Brown's poems have appeared in Poetry, Partisan Review, PN Review, Parnassus, The New Criterion and other journals, as well as a number of anthologies including Poetry 180 (ed. Billy Collins) and The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (ed. David Yezzi). His work has been awarded a Pushcart prize, and his collection,Taking the Occasion won the New Criterion Poetry Prize. A new collection, What More?, was recently published. His Why Bach? is an online appreciation of the composer. Brown's poetry can be sampled at his website, daniel-brown-poet.com.