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The Flapper Press Poetry Café Welcomes Pat Daneman & Poems That Capture What Hides Behind the Frame

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

By Annie Newcomer:

"Pond" by Pat Daneman

The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets of all ages from around the globe. This week, we highlight the life and poetry of Pat Daneman!



Pat Daneman’s recent poetry appears in Poet’s Touchstone, Lakeshore Review, Gyroscope and Wild Roof. Her collection, After All, was first runner up for the 2019 Thorpe-Menn Award. She is author of a chapbook, Where the World Begins, and co-librettist of the oratorio We, the Unknown. She lives in Candia, NH. To read more about Pat Daneman and her work, visit patdaneman.com



We reached out to Pat to ask her about her life, influences, and poetry.


Please meet Pat Daneman!

 

Annie Newcomer: Welcome to the Flapper Press Poetry Café, Pat. I am going to begin with a loaded question: why do you write poetry?


Pat Daneman: Thank you for inviting me to the café, Annie. I write poetry because I love reading poetry and seeing what a poem or a book of poems brings to the world in terms of love or awe or outrage or grief. I want to belong to the community of people that makes poetry. I like having my words out there in the swirl, maybe making a little difference to someone who needed to read something I had to say. I also love the challenge of taking the English language, with all of its possibilities and limitations, and using just the tools it offers—words, punctuation, white space—to attempt art.


AN: Please share with our readers the type of poetry you write and what you hope your work conveys.


PD: Most of my poetry is narrative. I wrote short stories before I wrote poetry, and I like making things up, so I tell a lot of stories in my poems. I'm also a photographer—I like to think that my poems and my photos do the same thing, capture a little piece of life that hints at the mystery of what's beyond the frame.


I feel like my most successful poems are the ones that are easy on the surface but keep people thinking. I want to generate strong feelings—sometimes a positive emotion, sometimes a negative one. I want my readers to start out seeing something they recognize and end up realizing something new or strange.


AN: To "capture a little piece of life that hints at the mystery of what's behind the frame" is certainly a poetic answer. So it leads me to this question: how does one begin to achieve such an exquisite goal? Please walk us through your writing process.


PD: My writing process is a mess. I am continuously surprised that anything comes out of it at all. At the core of it is reading—I always have a stack of poetry collections and magazines by my chair. I read every morning, early, while my brain is still soft. Then I journal, sometimes coherently, sometimes free-writing. I forget about whatever I’ve written and get on with my day. I have notebooks everywhere—full, half-full, almost empty, some are twenty or thirty years old. These are my materials, ingredients, buckets of spare parts. I have a goal of at least 5 new poems a month, mainly because I belong to a writing group with that requirement. When I am ready to “finish” poems, I go back through the notebooks, usually starting with the most recent. Most of it isn’t very useful, but there are always some pages with poems or the beginnings of poems on them. Sometimes it feels like the poems have created themselves when I wasn’t looking—they amaze me with their brilliance. So these are the things I pull out to work on. And by work on, I mean start to understand what is wrong or missing from them and endlessly, endlessly revise, not only based on my own judgement but on the thoughts and comments of the other poets in my group.


"Bluebird" by Pat Daneman

AN: In what ways does having a camera (or cell phone set to snap a photo) work in a similar fashion to a pen in hand ready to write a poem? How are they different?


PD: Very good and very hard question. The wonderful thing about digital photography is that I am able to replicate the writing process I have just described—make a lot of junk to discover the few pictures that are worthwhile and then tweak or edit in an attempt to make them into what I want them to be. And, of course, it’s different too—I don’t work with photoshopping or AI, and I am not a professional in any sense, so I can’t make things up and I don’t track the weather or bird migration habits or go over and over to the same place for the perfect shot. I have to hope for serendipity. I work with what’s in front of me, the limitations of my equipment, the time of day, weather, and location I’ve chosen. I guess that’s the challenge of both poetry and photography—facing the limitations and learning from them.


AN: In the past few years, you moved from the Greater Kansas City area to New Hampshire. What was gained and what was lost for you in terms of your poetry and art by leaving the Midwest and moving to the East?


PD: Yes, as Ellen Bryant Voigt always said in her workshops, "every poem is a series of choices, and every choice you make, you gain something, you lose something." It’s just been a little over two years since I moved, so it might be too soon for a good answer. Since my husband died, which was 10 years ago, I have been writing about grieving and loss. And the move has added to that—I feel a great sense of loss over leaving Kansas City after living there for 35 years—so many friends, and just the familiarity of it. I think there is a tinge of wistfulness or regret in some newer poems. Also, though, with the distance, I am working through the memories more freely, making stories from them. I’m also very happy to be living in the Northeast again—I recognize the landscape here, the coast, the seasons and weather, the food, the quirks of place that only natives are aware of—things I’ve been homesick for since we moved away from New York way back in 1981. Making a change that I chose to make has been invigorating, both the gains and the losses. I think that is starting to come through in my writing.


AN: You mentioned that you love telling stories and making things up. How do you negotiate between fact and the "made up" in your writing?


PD: I don’t. I don’t think I have to. Maybe I’m wrong, but what’s the point of writing fiction or poetry if you have to answer to a horrible fact-checker (imaginary) boss? I feel bad for poets who make sacrifices to accuracy in their work and end up with lesser poems. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant— / Success in Circuit lies.”


AN: In her poem, Bloom, Emily Dickinson wrote:


To be a Flower, is profound Responsibility —

What responsibilities do you feel a poet has to readers? Or is this a consideration for you when you write?


PD: It is a profound responsibility. I don’t want to be boring or sentimental or stupid. I want readers to be happy with the decision to read my poems and not throw the book across the room. I once tried to read a book that I hated so much I buried it in my backyard. I don’t want anyone to do that to me, and it is up to me to prevent it.


AN: Do you feel a kindred spirit with any contemporary poets? And if yes, please share names and in what ways you feel connected.


PD: Kindred spirit feels presumptuous when I talk about contemporary poets I’ve learned from and been influenced by. These would be Billy Collins and Ted Kooser for their poems that seem so simple and yet are anything but. Jane Hirschfield for her way of seeing. Also, though not as contemporary, Eavan Boland for her voice and musicality in service of the everyday; Jane Kenyon for her honesty and struggle. I aspire to writing just one or two poems that would pay tribute to what I’ve learned from reading theirs.


AN: Pat, is there a question that I didn't ask but you wish I had? If so, please ask this of yourself and answer.


PD: "What are you reading right now? Anything you would recommend?"

Right now, in addition to poetry, I am reading two books that are not poetry. What We Wish Were True, by Tallu Schuyler Quinn. This is a memoir of her terminal brain cancer (she died last year), but calling it just that is misleading. It is an uplifting and spiritual book about being grateful for everything life gives us, especially the “normal” days. And I am reading Colson Whitehead’s novel Harlem Shuffle. I think he is simply one of the best novelists writing today—language, characters, story, all astonishing. He has a new book coming out next week and my daughter and I are going to Portsmouth, NH to hear him read.


For poetry, I am reading Woman Without Shame, by Sandra Cisneros, full of irony and humor about growing older. And Adrift, a book by Michael Brosnan, a New Hampshire poet who I stumbled on at a Zoom reading held by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire last month. He is very much the kind of poet I aspire to be—going from the personal to the universal, the everyday to the miraculous, making it look easy.


AN: What a wonderful opportunity this has been to chat with you in our poetry café. Now it is time for me to ask you to share some of your poetry along with their backstories for our readers.


PD: Thank you, Annie and Flapper Press, for helping me remember why I love poetry.

I will sign off with this Pablo Neruda quote:


Poetry is an act of peace.

 

This was published in the November 2022 issue of Wild Roof. It grew out of an experience I had shortly after I moved to rural New Hampshire. I was looking to meet people who would share my interests. I signed up for a “forest walk” sponsored by the Bear-Paw Conservancy—a land conservation organization. I had no idea what I was getting into, but a walk in the woods sounded nice. I drove down a long dirt road near where I live and met the group leader, a very nice man. We waited for other people to show up, but no one did. He said he was willing to go ahead with just me, and I said sure. He was a great guide—it was a forest bathing type walk—you follow the guide’s prompts to go slow and pay attention with all your senses. I’d never done anything like it before, at least without my camera. It took us about two hours, stopping and starting, looking and listening, to go about a mile up and down and around through the deep woods of the Deerfield Town Forest, which is one of the areas the conservancy maintains. The poem came a couple of days later, based on my experiences during the walk. Like many of my poems since my husband died, it is about grieving and loss. It is a conversation between a living being and an unseen being or feeling (what I call a ghost.) The living person has nothing but questions and the “ghost” has answers, which make her feel seen and even cherished but ultimately changes nothing.

Woods by Pat Daneman


Walking with a Ghost in the Deerfield Forest


And if you wander, how will I know where you are?


I will call to you twice…like an owl.


And how will you know I have heard?


You will cry into the air like a crow. I will hear you

before I see you, walking downhill through the trees,

your boots slipping, light traveling each cobweb strand of your hair.

I will have lit a fire. You will find me and sit close to the flames.


And will we eat?


We will drink tea brewed from pine needles, eat berries

stolen from bears, and cake dug from the hollows of trees sweet with sap.


When will we sleep?


You will go home to your bed once the sun sets. I will lie down

in the leaves, the cap of a mushroom a cold nudge on my cheek, half a moon

trying to find me. My body still, your body restless, wound in the rags

of remembering, almost awake, even as midnight slips by.


How will I know I’m alone?


I will call to you twice—like an owl—and you will not answer.


 

When my son David graduated from KU, he went to work for Kevin Wilmott as a props manager for Wilmott’s movie, The Only Good Indian, which was filming in western Kansas. One night David called to talk about how it was going. This poem is essentially a fanciful retelling of that conversation. It was originally published in Inkwell, and is also in my book, After All. One thing that bugs me about it—as you probably know, Queen Bey, who appears in the movie, was a well-known Kansas City jazz singer well before Beyoncé came along. But now, if I want to read the poem—as I often do because it’s a good poem to read—I always have to explain that Beyoncé is not the Queen Bey in the poem or the movie.


Phone Call from a Movie Set Somewhere in Kansas


My son is learning at last everything I never taught him.

He’s learning to do whatever he’s told by anyone

whose job it is to order up the impossible:


Tomorrow, David, it must not rain.

This Indian, David, he is six inches too tall.


He woke up one night standing outside a Best Western motel, an old woman slapping him

with a pillowcase, with motherly consternation, scolding him in Spanish.

He said he needs to learn Spanish.

And carpentry. So many things

have to be built. Difficult things that do not exist. A device for spitting

tobacco into someone’s face, for example.

A house that falls down.


He sent me a postcard, he said. Sent his father a postcard. His grandfather a postcard.

To his own mailbox hanging empty at the door of his empty apartment he sent a postcard

of a rampaging mare he found wedged in the mirror in the toilet of a Texaco station

near Cottonwood Falls. It is his calling to find things; his station

in the underground maze where all the circuitry hums.


He told me a Kiowa girl wrote a poem on his arm with a coyote tooth. A ghost

wrote a song in the dust on the hood of his car. His car wouldn’t start

and Queen Bey stepped down from a red pickup truck, from her parapet

of sixty years and skin like hammered copper and blues

and jazz in all the cities of Europe to touch his face

with a varnished fingernail, give him a Diet Coke and a ride.


On an undulating plain at purple dawn he found a cowry shell grimed with ocean salt.

A herd of bison rose like a swarm of locusts to consume a hilltop; beat a cloud

from their hooves that changed the color of the sky.


Nothing is lost, but so many things have to be found.


 

This is my go-to poem at readings—it always leaves a strong impression. It is based on something that really happened. The suburbs of Long Island, where I grew up, were still pretty rural back in the 60s—lots of farms and ponds and marshy, swampy places. My brothers and I liked to bring home box turtles we’d find around the neighborhood. My father made a pen for us to keep them in at the back of our yard. We didn’t have a dog—the turtles were our pets. And, yes, one morning we went to feed them and found them mutilated. It was terrible, one of my worst memories. We couldn’t say for sure who came in the night and harmed them, but we felt like the attack was on us as much as on the turtles. And the neighborhood bullies—I don’t remember their first names but their last names were Appleby and Whitcomb—lived just down the street. And they did pick on me and my brothers as well as many other kids all the time. So they were the likely suspects. I don’t know what happened to them (and to this day I don’t want to know if turtles’ legs really do grow back or not), but the feelings of childhood hatred and impotent fury expressed in the last lines of the poem are 100% authentic.


The funny thing about this poem is that it took me about 15 years to write. It came out of a journaling piece I’d written about the memory. It started out much longer then got short then long again and finally sat unfinished for a long, long time. Finally, I wrestled it down to where it basically ended up and brought it to a workshop. The workshop unanimously hated the ending—told me it was too sudden and startling—that I was trying to pull off something I’d never get away with. I couldn’t figure out another ending, so I decided the poem was done. It was originally published in RE:AL, Regarding Arts & Letters, and was one of their Pushcart nominees and has been anthologized a couple of times. It is also in After All. It is one of my favorite poems of the hundreds I’ve written, and it always gets a good, if horrified, reaction in readings.


Boys Who Cut the Legs Off Box Turtles


You’re sure these are the same two who smash

jack-o-lanterns up and down the street and name

your brother Four-Eyes and pinch your nipples

on the school bus, who steal baseball cards

kids have clothes-pinned to their bicycle spokes

and call them fairies when they cry. They come

at night over the fence into your backyard


to the pen with foil pie tins spilling lettuce,

the cement pool you helped your father pour

and shape where you like to wash the turtles’ shells

because the water makes the orange markings

shine like the lid of your grandmother’s jewelry box.

One leg off each of the babies. Both

hind legs off big Bo, which is the name


you’d give a dog if you had one. That morning

you go out to see how they are doing

with the lettuce and find them—beaks opening,

closing in panic that you do not understand

until you pick Bo up and see only his front legs

treading air. Your father promises if you take them

back to the woods where you caught them, new legs


will grow, so you do. You leave them under the bushes

near the pond, watch for awhile as they do not move.

The next time you see those boys—who after

high school will be sent to Vietnam—you shoot them

your most unflinching evil eye, wish them missing

limbs and nightmares to help them think about

what they have done.


 

This is a fiction based on a conversation I had with a neighbor. Her husband of 72 years had died. It was April. I brought her a bunch of daffodils with my condolences. I didn’t know her very well but stood in her front doorway as this long story about a not-terribly-happy marriage poured out of her. I embellished the details of course, but she was a wonderful watercolor painter.


A Long Marriage


When she said she loved the daffodils he brought her, he said

they were called jonquils, the April flower, for April when they’d met.

Her mother loved him. Small-town banker. He needed a wife.

They made it work, 72 years. He liked to get things right—

called the sofa a settee, his suitcase a valise. His lips were cool

and rubbery, like frog skin. He ate her eggs and toast and went to work

with yolk on his shaven chin. He called his necktie a cravat and was stingy

with grocery money. She learned to paint after the boys were grown.

Won prizes for her watercolors at the town hall shows. Tulips and peonies.

Sunsets. He never was her prince, she told the neighbor who stood solemn

and uneasy in the doorway holding out a bunch of flowers. But thank you

for the daffodils, she said. Now in the quiet of a shared space suddenly her own,

she paints the yellow buds encased in green, all but one closed tight.



 

Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit, that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community. Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry! If you enjoyed this Flash Poet interview, we invite you to explore more here!

The Flapper Press Poetry Café Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize. Submission Guidelines

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