An Interview with Jeffrey McDaniel

Jeffrey McDaniel, easy breezy.

Jeffrey McDaniel ponders Marina Tsvetaeva.

Jeffrey McDaniel has a fifth book of poetry due out soon, entitled Chapel of Inadvertent Joy. In it he draws inspiration from Marina Tsvetaeva. He recently took a little time to discuss his poetry with the California Journal of Poetics.


At readings you’ve mentioned a childhood friend from Philadelphia who inspired dark persona poems that tackle drug use and run-ins with the law. Later in life, he’d call you up while intoxicated and read your poems back to you, with commentary. What was it like to hear feedback from someone outside the field of poetry?


He was a big fan of my second book. It was good to hear his feedback. I loved him, and I love that he eventually grew to love my poetry. It was funny to hear his off-the-cuff remarks. Sometimes they were spot on.


You cite the Dogme 95 film movement as an influence on your humor, the film The Celebration being one example. Would you please tell us about this movement and how it has affected your poetry and voice?


Music, film, dance, hiking, art, history—all these things are good for poets to explore. Influence is often something that you can rarely track in a direct manner, but Celebration has a great blend of intense feeling and dark humor. It feels somehow relevant to the best of confessional poetry. The director has said that Fanny and Alexander had a big impact on him.


One of your poems, “The Quiet World” from The Forgiveness Parade, has been made into a film, more than once. What do you think it is about this poem that lends itself to cinema, and has the poem taken on any new meaning for you as you’ve seen it recreated in these various iterations?


That poem seems to have struck a chord with people. It took me about ten years to realize that. I mean I liked it from its inception, but I did not realize that it had this kind of broader appeal. A fiction editor at a lit magazine once asked me to extend it into a short story. A screenwriter recently contacted me and said she wanted to write it into a feature film. And as you say there have been 8 or 10 student films based on it that are up on Youtube. Its meaning for me has not changed.


I love the dark humor of your metaphors. The image of the “dark sedan” in your latest book, Chapel of Inadvertent Joy, is almost like an ominous recurring character in a kitschy horror movie, always lurking around, threatening Innocence.


There was another dark sedan poem, and I was tempted to try and write others, as I liked the idea of this dark sedan driving through the book, but alas, the sedan only had enough gas to make it through two poems.


The title Chapel of Inadvertent Joy comes from Marina Tsvetaeva, and you use an epigraph from her to start the book. What do you take away from her work?


Well, she’s a brilliant poet. It sounds cliché, but I think her work was born out of necessity; she seems to mix her ink with her blood. There is tremendous feeling, but also artistry in her work. And the story of her life is so painful.


More Jeffrey McDaniel:

Read an excerpt from his poem, “The Forgiveness Parade.”

McDaniel’s profile from the Poetry Foundation.

Buy McDaniel’s books from Powell’s.

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