Daniel Lockhart

1. You have said somewhere “a poem begins for me in experience. From there it moves into an image.” At what point does it feel the experience is that “grain of sand” that might contain poem? Could you elaborate on that?

I draw much of my craft of poetry and writing from the Japanese art of haiku. This has much to do with the writers that drew me to the craft very early on. Writers like Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, and by way of them Issa, Buson, and Basho were my early bridges between the written world and the “real” world. I turned to them out of a similarity between the traditional teachings I had received over the years. They were among the first writers that embraced this experiential natural world being the only one that mattered. You could say that we shared a certain land ethic.  And exploring their work primarily while I was living in Bozeman, Montana surrounded by some of the most absurdly beautiful landscape and nature available on Turtle Island was perhaps all the easier in terms of establishing connection points. But was also somewhat alien to me, after growing up and spending my life primarily in the American Midwest and portions of Appalachia. Even the shapes of the mountains, the trees, the wildlife were somewhat alien. And I had to look for connection points to simply understand what was before me.      

2. You have said somewhere (I am paraphrasing) you are in two minds regarding your knowledge about when a poem is done. – one when you are tired of revising it and two that it’s never done. Given this context how do you move on to a new project?

Do we ever? Move on that is. I might adapt new or different styles or words or sounds, but the heart of what I am doing is the same. Seminal American poet Richard Hugo said that all great poets just keep writing the same poem. I look at Campbell McGrath or Natalie Diaz or Simon Ortiz and I can see a preoccupation with certain ideas and sounds and images over the body of their work. This means each poem becomes a lyric experimentation on a specific mind-thought or connection point. Musicians do it with songs. So, I guess, in that sense, as a poet I look for the tone and context of the pieces to determine what belongs together. And there might be certain side experiments of poems that carry my work into new nooks and crannies of thought. You could call them variations if you were inclined to. Perhaps it’s best to say that it’s all about feel and how pieces fit together. Often with me it’s about organizing according to place. City at the Crossroads was about Indiana. Gravel Lot that was Montana was about Montana and Michigan. Devil in the Woods is decidedly Ontario in nature. I let new projects arise organically from my work. I might simply write one or five pieces, witness a trend or voice or tone I am into and then move that way.

3. You have said, “Guidance with some of my early poetic work…pointed me through the notion of the lyric consciousness of a poem and how the moment within the poem must live and breathe.” Can you talk through this a bit more?

Campbell McGrath really solidified this concept of lyric consciousness in my work. Poems are personal lyric experiences put down on the page or performed before people. As acts of personal creation, they carry with them a portion of the poet’s consciousness. In the poem this is constructed out of the lyric mechanics of the piece. And those mechanics, when tuned properly illustrate or mirror the mechanics of the individual’s mind. Successful lyric consciousness makes the poem come alive on the page. One can feel and follow the thought act of the piece and connect with it in way that a piece without lyric consciousness fails to do. Honestly, without a functioning sense of lyric consciousness the poem is failure of gibberish and disconnection. It lacks the humanity that we look for in work.

4. What specific song, painting, film, or other non-written art-work inspired your recent work?

If you look most recently at Tukhone (Black Moss Press) you can see a whole half of the book is dedicated to haibun written about famous Detroit musicians and specific songs. You know, Eminem, White Stripes, John Lee Hooker, Aretha, J Dilla, it’s a long list. So, they are a lot in there. But I frequently return to Bob Seger, his work actually inspired songs both in Tukhone and in my upcoming book, Go Down Odawa Way (Kegedonce). It’s very Midwestern United States. And in that sense, it’s very much what a lot of my work is about. You could say that about the lot of Detroit-born music: It’s very Midwestern. But it’s more. It’s gritty and it speaks about a lot of folks working pretty damned hard and not being happy where that work has gotten them. But still pretty ok with the work, on the whole. And this is the music that drove me in my youth and during my time here at Waawiiyaatanong.  

5. Could you name a source that served as an inspiration earlier but something that you currently have a conflicted or antagonistic feeling towards?

Sherman Alexie. He and his work are definitely on the antagonistic feeling side of things. I still enjoy a lot of Hemmingway and Kerouac even though they weren’t always the best guys. And I feel as if I should feel bad about that. Maybe that’s the conflicted part. What I generally would say is that I look at work with staying power, that speaks to more than trauma porn (which all too much Indigenous “literature” boils down to in publishing world) and does not itself emanate from a place that causes trauma.   

6. What are you writing against or towards?

I know a lot of folks around me might say that I’m writing against Capitalism. I would love to change our planet’s dominate economic system. It’s garbage and kills both people and the planet for the enrichment of few. Although I would simply say I am writing towards decolonization. My goal is to push forward a space where all that sort of otherness stuff that makes up my essence has a home. When I say otherness, I speak both as a Lenape turtle clan citizen. And that otherness is a self-essence that is built from the language, culture, and experiences of being that Lenape in an urban late 20th century, early 21st century Native guy kind of way. You could say I am writing myself towards a better relationship with both Creation and the current resident cultures of Turtle Island. I would say that Capitalism hurts all of us. So maybe they are more right about my end goals than I think I am.

7. What specific book(s) inspired your recent work?

Ted Koosier’s Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemia Alps and Scott Russel Sander’s The Force of Spirit are most definitely driving my most recent work. Copies of both books are sitting on my desk as I work through the next two major projects. They deal with rooted spirituality and everyday living. And both are fueling my already mostly completed Sipuwa, or river essays, manuscript and my pretty nascent Detroit River History project. 

8. Who is your work in conversation with? (i.e., other authors/artists, specific people, audience, peers, etc.

When I lived in metro Detroit, Dearborn to be precise, these things matter there, I would spend my Saturday mornings at Detroit’s Eastern Market. Back then, in the early 2000s, it was the real mixing ground for the city. It’s huge and there are people from every corner of the sprawling metro-area doing their shopping and weekend morning rituals. I am talking about everyone from a guy slinging coffee like myself to professional hockey players to the mayor of the city itself. That is how I envision my audience. That is who I am in looking to bring my work in conversation with. And in honesty, all poetry in a conversation with poets living and dead. I know that I’m there, chatting away. And hoping that Hugo, Heaney, Purdy, and the like are all in that conversation and are hopefully listening.

D.A. Lockhart is the author of nine books, including Bearmen Descend Upon Gimli (Frontenac House, 2020) and Breaking Right: Stories (Porcupine’s Quill, 2021). His work has appeared in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2019, TriQuarterly, ARC Poetry Magazine, Grain, Belt, and the Malahat Review among many. He is a Turtle Clan member of Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (Lenape), a registered treatied member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and currently resides at the south shore of Waawiiyaatanong (Windsor, ON-Detroit, MI) and Pelee Island. His work has been generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. He is the publisher at Urban Farmhouse Press and poetry editor for the Windsor Review.

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