Daniel Bailey is also the author of THE DRUNK SONNETS (Magic Helicopter Press, 2009). This is his blog: http://prayerhelmet.blogspot.com/
BG: Where did these poems come from?
DB: They came from a lot of time spent trying to make my head buzz from just words alone. In terms of geography, some of the poems were written while living in Muncie, Indiana. Others in Colorado. They were all written from 2008 to (the very beginning of) 2011.
Some were originally in the bearcreekfeed ebook east central indiana. For those poems my goal was to write love poems about meth, an entire book of them. I wrote maybe two, but then I wrote some other love poems from inside a maze of corn fields. A maze of maize, I suppose. They're midwestern love songs and desperation songs. The title poem came from an earnest attempt to conjure a giant space wolf to come down and destroy humanity, but I ended up talking myself out of that by the end of the poem, I guess. Other poems just came in ways that poems come. It's like one day you're walking down the block after getting a super big gulp and the next minute you're running home because you've got this art shit in your head that you have to get out.
BG: It's interesting that you make distinctions geographically. In your mind / heart / nutsack, what is the difference between an Indiana poem and a Colorado poem?
DB: I don't know how strong the distinction is. The poems that I was writing in Indiana felt overwhelmed by the flatness of the land, the steady grey of the sky for half the year, and the way that the landscape is mostly fields that are without crops for most of the year. Psychologically, it's always felt pretty powerful and like it might define how the people in Indiana view themselves, myself included. Whereas when I moved to Colorado, it was like I was freed from that geography, even though the geography of Colorado is much more dramatic. Colorado's entire east half is flat. It has farmland and slaughterhouses. The western half is the rockies. I've been living near the front range, sort of the in-between of these two zones. No one goes east though, except maybe to go to the airport. I don't know how much Colorado has affected anything. I just know that the amount of sun here has made my head less gloomy.
Though, I still think that the poems written in Colorado can't really escape the Midwestern whatever of the Indiana poems. It's something that will always exist forever, I think. I guess, it comes down to not feeling like I have to figure out my home. I can focus on bigger things or smaller things.
I don't know how important any of this actually is.
BG: You're understanding of God, at least as made manifest through your poetry, seems almost puritanical, Old Testament at the very least. Where does this come from? I have a similar obsession, although it rarely finds its way into my fiction. Mine stems from a childhood crammed full of Bible School, Sunday school, AWANA, baptism, lots of Bible reading, praying, studying, meditating. Did you do much of that growing up? What is your relationship with God like right now?
DB: I was raised going to church every Sunday. I believed until around the age of 20 that I was going to hell, that there was some kind of loophole or some asterisk next to my soul that would keep me from being saved. Eventually, I was able to get rid of that feeling. That's such a pointless feeling to have. The more weeks I went without going to church, the less I thought about how damned I am. I realized, too, how impressionable children are, how easy it is to believe.
I mostly went to Methodist churches, which are more liberal and accepting, but there's such a strange and exciting thing to the absolute and exclusionary views of the Puritans, especially since for so long I viewed myself as one of those who would not be saved. It made faith and spirituality more than just a struggle to me. It was something to fight against. Poetry became my way of attempting to put out the fire and grind the brimstone to dust. It's turned into my way of demolishing my old systems of belief and creating new ones or letting everything happen at once in a way that no one can deny the beauty of. Ok. Maybe the beauty can be denied, but whatever. That's ok. No beauty is undeniable.
I went to youth group throughout high school. Like I really went to youth group. I went on ski trips and white-water rafting trips, where I watched my mom almost drown in a flooded West Virginia river. I started going to youth group because that's what I had to do for my parents to let me use the car. I kept going because it provided me with friends, though all my effort to feel the love of God returned nothing.
I spent a lot of time in high school trying to improve my relationship with God or become one with God because that's what everyone around me was doing or seemed to be doing. I thought about attending Christian colleges to put myself even further into a place where God could potentially happen, but thankfully I ended up at Ball State where I learned to get drunk and stomp.
I was baptized twice, sprinkled once as a baby and once by submersion in a year that I can't remember. I was probably somewhere between 4th and 6th grade. I was submersed with three other kids my age. After our baptism we all dried off, got dressed, and delivered a fourth of a sermon each that the pastor had prepared for us to read. After that I'm pretty sure we all went to Little Caesar's and ate pizza. I don't have a very strong memory of any of it. I do remember once in Sunday School - I was probably 15 or so - I did that thing where you put your head between your knees and breathe deeply for 30 seconds. Then you lift your upper body and head quickly while holding your breath and cutting off circulation to your head. It made me collapse onto the sofa in the Sunday School classroom and I just laughed while my head moved around the room and that's what language is like to me. It's the inaccurate reconstruction of a feeling. Words are little packages to God or the rubble of a true sacrament and that sacrament would just be the hum or the buzzing back of what God speaks through us every moment of our lives. Poetry is something like a translation of the buzzing.
Right now, my relationship with God is between me and God. I'm 99% done with another book of poetry which speaks in this manner more so than Hallelujah, Giant Space Wolf. It's called Gather Me and if any publishers of poetry books want to read it for potential publication please email me at hisnameisdan at gmail dot com.
Anyone can feel free to email me for any reason whatsoever. Cram the tubes of life/the internet so tight with emails that we have to stint that shit to keep the blood moving.
Also, I don't what Awana is and I've tried meditating before but it just felt silly.
BG: There seems to be this constant contrast in your poetry between wanting to cause and/or be part of the chaos and destruction of people, places, and things, even those you care about and purport to love, with the notion of faith and hope and a belief, after all, that humanity is something worth saving, something to invest your soul in and be a part of. Is that at all accurate, and if so, where does that conflict inside you come from?
DB: It is definitely something I feel and something that is part of the poems. The destruction is not anything I ever act upon. It's more the thing inside that looks at the world and feels that it could be so much better, that wants to destroy the parts that seem evil or worthless, even if that destruction ends up taking down something that you love, in order to create something of greater beauty, something more perfect, more of a heaven.
I am not a violent person. I have only punched one person in the face in my life and that was when I was in middle school and I was just having a shitty day.
I don't even kill spiders or the weird infestation of seemingly stunned or half-dead yellowjackets that we experienced all last summer. I would kill an animal to eat it. I would kill a dog to eat it if I had to, just not my dog.
I once ate a fried caterpillar. It was salty and the exoskeleton coated the inside of my mouth like flyers on the inside of a music venue's bathroom.
I've eaten ants off the sidewalk. I've eaten a live moth.
I think it's amazing that the world is a physical thing when it so often seems that the physical is just the shadow of this real thing that's out there, or that this physical world that we inhabit is maybe the symptom of a disease manifesting, like the spots from chickenpox and we can't see the virus itself with our own eyes.
BG: In addition to your Midwestern upbringing and your own love for language and writing and literature, how has your experience studying creative writing at a university affected / influenced / inspired / shaped your writing?
DB: White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies > Academia
BG: Fair enough, but cookies are greater than most everything. I'm gonna use syllogistic logic and assume either you learn more and gain more inspiration from cookies than you do academia and / or cookies just taste better. Either way, why are MFA's worth / not worth pursuing? Why did you, personally, make the decision?
DB: Well, I was hoping to avoid having to talk about MFA programs because I don't have anything new to add to the conversation. The main thing it gave me was time to write outside of the world. But now I feel like it's more important to be a part of the world rather than living in a bubble of bloated thought or whatever way you want to describe the academic approach to poetry.
I regret not eating more cookies over the last few years of my life.
My main reason to attend grad school was to get the hell out of Muncie, Indiana. As much fun as I was having there, that place is a black hole. So now I'm Colorado and I have a couple jobs and in a few months I get to start paying back my loans and hopefully someone will want to publish my thesis. Hopefully, I'll be able to find the energy to write more poems after that. It's nice to think that I'll be able to write poems for myself and no one else, which is what I've been doing this last year, but having to have those poems get a stamp of approval from a university doesn't really help the way I feel about poetry, which is that I want a poem forever into the dirt or until it rains. You can't stamp that.
BG: Cookies for sure. How about leaving us with a final thought. If there's one (or maybe a few) thing(s) you want readers to come away with after reading Hallelujah Giant Space Wolf, what is it?
DB: Oh god. A final thought. I don't want any thought to be final. People should keep thinking beyond poems. People should be good people, etc. I think I need to eat some breakfast. I think I need to drink some more water. It's so dry out here that I woke up feeling more dehydrated than any hangover, and I haven't even drank alcohol since Friday (it's Wednesday). People should drink more water. I think the Pacers could potentially win the NBA championship this year and that's pretty exciting. Though they probably won't. I think it's weird to promote a book in any way. It feels weird, but here I am promoting a book. I think you should buy the book if you are reading this, if you've made it this far into the interview. I promise it's good. It took three years to write. Some of the poems are pretty epic. Some let you breathe a little bit, though most are pretty breathless. This book exists so you don't have to go to church. There's that idea that the body is a temple. Well, my brain is a mega-church. Huddle in there, people. We're about to sacrifice a lamb. Also, what is the deal with people acting like they don't get poetry? It's just words! Do you know how to read? People!