Who Influenced Award-Winning Poet, Kate Daniels?

     Kate Daniels was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, and educated at the University of Virginia (B.A. and M.A. in English Literature) and Columbia University (M.F.A. School of the Arts).  Her teaching career has taken her to the University of Virginia; the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Louisiana State University; Wake Forest University; Bennington College; and Vanderbilt University, where she is associate professor of English and Chair of the Vanderbilt Visiting Writers Series.

     Her first book of poetry, The White Wave (Pittsburgh, 1984), won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.  Her second volume, The Niobe Poems (Pittsburgh, 1988), received honorable mention for the Paterson Poetry Prize. Her third and fourth volumes, Four Testimonies (1998), and  A Walk in Victoria’s Secret (2010), were selected by Dave Smith for the Southern Messenger Series, published by LSU Press. 

     Her poetry consistently explores aspects of gender-based and Southern working class experience, and has been described as “distinct in the general history of southern poetry in its devotion to recovering the urban, working-class South, presenting a vision of the literal and cultural poverty” of such lives.  (www.encyclopediavirginia.org

     Kate’s poetry has been featured in Best American Poetry 2010, edited by Amy Gerstler; the Best American Poetry 2008, edited by Charles Wright; and the Crazyhorse Prize for Poetry. She has also won a Pushcart Prize, the Louisiana Literature Poetry Prize, and the James Dickey Prize from Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art. 

     Most recently, Kate was announced as the recipient of the 2011 Hanes Award for Poetry, from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and she will be honored Friday, April 15 at the AEC Conference on Southern Literature in Chattanooga, Tenn.

     Kate Daniels resides in Nashville, Tennessee and graciously took time to share her thoughts on poetry with the Southern Lit Review. Specifically, in honor of National Poetry Month, we asked Kate to tell us about a southern poet who has most inspired her. We hope you’ll enjoy reading her response below.

     Kate Daniels: Robert Penn Warren would be the  Southern poet who had the most influence on me – the lack of compression, the grandiosity of syntax, the very quirky speaking voice in his poems were all things that I found very appealing aesthetically and very encouraging personally.  I always had a hard time with (some other poets) because of how highly formal, how self conscious, the poems seemed to me.  They intimidated me in a way, but also made me anxious: so boxed-in, so careful, so neat and tidy.  Just the way that Warren’s poems, particularly the later poems, sprawled all over the page was really inspiring to me.  There was a way to break out of jail!  And because his poems sounded so different from everyone else’s, they became important to me – as a young southern woman of working class origins – as a model for an independent literary life. 

     His poems convinced me it was possible to make poems from the actual materials and circumstances and cadences, etc. of one’s own actual life.  Even if one’s own actual life – like mine, growing up poor in Southside Richmond, Virginia – seemed not at all “poetic.” 

     I will always be thankful to Warren for that sense of permission.  It allowed me to write about my people without apology or shame, and to claim the first-person details of our own experience as working people  – excluded until recently from Southern literary history – for the larger program of Southern poetry.  – At the very least, that’s part of what I hopeI’ve been doing in poems like “Homage to Calvin Spotswood,” “The Figure Eight,” “Autobiography of White Girl Raised in the South,” “Late Apology to Doris Haskins,” and others…

     (Kate’s response includes segments from an earlier interview in Southbound: Interviews with Southern Poets, ed. Ernest Suarez .  University of Missouri Press, 1999).

     Watch for Kate’s poetry, which will be posted throughout the month on SLR as a celebration of National Poetry Month.

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