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Daniel Nathan Terry

01-28-2013

Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

Daniel Nathan Terry

Scarecrow

Scarecrow crafter, burlap-tailor,
black-eye smudger, when I'm done,
crows mistake you for a man:
silent shooer, stock-still farmer,
to them alone a tartan terror.
I fisted through your flannel,
spiced your straw with artemisia,
puffed your chest with wilted-rue,
perfumed your thighs with summer sweet-
another half-attempt at love-to keep 
the flies from you, who do not care
if you are flesh or straw; stand still in June,
they will devour you. If they don't and you see
the summer through, the sun, the wind, the rain
make fast work of you until your pie-pan hands
cease to flutter and the crows
begin to mutter that you can't be much.
Winter comes. Now the squash begins 
to earn its name; cold snaps beans.
Like tomatoes that turn from green to glass
my red for you is missing.
How long before the snow and I
take you down?

Snow falls in Hartsville

                             For J.

1.

and to keep those considered to be children safe
at home, the high school shuts down. Now
the yellow buses won't slide into guard rails.
My girlfriend and I ride with my older sister
to the college where we promise to spend the day
in the library, learning things we could never learn
at home. She leaves us with the keys, goes on to class.
And we do learn-but not from books, not in the library,
but in the front seat of my sister's Dodge, idling,
as its white metal hood disappears in the torn paper
sky. My girl and I, just fifteen on turquoise
vinyl skin, heater blowing on the glass, our hands
inside each other's jeans, my skin inside hers,
windows milking white, snow becoming rain.

2.

Windows milking white, snow becoming rain,
warmer now inside her, and her hand sliding up
and down me, my fingers slipping into her,
melting. Both of us melting. Though I'm not sure
what to do with this mess on our hands-
I'm happier than I've ever been, coming
in her grip, in my jeans, because the only time
I'd come in someone's hand it was a strange
man's hand. I wanted so much to be
normal like my brother, like my father. Normal
like my girl. And there, protected from the snow,
sheltered by the Dodge, I found normal in my girl.
I didn't know then, that by the age of ten she could play,
by memory, "Dust in the Wind" on a Gibson guitar.

3.

She played "Dust in the Wind" on a Gibson guitar
her uncle had given her when she was younger
than ten-her uncle who'd been giving
her gifts since the day before she was born, and
molesting her since before she could talk.
This uncle with a thick beard and a thicker
gut called her Short Stuff, gave her
softball bats and gloves, taught her to be hard,
to fight like a man, to swing like a man, go down
on a man, take anything thrown her way, take him
every time. And she did follow through on every
curve he threw, knowing she would be struck out.
And even when she hit, the force of her own arm
twisted her into dirt. This was long before I loved her.

4.

Before I'd loved her long, dirt about her
family was all over town. Parents divorced,
smoking pot, letting their kids run wild
in a small country town where whole congregations
prayed on your sins, made sure you remained
the subject of shaming charity. I knew
her family wasn't any good, wasn't saved, and I,
the preacher's son, didn't care-I knew none of us
were saved the moment I sank to my knees
for the son of a farmer in the fields I played in
after school. I knew none of us were good
at being anything other than we are, no matter
how much we fight ourselves, each other, God-
we all end up on our knees in ways we never dreamed.

5.

We never dreamed we'd end up on our knees
together on her narrow bed when we were sixteen
and her parents were wherever her parents went
when they should have been beside her. And mine
were where I should have been-at home,
but I ran away to be with her, to prove
I was a man inside of her, my girl. And she was
so willing and soft, but it hurt her too much
in ways I wouldn't understand until
a year later, when I lay on my back
in my male lover's trailer in the longleaf pines
and took him inside me and remembered
how young I was when the farmer's son
had done to me what her uncle had done to her.

6.

But nothing done to me or done to her
made us what we truly are or even most of what
we were. I loved her because she was the first
man who loved me too. The first man, at least inside
her bones, who accepted the boy who couldn't be
a proper man, who couldn't be what he wanted
to be. And she played the Gibson guitar for me
and sang about what would eventually be
today-her short, strong fingers on the fret,
her soft breasts gone, removed by the hip
of the wood, music coming from two bellies
into mine. Only in some ways part of a gift
from the uncle who abused her. Where would we be
now if we'd confessed? But that was years ago.

7.

Twenty-five years ago, and counting still, she confessed
in a letter, not from my girl-but from the man
that she's become, the man she was always meant to be.
And it wasn't just the surgeries, it was years
of swinging hard and sometimes connecting
with the pitch-from his uncle, from his girlfriends,
and once or twice, from me. Now, I'd like to believe
I'm the man I was always meant to be-leaning in
to my lover, to my life, to the wonder
of having once been a man who loved a woman
who was almost the perfect man for me. But maybe
neither of us is done with becoming what we were
meant to be. No way to know. And still no way
to keep those considered to be children safe.
 

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Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

Click here to read an early draft of Snow falls in Hartsville

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Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

Daniel Nathan Terry, a former landscaper and horticulturist, is the author of Waxwings (Lethe Press 2012), Capturing the Dead (NFSPS 2008), which won The Stevens Prize, and a chapbook, Days of Dark Miracles (Seven Kitchens Press 2011). His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in many journals and anthologies, including New South, Poet Lore, Assaracus, Chautauqua, and Collective Brightness. He serves on the advisory board of One Pause Poetry and teaches English at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, where he lives with his husband, painter and printmaker, Benjamin Billingsley.  

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Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

The Witch's Tree: Image in Poetry, an essay on poetics by Daniel Nathan Terry

first appeared in Show & Tell: Writers on Writing  6th ed. by the Department of Creative Writing University of North Carolina Wilmington 

There is a difference between being told something and being shown something. Say you have recently fallen in love. You are experiencing a rush of emotion, your world is upside down, you can no longer concentrate on the simplest tasks. All of your thoughts are with the one you love.

And so you write a poem that goes something like this:

     The day my life changed
     I love the one I love so much,
     all I can do is think about her touch,
     her smile, her beautiful eyes.
     Everything about her makes the skies
     even bluer than they were before.
     I want to be alone with her forever.
     She has changed my life

Now, you show this to the one you love and she is moved to tears by its beauty, so you decide that the poem is perfect and ready for the world.

And so you show it to the world. And the world says, "So what? You're in love. How nice for you."

You're devastated. You understand the great emotion behind the words and so does the one you love, so why is everyone else acting like you've said nothing of value? Why does no one understand that although billions of others have fallen in love before, your love is new and different from every love before it? Let's go straight to the source-the poem-and examine why it has failed to communicate to others the depth and specificity of your love.

Examine the first line: "I love the one I love so much." To the point,right? There are three immediate challenges with this line for a reader who has never met the speaker of the poem: who is the speaker, or "I," who is the addressee, "the one I love," and what exactly does the speaker mean by using the abstract word "love"-considering people have different ideas about what "love" represents. As a reader, we hope a poem will answer these questions as it progresses, but this poem doesn't seem very forthcoming. Instead, it leaves us with more questions: What is her touch like and what does the speaker "think" about it? What does the beloved's smile look like? What do her eyes look like? And if the skies have become bluer than before, how blue is that? Is it the light shade of a blue jay or as dark as a blueberry? What does "alone with her" mean? Finally, the last line and the title state that love has "changed" the speaker's life-but from what, to what?

These are the questions that we ask of a poem written in such general, vague terms. Some of them must be answered, at least on an emotional level, if the reader is to feel what the speaker feels. The poem needs to relay not just the bones of what has happened to the speaker(love has changed my life), but what it feels like to be clothed in the flesh of this new love.

One of the ways poetry shares or transfers experience from the poet to the reader is by the use of image. An image, or a grouping of words that transfers a specific sensory detail (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, or gustatory) to the reader's mind, seeks to evoke an experience, rather than impart basic information.

To put an everyday face on the use of image, ask yourself if you have ever had a dream that was filled with bizarre images that made little sense in the waking world, but filled you with anxiety or dread while you slept. Or, have you ever experienced an emotional reaction to a painting or photograph-a sudden sense of wonder or peace, of joy or sorrow-but found it difficult to explain, even to a good friend, why you felt the way you did about this particular piece of art? You may have told someone "I don't have words to explain what it was like."

There is a way to transfer your experience with a piece of visual art-you simply show it to your friend and he experiences his own emotional reaction to the work. It may not be exactly what you experienced (after all, your friend is a different person than you are) but it will likely be similar.

Dreams are more difficult. Like love, they are highly personal and filled with things only the dreamer can truly understand. Also, there is no means of recording dreams and then playing them back like a film for our friend's enlightenment. In order to share dreams, like love or any other highly personal event in our lives, we are often left with words as our primary means of communication. The odd thing is that if we try to relay a dream to someone by telling them how it felt, they often look at us in bewilderment. But if we relay to our listener the images that bombarded our sleep-I stumbled, naked and with a black vulture perched on my head, through the school commons where all of my friends were wearing white T-shirts and laughing at me-our listener says, "That's exactly how I feel about the upcoming calculus exam."

 This is the truth of any good writing: The more specific we are about our images—the visual, the sensory, the concrete nouns, adjectives,
and active verbs—the greater the chance that our reader will share our experience and understand how we feel. There is another version of the love poem I wrote above. This version relies almost entirely on images to transfer how I felt about first love:

     The Witch’s Tree

     Take my hand and we will go across
     the black-water roadside ditches wriggling
     with the larvae of mosquitoes and the tadpoles
     of toads. We will go over the rusted tracks
     into the field of rain-soaked blackberries
     and fragrant ferns. When we reach the witch's
     tree our waists will be wet from walking with
     the grasping gods of the afternoon. We will cast
     off this world's weavings, crawl inside the oak,
     curl our backs against her mossy walls, fasten
     our mouths onto some verdant vine and suckle
     side by side like twins sharing the womb.

This poem doesn’t seek to answer every question a reader might have. Who exactly is the speaker? Who exactly is the beloved? But what it does attempt to show is how ridiculously romantic and magical first love feels, how it makes the seemingly ugly things in life (rusted tracks, mosquito larvae, toads) into the beautiful (rain-soaked blackberries, fragrant ferns, the mossy walls of an oak). It also attempts to transfer the feeling of longing to leave the rest of the world behind, to find a separate place to be with the beloved (like twins sharing a womb). These were my images when I wrote “The Witch’s Tree,” and I hope they convey some of the wonder I felt the first time I fell in love.

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Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

A Mini-Review of Daniel Nathan Terry's Featured Poems by Zach Macholz, Contributing Editor

Daniel Nathan Terry's poetry is formally brilliant and stunningly honest. The first of the two poems featured this week demonstrates Terry's formal artistry, particularly his deft ear for sound and ability to intermingle alliteration, rhyme, and rhythm to create and control sonic momentum. The second poem is stunning in its honesty, its self-awareness, and its careful consideration of sexual abuse, sexuality, and sexual identity. Together, these two poems serve as a display of the diverse talents Terry possesses.

"Scarecrow" is an address to the scarecrow by its progenitor, and a rich and complex sound dominates the poem. The single stanza of free verse displays a deep sense of musicality from beginning to end, starting with the recurring "Rs" and several "Ts" through the first five lines, intertwined with the exploration of various vowel sounds. The vowel progression moves from the "A" sounds in "scArecrow crAfter, burlAp-tAilor, / black-eye," into the "U" sound in "smUdger," and "dOne," before turning finally to the "O," spectrum of sounds in "crOws," "yOu," "shOOer," "stOck," "tO," "alOne," and "terrOr." A long, interwoven pattern of consonance and assonance playing off of one another like this evolves subtly and exquisitely through the first three quarters of the poem.

Later on, the poem turns toward rhyme: internal rhymes like "rue," "do," "June," "through," and many instances of "you," adorn the middle third of the poem, and are accompanied by the internal rhyme of "flutter," and "mutter," and the near-end-rhyme "beans," and "green," later on. Toward the end of the poem, these sounds fade out, leaving us with the stark absence of rhyme or alliteration in the last two lines, which makes them sonically distinct from the rest of the poem in a way that highlights the question and adds to its gravity.

These patterns of sound are made all the more complex by the poem's strong sense of rhythm. Beginning with a trochaic opening, the lines are mostly seven or eight syllables a piece in the first half, and remain largely trochaic, though that rhythm softens somewhat later on, as with the added syllable in the opening foot of the fifth and sixth lines. The lines become longer in the middle third of the poem, most in the ten to twelve syllable range. In the final third of the poem, both the line length and rhythm become more varied. Compared to the poem's opening lines, which make use of numerous punctuated pauses, the latter half of the poem moves a bit more urgently. Much like with the sounds of the poem, the poet is thoroughly in control of punctuation and line breaks, moving us through this gorgeous, ominous address to the scarecrow at an artful pace.

"Snow falls in Hartsville," is a brilliantly structured narrative sequence of sonnets that examines the past and present of the sexuality of the speaker and of his high school girlfriend. The seven sonnets are each linked to one another, with the last line of the first sonnet being repeated (often modified) as the first line of the second sonnet, the last line of the second sonnet becoming the first line of the third, and so on. The last line of the seventh and final sonnet in the sequence does, in fact, repeat the first line of the poem, giving the entire sequence a circular structure.

This circularity and interconnectedness of the poem's form accentuate its subject matter by emphasizing the connections between the narrator's past and present, as well as the past and present of his girlfriend. The first two sections begins with a day off of school due to snow at age fifteen when the speaker spends the day in his sister's car parked on her college campus, with his girlfriend beside him, fooling around in the front seat. The third section begins to peel back layers of their history: it reveals that the girlfriend's uncle had been "molesting her since before she could talk." He also taught her "to be hard, / to fight like a man, to swing like a man, go down / on a man, take anything thrown her way, take him / every time."

In the fourth section, the speaker reveals a painful story from his own past: "I knew none of us / were saved the moment I sank to my knees / for the son of a farmer in the fields I played in / after school." This section also reveals a major source of tension for the speaker, namely the fact that he is "the preacher's son," and that his own experience with the farmer's son taught him that "no matter / how much we fight ourselves, each other, God-we all end up on our knees in ways we never dreamed." The presence of religion in the poem is not limited to the speaker's father, but also includes the town in which the speaker grew up, a deeply religious community dominated by its various congregations of faith. This fact, while difficult for the reader not to pick up on, is presented by the speaker without prejudice. Though this is the context in which the speaker's and girlfriend's abuse takes place, the poet does nothing to highlight or suggest that irony or hypocrisy are at work in their lives or in the poem. 

In fact, at no point does the speaker become reductive, or glib, or dismissive of any aspect of his story. He tells the reader a story, but not what to think-- a task that can be difficult given such a delicate subject matter. In the fifth section, the poem spirals back to the teenage years: "We never dreamed we'd end up on our knees / together on her narrow when we were sixteen..." The narrator, sensing sometime about himself but still wanting to be like his father and brother, still wanting "to prove / I was a man inside of her, my girl," is unable to, because

     ...it hurt her too much
     in ways I wouldn't understand until
     a year later, when I lay on my back
     in my male lover's trailer in the longleaf pines
     and took him inside me and remembered
     how young I was when the farmer's son
     had done to me what her uncle had done to her.

In the sixth and seventh sonnet, the poem moves towards a reflection on these aspects of the speaker's past, and his girlfriend's past, and rejects the notion that the abuse each of them suffered as children is central to their present identities:

     But nothing done to me or done to her
     made us what we truly are or even most of what
     we were. I love her because she was the first
     man who loved me too. The first man, at least inside
     her bones...

The italicization of "man," is the first concrete hint we get of what is revealed in the seventh sonnet: that sometime after their high school past (but before the narrative present), the speaker's ex-girlfriend had become a man, "the man she was always meant to be." The speaker is happy for him, and expresses his own desire "to believe / I'm the man I was always meant to be," and is optimistic that he is. But ultimately, the poem ends with this acknowledgment:

     But maybe
     neither of us is done with becoming what we were
     meant to be. No way to know. And still no way
     to keep those considered to be children safe.

"Snow falls in Hartsville," is no easy task: it is a poem that speaks candidly about the sexual abuse the speaker and his high school girlfriend each experienced (separately) as young children. It describes the evolutionary arc of both characters' sexuality and sexual identity from adolescence into adulthood; addressing both of these issues in the same poem seems an acknowledgement that they are "in some ways" connected. However, the poem strongly challenges the misperception that childhood sexual abuse is the defining reality of an individual's sexual identity or identity in general. This poem is bravely honest, deeply moving, and quietly insistent in the way a poem about sexuality, abuse, and sexual identity ought to be.

The poem's form (the textually linked sonnet sequence) is a brilliant choice because it lends the poem a certain amount of restraint, an astute choice given how easy it would be to leta  subject matter like this run away with itself. Furthermore, the poem's use of familiar imagery and a common themes also help keep it grounded in a place that feels familiar and relatable to every reader, regardless of the degree of their ability to identify with the speaker's story.

These two poems are wildly different from one another, both in their subject matter and in their formal construction. Both poems succeed at challenging and pleasing the reader. And both serve as evidence of the depth and breadth of the talent of Daniel Nathan Terry.

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Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

A Review of Daniel Nathan Terry's Waxwings by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

Daniel Nathan Terry's second collection of verse, Waxwings, opens with "Scarecrow," an address to the poem's namesake from its creator: "Scare-crow crafter, burlap-tailor, / black-eye smudger, when I'm done, / crows mistake you for a man." By the end of this first poem, it becomes clear that the scarecrow, constructed to protect the farmer's crop, is used and thrown out by the very forces that make him; "How long," ask the final two lines of the poem, "before the snow and I / take you down?"

Laced with imaginative diction, acrobatic-yet-precise internal music, and figurative language, "Scarecrow" forecasts what is to come: a collection of musical, symbolic, and highly-structured narratives that tell Terry's story in three, chronological sections: the first of his experiences with rejection as a homosexual boy in the South, the second of his tumultuous and often terrifying adolescence, and the third of the oddly-discomfiting peace he finds as an adult.

The first section's primary tool is symbolism. In the title poem, for example, Terry observes a waxwing gathering berries from a holly only to pass "it to its neighbor, // who passes it in turn, and so on down the [telephone] wire" until each bird is fed. The boy internalizes such a notion of community when, at the poem's center, he "fantasizes / that kids in his class break into song // and dance like fools in an old musical." Two poems later in "They were Call Colored," Terry's first gay lover (one of the blacks who works the farm next door to his home) slays a copperhead. When Terry inspects its body a few days later, he finds it writhing with maggots: "The snake was dead, but thousand of little white lives // wouldn't let it rest." Similarly, in "Flattened Penny," "Lincoln's face [is] erased" by a train, the penny "thin as a holy wafer, transformed by the weight // and might of the Southern Rail." In "Photograph, 1984" Terry imagines a snake he's watched eat a blackbird become the blackbird itself. And, finally, in "Since they put you out," even inanimate objects reject Terry whose family has just rejected him: "no chair receives you, / no bath invites you, / no stove pot simmers / you to supper..." The primary message carried by these symbols are of rejection and for a desire to invert one's sexual orientation, not to reject the self but to undo (much like the blackbird and snake) whatever action has made Terry who he is.

The poems of the second section merge Terry's symbolic, boy-hood narratives with highly-organized structural subtext in poems about his adolescence as an exile. In "He Comes to Oak Island," the speaker observes an "ibis dabbl[ing] in madly / in the wet sand" after he's learned he is HIV positive and wonders "whose name its inscribing // in the Book of the Dead." Similarly, "Elegy Written in November," eulogizes the death of Terry's friend David via disjointed sections each with their own form and title. And the last (perhaps best) poem of the section, "Snow falls in Hartsville," is a contemporary sonnet sequence that depicts Terry's attempt to reject his homosexuality and have a relationship with a girl who turns out to be gay herself. Unlike most sequences of this sort, Terry daisy-chains each sonnet to the last by mirroring the final line of each sonnet in the next. This structure creates a cyclical effect that reminds us of the inversion of the snake and blackbird in "Photograph, 1984." This poem's message, however, is entirely different. By the end of "Snow falls in Hartsville," Terry accepts who he is, the girl he once tried to love is now "the man she was always meant to be," and he has accepted his fate.

In the third and final section, we encounter less symbolic, less structural, more direct poems about domestic life. They are direct for a reason: Terry now has a partner, a career, and a passion that fulfills him; life since his adolescence has settled in, and the objects in his world (be they living or inanimate) no longer teem with implication. Things simply are what they are, and Terry seems a bit restless with his new rank. He's not unhappy, but he does seem a bit unsure how to proceed in his life and work. In "Landscaper's Curse," for example, Terry can't help but critique the "well-kept bungaloes / ... / painted in colors that intimate / quirky wines in wrought-iron racks..." even though he is surrounded by beauty In "A Rumor of Fire," though Terry and his a partner have bought a home together ("two bedrooms, one bath, a narrow living / room- all we could afford") he realizes he's "never lived / in a house I have loved." And, in "Lost," he says

....my lover fell asleep
on the couch again
last night and did not come
to bed. Nothing to do
with fighting, no anger,
just a decade or so since first love,
and now too much work,
and the fact that I've begun to snore
like an old man.


The collection ends more hopefully with "Everything is Possible," a poem that, much like a villanelle, cycles through a series of repeated, internally rhyming lines that declare "in this room of open windows... exists another window / across your knees" and "in this world of open screens, nearly everything / can be remembered." While Terry may be restless, life is all around him and, perhaps, the poem declares "...Though some memories, / you know, are lost, misfiled, because ... / ...this librarian, like you, is sometimes distracted / by music and by luminous updates from the future."

Waxwings is a wonderfully constructed and brave collection of poems. It takes the reader on a journey not only through Terry's life but into a culture that that has such a difficult time accepting those who are different. While most of these poems tell stories, they deftly employ a lyricism and subtext that make for a beautiful and intriguing read. Given Terry's subject matter, he could easily have settled for poems of extreme story or of extreme lyricism and experimentation. In a time in which contemporary poetry seems to pick one or the other, Terry chose in Waxwings to bring these approaches together. He has done brilliantly so.

Listen to Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum's podcast of this review here

Click here for Kevin Simmonds' video review of Waxwings

Click here to read Amos Lassen's review of Waxwings

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Poems - First Drafts - Bio - Essay - Mini-Review - Reviews - Interview

An Interview with Daniel Nathan Terry by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum: "Scarecrow" is a wonderfully musical poem chock full of internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, etc... That music merged with its dark diction in moments like "black-eye smudger" and "tartan terror" make for an oddly beautiful but almost sinister poem. How did you end up with this version of the poem? I could imagine it being much more stark in earlier drafts.

Daniel Nathan Terry: This was the way the poem arrived. The image that began the poem was quite stark--a rotting scarecrow in an overgrown garden at season's end--but the poem arrived with its music. The language was heavy and thick from the beginning. I believe the very first draft contained those phrases. I tried to strip the poem of some of the sounds--and that was a suggestion from others who felt it was too musical for the relationship it revealed by the middle of the poem--but the poem never let me whittle away at it or trim it into starkness. It was always a sort of dark rhyme in my head and on my tongue.

AMK: "Scarecrow" is an address from, it seems logical to assume, a farmer to the scarecrow he is erecting to protect his crop. But this isn't your typical farmer. On the surface, this doesn't mean much; who else would address a scarecrow, after all? But if you think about the poem a bit more symbolically, this isn't just an address by a farmer to one of the essential tools of his trade; rather, it's an address by a creator to the thing he has created. I think this makes the voice more believable. After all, how many farmers speak in this way. Was the voice in this poem ever a concern for you?

DNT: No one speaks this way. True. It was a concern for others, especially in workshop. I think some were concerned that the poem reveled too much in language and took on a fantastic quality that undermined the emotion. But I never quite bought that. For me, the making of a scarecrow (my family did farm) was a magical act. The farmer needs someone to stand guard in his fields, to protect his livelihood from those who would take it from him. He is, in essence, creating a second self meant to serve and protect. I think my first attempts at finding love were not so different. I subconsciously built "scarecrows" or tried to create in the men I met someone who would be strong when I wasn't, watchful when I slept. The problem with that of course is that you cannot make people become what you lack. Scarecrows always fail. You cannot frighten away the flies and crows you fear by making a scarecrow, and you cannot keep yourself safe from the world by creating a man you can never be, even if a man is willing to try. And it's a horrible thing to do to someone else. I hope that makes sense. I think that's why the voice is like it is.

AMK: How did you arrive at this form for this poem?

DNT: It was originally in quatrains and very formal, but as I continued to work on it, it became one long strophe. I think that, as there is so much going on within the poem, it works best in a simple form. Eventually I found the breaks I wanted, and it settled into the form it's in now.

AMK: Given what he eventually says to the scarecrow ("Like tomatoes that turn from green to glass / my red for you is missing. / How long before the snow and I / take you down?) and that much of Waxwings is about your own search for a community that would accept you, is this poem to some degree about human culture, how we so often destroy the things we create?

DNT: It is in a way. And by that I mean we intentionally destroy the things we create. Beyond the intimate reading of the poem, there is a wider one that applies to our species and our use of likenesses. Effigies fascinate me. It seems we are forever creating likenesses of others and torching them. From hoodoo dolls to toppled statues in a war zone, we create and destroy images of humanity in hopes of some kind of magical reversal of fortune or in hopes of burning out our own grief or darkness. The poem "Wicker Man," also in the book, addresses this head on. And yes, much of Waxwings is about seeking shelter and safety and acceptance, but much of it is also about this burning away of false, constructed selves. In this way, I often think of "Scarecrow" as a self-portrait I unknowingly painted on the face of a man I meant to love.

AMK: "Snow falls in Hartsville," is a sonnet sequence that depicts your attempt to reject your homosexuality and have a relationship with a girl who turns out to be gay herself. Unlike most contemporary sequences, you daisy-chain each sonnet to the last by mirroring the final line of each sonnet in the next. What effect are you going for with this form?

DNT: Though he did live life as a lesbian while he was still physically female, he actually discovered or came to the realization that he had always been a heterosexual male, despite his birth anatomy. When we reconnected in a letter and he told me about his life, his new name and his wife, I was knocked sideways a bit. We had been through so much together when we were young. It was hard not to grieve for the "girl" he never was. But more than that, I realized that in many ways I still loved him--which is strange. Since coming out, I have always considered heterosexual males--well, not unattractive, but other, like another sex. I suppose the man who was once my girlfriend is the only straight man I have ever been in love with. I wanted to write his story, but I also wanted to honor him the way a lover would have hundreds of years ago--so I wrote him a sonnet. And then another. And another. Eventually I realized I was working on a Sonnet Crown (admittedly a loose, contemporary take on the form) and so the sequence found its final shape.

AMK: Did you have this form in mind when you started writing this poem. Was it always a sonnet sequence? Did you write the sonnets first and then see a way they could linked by form as well as subject-matter/narrative?

DNT: I had the sonnet in mind from the first, but I didn't realize I was working on the crown until the longer narrative began to form. Of all of my poems, I feel like this one found its own body through the writing process. I suppose that is appropriate.

AMK: Physically, this poem ends the second section of three in Waxwings. These three sections work together to show your coming-of-age as a homosexual child in the South, your tumultuous young adulthood in which you are exiled from your family and many of your friends are falling ill to HIV, and, eventually, your more peaceful domestic life with your partner. It seems that this poem (given its structure and the story it tells) is largely about coming to terms with who you are and all its various implications. It ends the section very well in this way.

First, is my reading of the poem accurate? Second, did you place this poem at the end of the section with this transition in mind?

DNT: Thank you. Your reading is dead on, and yes, the poem does function as a sort of shedding off and coming to terms, a cleansing that allowed me to move on, at least in part, with my life. And it allows the book to move on. I would like to take credit for its placement, but I believe that Charles Jensen, my editor, made that suggestion (I think I had placed it later in the manuscript). I suppose I can claim credit for knowing that he was right and saying "yes."

AMK: Thank you, Daniel.

DNT: My pleasure, Andrew.

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