Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Life of a Poet - Daniel Jay

It’s the Boys’ turn for an interview, so I stopped by Thinking With An Open Mouth and asked Daniel Jay if he was up for it. He has just completed passing his boards as a registered nurse, after a gruelling course of study and training, but he said “Sure!” Daniel is a very talented photographer, as well as a poet and musician, so the photos he sent me are extra special, including the ones taken of Daniel by his wife, Jen. They really know how to set up a photo! Grab a cuppa – Daniel loves coffee – and gather round.

Poets United: Daniel, it is so good of you to meet with us. Congrats on passing your boards! Is there a story about the name of your blog?
Daniel: My blog came long after my beginning as a writer, so in theorizing an appropriate entry phrase to my blog, the name really just popped into my head - Thinking With an Open Mouth.  That's what I'm doing on there.  Thinking out loud.  And not just the normal, harmless ones that no one ever hears.

[photo by Daniel's wife, Jen]

I am continually in thought, never one to be stale inside.  I battled the idea of sharing my work and only did so from the nudges of others.  In fact, there was a time during my blogging that I strove to retain a high sense of anonymity as I felt it necessary, in order to post the deeper, more sensitive details of my past.  In doing so I created the name Daniel Jay, which is very closely related to my own.  During that time I also removed identifying photographs, carefully removed identifying names, etc.  What I found, over time, was that my perception of anonymity created a false sense of honesty.  True honesty in communication comes in person.  I could not expect respect and interest among readers if I held myself to such secrecy.  So I slowly removed that element and found that my sensitivities came easier when I freely gave them.  Of such worries were details of my past, especially with regard to my parents.  Examples of this are evident in August of 2010 with What He Did With His Time.  I was reluctant to express these details before, but found relief with their disclosure. 

Since then, the last thing to change has been my name, and I have always left it as it mostly has since been known - Daniel Jay.  If one were so inclined, diving beyond August of 2010 would show that site traffic really took a head dive.  In fact, it wasn't until 08/2010 that traffic blew up and comments began to appear.  I have never been one to write for comments, and to this day do not expect to hear from those who read.  Of course, I appreciate anything that one takes the time to say, be it complimentary or otherwise, but I have always and only put my work out there for those who enjoy it.  I expect those who do not to move on without offense, and those who like it to remain, unless I give them reason otherwise.  It is similar to listening to music - if you don't like an artist or a song, you simply find another one that interests you.  The comments and followers are just a bonus.

Poets United: And such a nice bonus! Daniel, would you like to tell us a little about your life? And maybe what led you to choosing nursing as a career?
Daniel: My interest in the nursing profession came when reconnecting with a lifelong friend back in 2006.  This friend of mine should really have been a brother.  After graduation we lost touch (though he moved across the country a few years before graduation) and did not reconnect for eleven years.  After rediscovering each other, we quickly began the exhaustive effort of catching up, which included the topic of "so what are you doing for a living".  He had decided to go into medicine and was still in med school with a particular interest in neonatology.  Me?  I was doing industrial work, manual labor.  After telling him this, I could hear the sigh in his voice (he was living 3000 miles away at the time of this phone conversation).  I just imagined you doing more with yourself, he told me, and deep down I agreed.  During that phone call he propositioned me.  He said, I'll pay for your trip to Philly for a visit if while you're here you run a marathon with me.  I was already running a few miles a day at the time and quickly agreed, having no idea what I was getting myself into.  I told my wife that evening what I committed to and she didn't believe me.  That night she took me to work and I had her drop me off.  It was a 7.3 mile run home and I did that three nights a week, slowly increasing the mileage.

Poets United: Wow, Daniel, that’s impressive. And what a cool offer from your friend!
Daniel: When I arrived, we talked about life, as we always enjoyed doing.  He tried to get me into medicine, but I was not willing to make such a sacrifice.  Knowing how much I enjoyed people, he suggested nursing and told me about his experiences with them in the medical field.  I was immediately interested.  We ran the marathon, I returned home and talked to the director of nursing at the local college.  She suggested becoming a nursing assistant, which was a requirement of the program anyway, to see if such personal interaction was really of interest to me.  I obliged and quickly obtained my license.  Being a nurse’s aid was easily one of the most physically exhausting jobs I have ever had, which says a lot, considering the highly physical nature of my occupational past, but it was emotionally gratifying as well and, in closely working with nurses during that time, I had an especially deep appreciation for the nursing profession.
Four years later I am a registered nurse.  A lot of my experiences have been infused into my poetry and this is especially true for the past year’s worth of posts.  I have watched people die, held their hands, and cared for their bodies.  I have said goodbye to patients, expecting to see them on my next shift and come back only to see an empty bed.  People have arrived in need of help for a variety of reasons and some of those circumstances are more than heartbreaking.  I feel in my element when I am able to help, be it with tactile skill or emotional guidance.  It is said in nursing that there are those who are 'warm and fuzzy' and those who are not.  I easily fit the category.  This coincides with me as a person.  Continually thinking, considering, wondering.
Poets United: Awesome, Daniel. I so admire the nursing profession. What is it about poetry that makes you want to write? Do you remember writing your first poem?
Daniel: Though I cannot remember the very first poem I wrote (I do remember my earliest poems being terrible), I do remember the first poem that made me want to write.  It was located in a Pearl Jam CD insert, from the Vitalogy album.  That insert was full of interesting reading.  Unfortunately I cannot credit the author of the poem, but I can recite it:
I waited all day.
you waited all day..
but you left before sunset.
and I just wanted to tell you
the moment was beautiful.
Just wanted to dance to bad music
drive bad cars..
watch bad TV..
should have stayed for the sunset...
if not for me.
Poets United: That is beautiful!

[photo by Jen]
Daniel: That is exactly as it appears in the insert.  And for years I enjoyed and was moved by it for reasons that I could not then appreciate.  But now, I sure can.  What appealed so much to me about this poem (and other poets I much enjoy) is how easily it can be read.  It is accessible because of this, at least to me it was, and that is something that I as a poet consider when writing - who will be reading my poem?  Poems are forms of communication, and I try very hard now to keep the interest of my 'intended' reader (which so often changes) constant throughout the poem.
My earliest poetic topics were nothing remarkable - just about all the hurt and questions about life that at that point were all but answered.  In fact, writing was really my last resort.  Nothing else I did seemed to purge my emotions, so I took a pen and paper and wrote my feelings out, and in all honesty, it was a suggestion of my mother's.   My poems were awful.  No doubt about that.  But it honestly made me feel a little better.  That was the only reason I continued to do it.  Then I would stumble across poems like the one listed above and I would enjoy it in ways that made me question my own writing.  I liked that reading a poem provoked emotion within myself, was easy to read, and allowed me to apply value to its meaning.  This is when my emotional paper-purging took a turn for creative writing.  There were times, very few times, when I wrote a poem that to me felt and read like a poem I enjoyed.  The very first one is very close to me and I'll always remember the way it made me feel.  I thought YES!  THIS IS IT!  But those kinds of moments were infrequent and my understanding of poetry was very poor.  I didn't read the poetry of others.  I did no research.  This, I found out much later, was self-limiting.  The form and meaning of my poems would not drastically change until years later when I was introduced to the poetry of Ted Kooser.
My introduction to Ted came in the form of a required textbook for a college English course.  The poem was Abandoned Farmhouse.  Months later, while out of state, I came across his book Delights and Shadows  in a small town bookstore.  My idea of poetry exploded with that book.  His poetry was easy to read and full of meaning.  Exactly the stuff I liked to read and write.  While looking back through my poetry, if you go back to August of 2010, you will see the change.

Poets United: This is a very interesting story of becoming a poet, Daniel. What style of poem do you write the most?
Daniel: My preferred style would definitely be free verse, or whatever you would term the style that I write.  I don't necessarily count lines, I'm not worried about rhyme, but I am paying more and more attention to structure, tempo, and diction.  In fact, as I do this, I find writing to become tougher.  I think that if all of this is closely minded that the end result will seem, well - it will seem easy. I have tried other styles but cannot find myself in them.  Maybe in time?

Poets United: Whatever feels right, Daniel. How do you know a poem is good? And do you revise your work very much?
Daniel: After August of 2010?  Revise, revise, revise!  I do a lot of revision.  In fact, it takes everything I have not to revise something after it has been posted for all to see.  Before 08/2010, the posts were mainly journalistic - just a recount of my day.  But as my appreciation for structure increased, and I could see the value in close and careful revision, I am more careful before I post.  As this has evolved, I have also become more in tune and receptive to when the time to write occurs.  I'm not one to sit down religiously at the same time every day and write.  Instead, I prefer to wait until that creative moment taps at my skull, and it is obvious to me now when the tapping is real. 
[skull courtesy of google:)]
Things that encourage skull tapping?  Reading others' poetry, music, and life.  Any deficiency in any of those factors lessens my creativity.  Poetry is not self-sufficient for me - if I haven't spent enough time trying to push the wheel up the hill, my creativity fades.
Poets United: Are you ever troubled with writer’s block?
Daniel: All the time.  In fact, the last several months have been laughable in terms of posting.  I recently graduated from a 4 year span of college as a registered nurse.  Being in health care has afforded many opportunities for reflection, as evidenced by my content.  In fact, I would go as far as saying that a fair share of posts have science integrated into them in some way.  But these last four months have been especially exhausting.  Especially since I already spent my time writing seemingly endless papers for school - I had no ambition to write any more.  But I thought about it.  As I have mentioned already, a lot of my inspiration comes from music and reading - especially music.  I've been involved with it since an early age.
What do I do when I need inspiration?  Listen to music.  It gets my mind turning, especially when I listen to new music.  To me - music is pure emotion.  That is what I get when I sit down in a dark room and turn my system up.  What am I doing right now as I type out answers to this questionnaire?  Listening to music.

[photo by Jen]

Poets United: Music is the best! What triggers you to write? Is there a certain time of day, a special place, where you like to write the most?
Daniel: My ideal situation for writing poetry comes fresh after purchasing a new CD or poetry book, with a cup of coffee, early in the morning, music in the background, lots of natural light, warm feet, a clean house, with my phone set to silent.  In any other element I am simply too distracted by taking in my surroundings to try and write.  Having extended periods of silence in my posts does not worry me too much - as Bukowski says in his poem so you want to be a writer? with admirable brevity regarding the writing of poetry:

"when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in

Poets United: That is a wonderful quote! Do you have a favorite poem, written by you?

[Daniel and Jen]

Daniel: I do.  It is called The Two of You  and was posted in September of 2010.  This was written in bed, while laying next to my wife.  We were both reading, as we always do, before turning off the lights.  I was reading Delights and Shadows again.  After putting the book down I thought about my parents.  Their relationship has shaped endless thought and inspiration for me.  They have had a rough past, present, and likely even their future.  In fact, I would go as far as saying that some thread of their heartache goes into nearly every poem I write.  I cannot understand their ability to maintain the life they lead.  My poetry often tries to rationalize the human ability to remain where most others would never stay.  This trade-off of effort for comfort is remarkable to me.
Earlier that week, my mother had given me a handful of old photos of the two of them when they were young in marriage.  They were notably slimmer, younger, and appeared happy to be with one another.  That night in bed after reading the book, I set it down, picked up an old photo of the two of them, and - already spun in the head by Ted's book - I tried to imagine myself taking that photo.  This poem was revised extensively.  I wanted to admire them and their warmth as evidenced in the photo, but also wanted to express my desire to remember them that way - which is something I struggle with.
I looked at the poem continually.  I made continual changes to correct for flow, tempo, and structure - all of which are things that I do not mind when trying to capture an inspirational moment, and in the end I wound up with this poem.  Even from the initial moment of completion I knew that this would be a keeper. There are other favorites in my collection, but this one is especially close to me.
At night, during the most empty time of my day, I study
your picture under the tired eye of a halogen bulb.
It is there in my silence that I admire you – both your hands
tightly wound like two trees whose roots have inseparably coiled
through years of hard winters and lingering summers.
It would appear that you were irritated to pose, as though
your affection was self evident and therefore unnecessary
to recreate its image on film yet even now, looking hard
into this forgotten 3x3 of some discarded afternoon I wish
that it was me who took the picture, that it was me who was
shooed away to watch you both walk brave off that film,
and left for all my life with only your love to remember.

Poets United: That is a very touching story, Daniel. And the poem is beautiful! Do you have a favorite poet that influences your writing?
Daniel: I have already mentioned Ted Kooser.  He is influential in so many ways to me.  In fact, I wrote to him once, thanking him for sharing his work.  To my surprise, he sent me a handwritten postcard thanking me for the letter.  Though it was brief, it was honest and flattering that he took time out of his day to respond.  I am sure he is flooded with mail from adoring fans, and his postcard only raised his bar for me.
I have also come to appreciate the work of Albert Goldbarth and Mary Reufle .  They both have very different styles but - like Ted - I appreciate that imagery that they evoke.  I wouldn't go as far as saying that their poetry is as accessible as Ted's, but their imagery is sharp and the emotion is palpable.  I have also enjoyed reading Henry Rollins.  I know he is a musician, but his history is heartbreaking and his pains are wonderfully catalogued.

[Charles Bukowski, courtesy of Wikipedia]
Finally, I have thoroughly appreciated reading Charles Bukowski .  How did I get turned on to Bukowski?  Music, actually.  In fact, it came from a song by Modest Mouse, which talked about him and continually postulated this: how could anyone be such an asshole?  Bukowski's book Sifting Through The Madness For the Word, The Line, The Way  was my first ever book of poetry.  I found it in a Barnes and Noble, and upon assessing the book (which I had no intention of buying) I opened, by chance, to the second poem of the book called my secret life  and read it.  It is about sitting alone in his house as a child and doing the things he found interesting to pass the hours while his parents worked.  It was remarkably simple.  No big elaborate diction to follow (not that I am limited in vocabulary, rather I appreciate the readability).  I was stunned.  The poem was chock-full of introspection, and I was taken.  That was it.  I bought it on the spot and upon arriving home, devoured it whole along with, over time, many other books of poetry he has written.  For some, Bukowski is a cruel read, for me - I appreciate his honesty in portraying his life the way he saw it.  That is all I have ever wanted to do.
Poets United: A worthy objective. I saw on your profile page that you are musician – can you tell us about your love affair with music?
Daniel: When I was ten my parents bought me a trumpet.  I wanted to play drums or the sax, but so did every other kid in the early nineties.   Soon thereafter, jazz entered my life and kickstarted my musical roots.  Dizzy Gillespie  was an early favorite.  I continued to play after high school but put the brass down for a guitar and have played guitar ever since.  I especially like the stripped down sound of acoustic music.  Just the sound of a musician and their instrument.  There is not much but heart and energy left when a musician has only themselves and an instrument with which to communicate.  Lately, I have especially enjoyed the acoustic sets of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, but I have a great deal of music I routinely appreciate.

My interest in music is not a sole effort.  My wife also greatly appreciates music and in fact, since we have been together, which began in 2002, we have never had television programming.  Though we own a TV, we use it for rented movies.  Not only do we not watch television, but we honestly have no desire to.  What little we care to watch either comes rented, or not at all.  We just find other things to do with our time.

[cool photo by Daniel]
Also of interest to me is photography.  Taking photographs is an important outlet for me.  Especially candid portraiture.  Photography, like poetry, is something I enjoy doing, and revising.  I play with my photos extensively, which is something I never envisioned myself doing.  In fact, during my years as a film photographer, I was one who resisted the digital movement.  Now, I'm so embedded in it that I cannot envision myself otherwise.  Case in point?  Things change, people change.  I too expect myself to continually change and, along with it, my creativity.
I have never set my poetry to music, though I have considered it.  There was a time when I recorded my poems and I received a lot of positive feedback about that.  It was time consuming though, and after my laptop perished I was never able to find the plugins necessary to convert the recorded files.  Since then, my laptop has resurrected, though I have never put further time into it.  Examples of this can, again, be found beginning in August of 2010.
Poets United: So interesting, Daniel. If you could meet anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and what would you tell them?
Daniel: My grandparents.  I never knew them, and I think that in knowing them I might better understand my parents and their lives leading up to me.  What would I ask them?  Questions that I still have yet to put into my poems.
Poets United: I love that answer! Any other interests?

[Daniel, on his snazzy motorcycle]

Daniel: I enjoy taking photographs, listening to and playing music (especially playing guitar), riding my motorcycle, and running.  In fact, I will be running my first 24-hour ultra-marathon this month in Philadelphia with my long-time friend.  Aside of course from my family, these things consume the most of my time.  I also enjoy reading, drinking coffee, and the occassional glass of Tanqueray.
Poets United: Pretty snazzy motorcycle! You look very adventurous, taking your corners so low and fast. Good luck with the marathon, Daniel. Good thing it is happening now that your schooling is behind you! Tell us, have you ever lived a great adventure?
Daniel: Yes - my twenties.  They are greatly responsible for who I am, and I would never care to relive them.  I will leave the bulk of that content for my poetry...
Poets United: And we’ll keep reading. Do you have a favorite quote that you use often, or live by?
Daniel: The quote is not of anyone famous but it means everything to me: "Nothing in life is self sufficient.”  Not love, not happiness, or even anger.
Poets United: Thank you so much, Daniel, for an interesting glimpse of your life. Tell us how the marathon goes, okay?
Daniel: Keep up to date with irrelevant information about my life and yours at Thinking With An Open Mouth
 Like photography? You can find, ponder, follow, or summon my photography at:  Daniel Jay Photography on Facebook 
 Or browse my photos, maybe even your photos, and order stunning custom prints at:  Daniel Jay Photography on Smugmug
See, kids? Isn’t it true that the people behind the pen are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back soon to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. I learned so much about Daniel, who is new to me. Thank you Sherry, Daniel, Poets United for filling my cup this morning.

  2. so glad to meet Daniel! i've come across Open Mouth a few times but now i will focus and read. thank you!

  3. Wonderful article! Thank you for highlighting this poet.


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