Hey Danny, thanks so much for making your way out of the snow and slush to talk with COMPAS. Can you tell us a little about your background and what art form you teach?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas in a household full of books where everyone was always reading and talking about books. So the love of literature comes very naturally to me. I teach poetry, writing and performance, the two of which I believe are inextricably entwined. Watching a shy writer become a dynamic presence on stage or a powerful performer delve into the journey of crafting the written word is very exhilarating and rewarding. Putting all those elements together can really create a sum that is greater than its parts. I also teach acting, presentation, public speaking skills and interviewing skills, all of which I can tie into poetry and spoken word workshops.
When did you first become interested in poetry and spoken word? Who were some of your influences?
I first became interested in poetry when I was three. My sisters would read to me and I would memorize poems before I could read. I wrote my first poem when I was 5 years old and I’ve been hooked ever since. Some of my influences, there are so many. I think for a well-rounded artist their influences definitely include artists outside of their specific disciplines. As far as poetry goes, Dr. Seuss, Gwendolyn Brooks, Octavio Paz, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Patricia Smith, Marc Smith, Anne Sexton and many, many others. Just as important though are John Coltrane, Nina Simone, Vincent van Gogh, Joni Mitchell, Prince and so many more.
What do you think is the most valuable thing writing poetry and spoken word can teach someone?
Well, literacy is so important; it is the key that can unlock a multitude of worlds. But really, the most important thing that writing and performing poetry and spoken word can teach is compassion. When we learn to be empathetic towards each other and towards the world in general we begin to create the world we all dream about, a world of peace and opportunity where we work together to build a really civilized culture where we can all live up to our potential.
What do you gain from teaching that you don’t gain from creating your own work?
Oh, so much. Teaching constantly revitalizes me and teaches me things I never would have thought of on my own. Teaching is so invigorating and rewarding. It’s one of my favorite things to do in life.
You helped create the Day of the Dead Poets Slam in Rochester, Minnesota. Can you tell us a little about the event and what makes it so great?
Day of the Dead Poets Slam is an incredible gift, to me, and to the community. It’s turned into a festival that has visual arts, literary arts, music, dance and food. It’s roots are in Dia de los Muertos which really come from indigenous Mexican roots. The Dead Poets Slam is a competition wherein poets read the work of their favorite dead poets and come in costume and calavera makeup. So you might have Octavio Paz vs Maya Angelou vs Walt Whitman etc. It’s friendly but also very intense. The community has really responded positively and our audiences have grown every year. This year we will stage the festival for two days and incorporate Alebrijes, the fantastical animal spirit guides and guardians that some might remember from the excellent move Coco.
Have you been working on any new projects lately?
Well, a bunch of stuff really. Three first time artistic endeavors for me, I am working on my first novel, a vampire saga set in the old southwest, I am playing a high priest in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Rochester Civic Theater (It’s my very first musical and I am very nervous and excited!) and I am working on illustrations and storyboards for my first children's book as well as the usual poetry stuff.
You joined the COMPAS roster last year, why did you want to get involved with COMPAS?
I liked what Frank Sentwali told me about COMPAS and I love the idea that working, teaching artists could be supported and represented in a professional way. Lots of artists are not the best at the business, organizational side of the work (I put myself at the top of that list !) so it’s terrific to have someone handling all that.
How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?
I draw, make up silly songs to irritate my son and my girlfriend, I keep paper and sharpie by the bed to write down ideas and poem fragments, I try to see the everyday beauty that constantly surrounds us, but which is easy to miss.
Anything else you’d like us to know about your amazing career?
I just feel really lucky and privileged to have made so many incredible friends through poetry and the Poetry Slam, many of those friends are family now, to have traveled the world because of poetry. I’ve been given so much and I really want to give back