In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Tegan Daly
1. Tell us about your poem “Coulee Kids” in Volume 21. How did it come to be?
This poem is a commentary on the community where I grew up in western Wisconsin. I started writing it after hearing about the passing of the woman I mention in the poem, who was the mother of some of my friends from high school. When I got that news I was living on the coast of North Carolina, and felt very disconnected from home and from the community’s mourning process. I guess the poem is part elegy, part personal reflection on being raised in this really special and beautiful place. The name of the poem is a play on one of the many names for the part of Wisconsin I’m from: the Coulee Region.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading?
I love the embrace of imperfection. Poetry that finds ways to expose it in creative and unusual ways. Poetry about living with everyday flaws, or the ways that those flaws and insecurities play out in unusual or desperate situations. The same goes for fiction. I love when writers are able to create characters that represent the sometimes ugly complexity of being human. I love non-fiction writing that teaches me something, as well as more subjective lyric essays, nature writing, and brutally honest memoir.
What turns me away is writing that uses flowery language as an end in and of itself. Writers who try to impress with their vast vocabulary or with shock value. Also, writing that is too dry or literal. I’d say a good writer finds balance between those extremes.
3. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
I think I can attribute being a writer to a lot of experiences of receiving encouragement. My mom likes to talk about how when I was really little—before I knew how to write—I would make up stories and ask her to write them down for me; I appreciate that she always made time to indulge me. Once I was school-aged, I continued to get positive responses from teachers. Reading and writing were skills that came naturally to me, but in in high school I was lucky to have teachers who were encouraging, but also raised their standards for me. It seemed unfair to me at the time, but in retrospect, I see that they were trying to encourage me to keep improving and not get overconfident.
4. What themes/topics are important in your writing?
Interactions with nature are probably my most consistent theme. I’m an environmentalist and I love to travel, so my writing often reflects the natural world through imagery. I’m also drawn to explore human experiences of loneliness and otherness. Our instinct to be social creatures, to be part of a group, can have heartbreaking repercussions, from the experience of loneliness, which is so vast yet so interior, to the experience of being persecuted or disadvantaged for being different. I think poetry is a fitting medium for addressing these topics.
5. What does your creative process look like? How does the environment you are in shape your work or where do you like to write?
Environment is very important for me. I consider myself a place-based writer. Where I am physically plays heavily into my writing. I get energy and inspiration from being in nature, and from plants in particular. I would say that my writing suffers when I don’t have access to nature.
A lot of writers talk about forcing themselves to write every day. I’m not quite there yet, but I think it’s probably a useful practice. Luckily I get bursts of inspiration fairly frequently. At times when I’m feeling less inspired, I will often fill up notebook pages with stream-of-consciousness style scribblings in the hopes that maybe I’ll end up with one or two ideas or lines out of the mess that can be turned into a starting point or a theme for a poem. I also spend a lot of time revising. My poems tend to go through many incarnations, sometimes over a few years, before I consider them finished. Right now I’m in an MFA program and I’m expected to submit two poems every week, so that structure and accountability has been really great for generating material!
Tegan Daly is an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.