Stephen Danos comes to us from the Chicago area, the land of complex hot dogs and deep-dish pizza, neither of which he deigns to eat because animals suffer and you shouldn’t eat them or take their stuff. Even fish. As an editor and poet, though, he’s omnivorous. Since his time at the University of Iowa, where he studied under and fell in love with Dean Young (and so should you, by the way), and at the MFA program at Columbia College, he’s published work that ranges from glitchy Language poetry to chiseled lyrics. Regardless of mode, his chapbooks Playhouse State (H_NGM_N Books) and the forthcoming Gravitational (The New Megaphone) showcase a quick-witted poet with a penchant for surprising language and whiplash turns. Here’s why you should get to know his work:
- He’s the editor-in-chief of the fabulous online journal Pinwheel, whose issues have featured Seattle writers Sarah Galvin and Bill Carty, as well as artists Justin Duffus and Chandler Woodfin. He also codes/programs each issue himself, with occasional help from Thomas Patrick Levy.
- He can snap his tongue really loud and make a raindrop sound with his mouth.
- He started writing poetry because of his love of the Wu.
- He’s gainfully employed in the tech industry! He works on software that makes it easy for consumers to find the apps they want.
- He grounds his poems in instability; his poems stand on slips, stumbles. Take, for example, the structural devices he employs in his poem, “Losing the Trail,” published in the journal Anti-:
Losing the Trail
I like and dislike everything
you do, driving across the Midwest.
Tiresome hills we cannot seatbelt.
I have held your sweaty hand for hours.
It knows nothing of westward
expansion, of manifest dysentery,
the simulation game we all failed at
in elementary school. We weren’t ready
to make decisions on our own.
This isn’t a movie starring Emile Hirsch
based on a book based on a true story.
We won’t die from eating toxic berries.
Call me confident, for a change.
Call my love for dead critters roadside
a depression. An incomplete assimilation,
I am skid and shredded tire.
Morse code your window when hotheads
speed by, spreading their deep menace.
Remind them we are all bound to the doctrine
of the stunning unknown.
We feel bound to rivalries, standard
drupe or pitted, Red Sox or Yankees.
Steer clear of picking sides
and eat glorious raisins with me.
This poem is almost a classic lyric in the sense that the language enacts the poem’s main concern, that of “losing the trail,” but Danos introduces associative leaps and jokes to enliven the form. In the lines, “Tiresome hills we cannot seatbelt” and “It knows nothing of westward / expansion, of manifest dysentery,” for instance, he steps off the trail by giving us “seatbelt” where we would expect “stand” and then “dysentery” where we’d expect “destiny.” And though his images range in kind from pastoral hills to pop cultural figures such as Into the Wild’s Emile Hirsch, each one is plucked from the natural world of trails, roads or journeys. Indeed, each turn in the poem is a celebration of the swerve, a reminder that “we are all bound to the doctrine / of the stunning unknown,” and thus serves as a call to keep rollin’ and, of course, to enjoy the best thing about trails: the “glorious raisins” in the mix.
Check out more of Danos’s work on his website.