An Interview with Daniel David Moses

Joanne Arnott: With your permission, Daniel: I find my questions are all about the inside of your writing life, so I’ll start off there, and work toward the outer manifestations as we go. How does it feel to be Daniel David Moses writing a poem? Can you describe the sensations, a usual way or flow, share an image of yourself writing a poem?

Daniel David Moses: This image of working on poetry comes from probably the last time I was able to work for an extended period on poetry only. It was a memorable and satisfying moment because I at last finished several poems—maybe ten in a month, which is unusual—that went into Sixteen Jesuses, work I’d been too long distracted from by my theatrical efforts. It’s November, a few years back, and I’m the resident artist for Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, so perversely—there’s got to be a pun there—I’m spending my time writing poems. (They’ve settled me into a one-bedroom basement apartment two blocks from the Workshop, three from Boulevard Saint Laurent, and I’m surprised how easy it is to focus on work despite all the interesting unfamiliar life strutting past my front window.)

I have all these rough drafts, long notes about notions and images and titles or even earlier attempts at voicing, with or without first lines. If I can get a first line, I tell myself, the music, the length, the quest of it right, I’ve got something to hang on to, something to hang the poem from. For the month I’m here, these rough creatures line up in my mind for attention and I give it to them through long mornings, moving forward and down though each poem, testing each word for its sense, tasting its sensuality, cutting out the repetitive, re-situating the awkward but essential, shifting images within rhythms and gradually ifting the weighty words in a taut order off the page. There’s an image of my maternal grandmother hooking a rug or sewing a quilt or lacing a moccasin, making things fit, that rises again out of memory, that may be my guide. By each morning’s end, I’m tired of it, the effort, and start to, let us say, drop the stitches (though usually, near-sighted me says “lose focus”) and I prepare myself a late lunch, check in at the Workshop to sit in on a dramaturgy session or head off for a movie or a bookstore or museum visit or, one afternoon after the first snow, a walk on icy paths up on Mount Royal.

JA: Has this feeling or process changed over time?

DDM: When I was first out in the world, away from home, after school, and just managing to maintain my poetry habit but not yet able to really afford my theatrical one, I was always turning the poems in progress over in my mind all day while I worked through the dull moments at my immigration and security jobs (what luxury when I finally got, for a week, a desk job checking people into and out of the art vault at the AGO, where I was able to sit and make notes and read—I sketched out almost all my poems that have to do with the Grand River!). I have a poem for which I have a great affection, “Some Grand River Blues,” because when I came to write it down, it came out nearly perfectly in its first draft, that transcription feeling like magic or inspiration, even though when I thought back, I realized I’d had the thing working in my mouth and head for the last couple weeks. Now the poetry work is almost always done on paper or on the computer screen, but now of course I can be assured that I can and will make the time to sit and do the work—it doesn’t have to be done on the move.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.