Recently, Dallas was kind enough to answer some questions about his work.
Q: Where did the inspiration for “Duet in the Third Person” come from?
A: I think from the first two lines. I don’t know where the first line came from—the ether? I am often in awe of people who are more driven than I am, and I think I was ruminating on that when the first line came to me. Toying with the alliteration in the first line, I then jotted down the second, mostly playing with sounds at the time and not too concerned with sense. That tends to be a good way for me to work—tapping into the unknown without judgment.
I love the play on “hold” in every line, hinging around “She barged into his sentence. He barged into her dream.” What was it like to write a poem with such a strict format?
Robert Frost once said something about how after writing the first line or stanza, then the structure of the poem was set. I felt a similar thing after I had completed the first two lines. I didn’t know what the poem was about, but I knew it would have a he said/she said structure, or rather a he did/she did format. I’m not a big fan of precise rhyme and meter—I tend to prefer some ragged edges—but I do believe repetition and variation can be equally important to the music of the poem, and I love how those two things (repetition and variation) work with and against each other.
So not long after I had established the pattern, I also knew I had to break it at some point. That’s liberating. Plus, the more constrained and ordered some parts of the poem are, the more freedom I feel I have in other areas. Thus, with one exception, the sentence rather than any number of syllables determines the line. As a result, I hope, a five-syllable line like the penultimate one feels like it fits right in with the preceding lines, two of which run well beyond the right margin and continue onto the next line.
You note that this poem is after David Lehman. What about Lehman’s work spoke to you?
I think I had completed the first draft of the poem before it dawned on me that Lehman had a poem or two that used a format like this, “The Gift” in particular. It was not a conscious influence, but I knew that if I ever published it, I needed to acknowledge that debt. I don’t know that I would have written this poem if I hadn’t seen his first.
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
That’s a tough one. I’m not sure. It has made daily life much more boring. I’m much more in need of art, but oftentimes less inspired to make it. I don’t have a daily practice like I know I should. Instead, I fit my writing in the nooks and crannies of life. One of my perversions is that when I have a big, nasty deadline, or deadlines, fast approaching, that’s when a new poem is likely to be triggered. I don’t know what that’s about, but it’s been true for years. It’s not the only time I write, but it’s generative, as is travel. I often get a poem out of a trip, not necessarily about where I am or what I am seeing or doing, but something about the fresh and the unfamiliar seems to loosen things up for me. Obviously, there hasn’t been much traveling in 2020. So much of life has felt two-dimensional this past year, and for me it helps to have a three-dimensional life for poetry to rub up against and come out of.
That tends to be a good way for me to work—tapping into the unknown without judgment.
What other writing projects are you working on?
I always have a number of poems in various stages of undress and disrepair that I’m tinkering with. I currently have a story that needs one more draft. I don’t write many stories, and they drive me crazy. So many words. I get lost. I started this one years ago, and had given up on it for quite a while, and then at some point last year, I realized how to deal with the plot point and character development issues that had stymied me for so long. I pushed on, completed the rough draft, revised it, sent it out for some feedback, and now I need to incorporate that. It daunts me. I prefer poetry, but sometimes a story wants to be told—or at least I think it does.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
“Just do it.” —Nike
Dallas Crow is a high school English teacher and the author of a poetry chapbook, Small, Imperfect Paradise, published by Parallel Press. His work has recently appeared in Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature, Arkansas Review, Blue Earth Review, Lake Effect, Poet Lore, and Tar River Poetry.