The Vintage Sundress Series offers us an opportunity to catch up with writers who published with us in the past. In 2011, Daniel Crocker published Like a Fish with Sundress, followed by The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood in 2015. He took a moment to speak with our Editorial Intern, Annie McIntosh, about how mental illness affects his writing and the future of poetry.
Annie McIntosh: I’ve often found phrases from pop culture or literature that just echo on a loop for me, sometimes for years—and you’ve talked about this before as well. Are there any poems that you’ve written, or maybe haven’t written yet, that have the same effect for you? What poems or lines still haunt you?
Daniel Crocker: Most of my OCD manifests itself through intrusive thoughts, so I understand where you’re coming from! Mostly they are dark thoughts about self-harm, how stupid I am, that one time 20 years ago I said something embarrassing, etc. There was one piece of pop culture that often repeats nonstop in one of these episodes. It’s from The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s when Richie looks into the mirror and says, “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.” That’s a usual for me. Luckily, on the medication I’m on now I don’t have a lot of intrusive thoughts—usually only when I’m having high anxiety. Anyway, I did write a poem about a line getting stuck in your head from OCD. It’s “Jazz” from Shit House Rat.
AM: How has using black humor in your poetry and fiction informed your creative process, particularly when you’re drawing from deep places of childhood trauma?
DC: I just always used humor to cope, and often that humor is dark. Also, people like funny poems. It makes them happy, even if the underlying theme is depressing. I love reading them at poetry readings. Nothing makes me feel happier than when the audience laughs when I want them to laugh. Then, I bring the hammer down on them.
AM: What was it about Sesame Street characters that inspired you to have this dialogue about mental illness in your poetry?
DC: I thought many of them just lent themselves to bipolar symptoms. Snuffy is depression. Big Bird is mania. Cookie Monster is addiction. It just seemed like a natural connection for me. I think the first one I wrote was about Oscar the Grouch—that one is in Like a Fish. When I was working on Shit House Rat, I think I wrote the Snuffy poem first and after that everything else just fell into place.
AM: In your essay “Mania Makes Me A Better Poet,” you discuss the balancing act of mania/medication affecting your creativity as a poet. Do you have any advice for others in finding that balance? Does poetry ever trump being healthy?
DC: Sometimes poetry trumps being happy. Not as often as it used to, but sometimes. For the most part, however, I try to stay stable. I mean I have a family and a job. It’s good to stay as sane as possible. Though, I do want to clarify only a mildish mania (hypomania) is fun and creative. Full-blown mania is scary as hell.
AM: Where do you see poetry moving forward? Are there any poets we should really be paying attention to right now?
DC: I think it’s already moved forward just in my lifetime. I started in the ’90s small press poetry boom. The old cut and paste magazines. They were great. That was our time, though. Now, it’s time for new poets. I mean, I could have never imagined when I was 20 that there would be Instagram poets, YouTube poets, etc. I think it’s great. It is bringing a lot of attention to poetry in general. I also like that poetry is much more inclusive than it used to be—though it still has a way to go. When I was starting out, I was one of the few non-straight (I’m bi) poets I knew of.
Poets I love: John Dorsey, Rebecca Schumejda, Laura Kasishke, Erin Elizabeth Smith, David Taylor, Mike James, Tim Siebles, Nate Graziano, Chase Dimock, my wife Margaret, and there’s so many that I just can’t name them all.
AM: What are some future projects you’re working on right now?
DC: I have a new book coming out called Sick. It’s a split book with me and John Dorsey. I should have my first fiction collection in many years coming soon. Probably my last fiction collection too. After that, I might work on a memoir. I don’t know. I might just be done.
Daniel Crocker’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Hobart, Big Muddy, New World Writing, Stirring, Juked, The Chiron Review, The Mas Tequila Review and over 100 others. His books include Like a Fish (full length) and The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood (e-chap with thousands of downloads) both from Sundress Publications. Green Bean Press published several of his books in the ’90s and early 2000s. These include People Everyday and Other Poems, Long Live the 2 of Spades, the novel The Cornstalk Man, and the short story collection Do Not Look Directly Into Me. He has also published several chapbooks through various presses. His newest full length collection of poetry, Shit House Rat, was published by Spartan Press in September of 2017. Stubborn Mule Press published Leadwood: New and Selected Poems—1998-2018 in October 2018. He was the first winner of the Gerald Locklin Prize in poetry. He is the editor of The Cape Rock (Southeast Missouri State University) and the co-editor of Trailer Park Quarterly. He’s also the host of the podcast, Sanesplaining, about poetry, mental illness, and nerd stuff.
Annie McIntosh is an English major at Franklin College, where she writes about gender-queer studies in science fiction. She is the Lead Poetry Editor of Brave Voices Magazine and a Fiction Editorial Intern for Juxtaprose Magazine. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming from Okay Donkey, Theta Wave, Digital Americana Magazine, carte blanche, and others. She recently received her first Pushcart Prize nomination and was named one of Indiana’s Best Emerging Poets for 2018. Currently searching for a publication home for her first chapbook, she lives in Indianapolis with her partner and their dog, Jackson.