Danniel Schoonebeek ’08 Releases Second Book to Critical Acclaim
November 2016 saw the release of Trebuchet, the second book of poems by Daniel Schoonebeek ’08 (creative writing and literature).
A year before, the book was selected for a 2015 National Poetry series award, chosen by poet Kevin Prufer to be published by University of Georgia Press in 2016.
The renowned National Poetry Series (NPS) awards program ensures that volumes of poetry by talented writers get published every year. The judges are distinguished poets who select manuscripts from an open competition and former winners include Billy Collins, Alice Fulton, Terrance Hayes, Adrian Matejka, and Kevin Young, among many others.
Schoonebeek’s first book of poems, American Barricade, was published by YesYes Books in 2014. It was named one of the year’s ten standout debuts by Poets & Writers and called “a groundbreaking first book that stands to influence its author’s generation” by Boston Review.
He grew up in a small village in upstate New York and now splits his time between Clinton Hill, Brooklyn and a studio in upstate New York. He lives with his partner and their “very troubled” dog.
(Read his poem Chorus, printed in the Nov. 16, 2015 edition of The New Yorker.)
After winning the NPS award, Schoonebeek answered questions about the experience, his next book, and his time at Purchase.
PC: You’re among some pretty good company in winning the National Poetry Series award. How does it feel?
DS: It’s hard to nail down how it feels, I’m stunned by the fortune this year has brought with it, both inside and outside of poetry, in my relationships with the people in my life and in my work, and I feel this responsibility to the work demanded on both sides of the coin. You want to be the best person to your people and the best worker to your work.
There was this guy I knew growing up, he was a dad, and he owned a snow plow in a town where no one else really owned a snow plow, so during the winter holidays if someone veered off the road and ended up in a ditch or a snow drift he’d have to leave his family and go dig them out, middle of the night on Christmas, it didn’t matter, he set himself that responsibility. I think I feel kind of like that. There’s a lot of work ahead, work that I’ve created for myself, but I’m also this guy in this unfortunate town I’ve created who has the plow.
PC: Please describe your work; how would you characterize Trébuchet?
DS: A trébuchet, in medieval siege warfare, was the catapult used to throw stones and demolish walls during battle. This’ll be my second collection of poems, and it’s a deliberate follow-up to my first book of poems, American Barricade. Those two books speak to one another and document an evolving poetics, but I think Trébuchet is a departure from the writing that defined AB, which was invested in the politics of family dynamics and the insistence in this country on obtaining power and wealth.
Trébuchet is more combative and incendiary, and it tackles contemporary politics in a more direct, albeit historical way. It addresses gun violence, poverty, fascism, surveillance, white privilege, the protest movement, the failures of the poetry community, censorship, American history, technology, torture, and net neutrality, among other things, but it’s also deeply invested in folktales and myths, as well as more recent economic policies like Glasnost and Reaganomics.
PC: When did you begin writing poetry? When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
DS: I can remember crouching over a pad of paper in my parents’ basement and trying to rewrite the words to famous limericks and children’s songs, I think that’s my earliest memory of what I’d call poetry. I’ve always cared about rhythm as much as I’ve cared about language, and while I don’t think poetry is music, I was also a drummer for a long time before I was a poet, so I think the instincts of being a drummer also laid a groundwork for being a writer.
When I got older I also had a handful of astonishing teachers in high school, English teachers but also music teachers and social studies teachers, and I’m grateful that they knew how to feed off my energy and push me in ways that I can never repay. I read Brooks and Beckett and Stein and Flaubert and Neruda before I was even in twelfth grade, and for a long time I didn’t know how rare that is.
But to the question of profession, I still don’t call poetry my profession, not because I don’t spend almost every day of my life thinking about and writing poetry, but because I just hate the word profession. It’s always been important to me to remember that poetry is the road I took because the idea of being a professional in America disgusts me.
PC: Can you describe a class or professor here at Purchase who had an impact or played an important role in your development as a writer?
DS: I never enrolled in graduate school after Purchase, and that was partly because I’m a bit of an unhealthy workhorse, and I also didn’t have the money, and more importantly I got an education at Purchase such that I learned how to teach myself so well, outside of academia, that it saved me about $50,000.
The first class I ever attended at Purchase was Lee Schlesinger’s “The Bible,” and I don’t think a semester passed in the next four years where I didn’t work with Lee. We studied Faulkner, Baraka, Emerson, William Carlos Williams, Melville; it’s unforgettable teaching. Monica Ferrell, over the same four years, also introduced me to more poetry that’s been influential to me than any other person in my life—I mean Frank Bidart and Frank Stanford and Anne Carson and Brigit Pegeen Kelly.
And Louise Yelin, I love Louise. Reading Woolf and Proust with her, in the same room with her incomparable energy, I just feel like I got so damn lucky to be at the school those years.
PC: What’s next for you? Anything you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
DS: Well, before Trébuchet comes out, which I think will be early 2017, I’m publishing a book called C’est la guerre, which is an autobiographical prose travelogue about several months I spent touring the United States, via Amtrak, while also giving poetry readings in support of American Barricade. That book’s coming out with an indie press called Poor Claudia, one of Oregon’s best presses. In terms of my chronology as a writer, that’s a pretty twisted web, but I love that book. It was the hardest piece of writing I’ve ever written.
(Photo by: Veronica Rafael)