by Lily Fishleder

Strict forms—rules—can often help poets articulate and structure their ideas. But sometimes, rules—no rhyming! avoid humor!—can have the opposite effect, leaving poets to feel stymied and ineffective.

Lit Fest 2016 faculty member David J. Daniels recognizes both sides of the coin. His three upcoming Lit Fest classes will look at how rules can help you create as well as provide advice on when rules should be broken—or thrown out the window altogether.

We recently caught up with David to talk teaching, Abecedarians, and greeting cards. (There are still a few spots available in David’s classes; register before they fill up!)

We’re so excited to have you teaching at Lit Fest this year. What do you look forward to most when it comes to teaching poetry?

Thanks for having me. I love Lighthouse, and I’m looking forward to Lit Fest. In terms of teaching poetry, I love pure invention, discovering new opportunities for poems, mining current drafts for possibilities. I love revision, too, but that demands a different part o’ the brain, I think.

In your upcoming workshop, Very Funny, Shakespeare: Humor in Poetry, you’ll guide us through the play of humor and sadness to provide a deeper lens and new perspectives. How do humor and sadness work together in creative writing? And why are these risks important?

Wow, good question! The best poems— I mean, the most enduring—are neither just sad or just funny but some combination of the two. When I think about humor in poetry, I think about Emily Dickinson’s admonition to “tell it slant.” It being the truth, of course. Within all of our cruddiest experiences, if we’re being honest, there are elements of the humorous, or at least of the ironic. And our happiest, funniest moments (birthday parties and whatnot) are tinged, to some degree, by grief. At least that’s been my limited human experience of life. Toying with humor, particularly in concert with sadness, seems to me to be one of the ways of being more authentic.

One of your workshops is titled Poetry A to Z: Writing the Abecedarian. What the heck is an Abecedarian? What do you find rewarding about this form?

I love the abecedarian. It’s simply a poem in alphabetical order— A to Z— either as a list or in complete sentences. Sometimes when I have writer’s block, I’ll turn to the form just to generate raw fodder. “A busted chandelier dangles erratically from Gibson Hall” and so forth. I’ve written maybe a dozen abecedarians, mostly as exercises, but only ever published one of them (in my first chapbook). In this class, we’re gonna read that poem of mine, along with delicious poems by Martha Silano (an abecedarian about her— I think— lady parts) and Natalie Diaz (a heartbreaking abecedarian about heroin and meth use on her Native reservation).

For Beyond the Hallmark Card: Rhyme and Repetition in Poetry, what inspired you to teach this course? How did you come up with this idea?

I rhyme, unlike most poets of my generation. I love rhyme. But it seems old fashioned to a lot of poets today, and in the wrong hands, rhyme can come across as pretty awful, maudlin and Hallmark-y. Mawkish. I actually spoke on a panel about this very issue at the recent AWP conference in L.A. I want to keep rhyme going, so I’m hoping to meet poets in this course who either use rhyme (but are concerned by it) or avoid rhyme (but are allured by it).

Lily Fishleder is Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s summer intern.