INTERVIEW: DANNIEL SCHOONEBEEK
Danniel Schoonebeek’s poems take back roads and veins to an American place filled with secrets in your ear. Where the barn behind you is lit with the most eerie Gregory Crewdson-like light.
Last Saturday Ace New York hosted Bound by Chance. Danniel wasn’t there, but his words were. People used them to make stories and bound those stories into pamphlets. Tonight, Danniel reads from his book in Portland at Crema Coffee + Bakery before he sails back home to Brooklyn. It’s going to be an after hours poetry party.
You recently completed a poetry tour in support of your first book, American Barricade (YesYes Books). Independent musicians tour all the time to support themselves. What was the experience like as a poet?
When I was seventeen I left high school and toured in a van with four other guys. We were a band, I was the drummer, and we toured the country for a few months, living in the van with our instruments. What’s startling to me is that I did this again ten years later. This time I was alone, I was reading my poems and not hitting a snare, and I took the trains across America instead of riding in a van. The tours were alike in that they were both these depleting, chaotic bursts in which you learn more about yourself than you knew was possible. You aren’t working hard enough are the words I came away with when I was seventeen. Our last date on that tour was at CBGB’s, and there was this holy feeling like we’d arrived. But nobody gave a shit about our songs, not the bands, not the people. I think that experience taught me that you have to demand to be heard, like a list of demands is heard in a hostage situation, and that list of demands is work.
The tour I just finished leaves me to this day with jubilee. In some ways it was like playing a chess match against my own life. I’d just been kicked out of my apartment, I’d just been laid off, the love life was in the gutter. I booked the tour myself, no agents, no help from my publisher. I needed to see if a poet could do it alone. Friends came out to read and see me off, let me sleep on their floors. Strangers opened their doors to me, handed me their keys, helped me hunt down venues. These people are part of my life now, and they handed me small tokens along the way, tchotchkes and mementos, a little scratch some nights. The trains are their own crash course in how much American disgust you can tolerate within yourself. If you don’t have the constitution within yourself to wash your hair in the sink on a moving train, or deal with drunks, or fall asleep hungry on a dinner of tic-tacs, don’t get on the trains. But there was something unbelievable about waking up on the train, feeling like shit, drinking a styrofoam cup of coffee, and watching the landscape of America peel away outside while you’re surrounded by all these families and drifters and bulleting your way to a poetry reading in a different city each night. It was like not being a citizen anymore.
I’m finishing a book about this last tour and that’ll come out soon. I’m working with two editors who are challenging the work and pushing it in directions I’m thrilled about. I can’t say who yet, but it’s coming. It’s called C’est La Guerre.
While I was in Portland this past week, celebrating the release of American Barricade and reading myself into a stupor, I stopped and talked to the good people at the Ace Hotel, who continue to support the arts (and writers especially) in ways that 9 doctors out of 10 call “innovative and emotionally fortifying.”