Q&A with Dan Haney '14

Dan Haney '14How did your experiences, as an intern or as a student in the classroom, prepare you to pursue your interest in Creative Writing in grad school?

Bucknell did a tremendous job at preparing me for graduate school. During my time as an undergrad, I fell backwards into an embarrassment of riches:

  • Arts Administration experience interning at the Stadler Center for Poetry.
  • Editorial experience interning for West Branch.
  • 3+ years of generous attention & feedback regarding my personal creative work.
  • A talented, diverse, tight-knit community of faculty, staff, residents, and summer scholars.

At Vanderbilt, I wore many hats during my MFA — I taught Creative Writing, "finished" a manuscript, served as Editor-in-Chief of Nashville Review, and worked at Vanderbilt's Writing Studio. My professional transition was (mostly) seamless, and I owe that to Shara, Andy, Katie, Justin, Jamaal, and countless others. Spending time at the Stadler Center not only made me a better writer; it taught me how to be a better man. I wish I could go back to the Stadler Center again, just to saturate myself into the literary community.

What advice would you give to current and prospective students who want to pursue a degree in Creative Writing at Bucknell?

First, take a step back and realize the opportunities available at Bucknell. In a town so rural the main draws are Sheetz (I miss thee dearly), Dominos delivery, and a Wenger's Discount Store, you have a fantastic national literary magazine, the single best poetry venue available, and a roster brimming with accomplished, invested professors. I sound like a paid shill at this point, but seriously — take advantage of those gifts. They're rare, and they're special.

Second, if you plan to pursue a degree in Creative Writing, do it because you feel an inexplicable need to write. Do it because every bit of stimuli you experience throughout the day is filtered through poetry. Do it because writing is inevitable to you, something that defines you as a person. It's a degree that's good for the soul, and one I would do again with twice the enthusiasm. You need that perspective, because the professional side of writing is difficult. Whether we're talking about jobs, residencies, or publications, I've encountered a staggering amount of rejection just in my short time writing. You'll need a healthy dose of masochism to persevere.

In what ways did the MFA program at Vanderbilt shape your writerly concerns and/or interests?

I see three particularly beneficial ways that Vanderbilt shaped me as a writer: lineage, precision, and place.

Lineage: At Bucknell, my poetic interests were grounded squarely in the present. This is likely due to my personal aesthetic and three wildly talented poets who were kind enough to mentor and tolerate me (Justin Boening, Carolina Ebeid, and Jamaal May — treat yourself and read a poem of theirs). When I got to Vanderbilt, I entered a program that was deeply rooted in tradition and history. It taught me to view my writing not only from an individual, personal perspective, but also from a historical and generation perspective. Even when writing about only myself, each keystroke fell on a continuum — the ghosts of Levine, Wright, and even Whitman were tracing alongside me each time I sat down to write, even if I\ never before acknowledged their heavy influence.

Precision: At Vanderbilt, I was in quite a small cohort, and some of my fellow writers had particular interests in rhyme, form, and music. Although my poetic interests lie elsewhere (daddy issues, anyone?), working closely together for two years allowed me to translate some of that rigor in my own work. I slowly noticed that formal scaffolding and vowel clanging leak into my own work. If you're doing this whole writing thing correctly, you'll filch ideas, moves, and techniques from writers you admire over and over again, and they'll incorporate themselves into your voice.

Place: You never truly gain perspective on a place until you leave it behind. I grew up in coal country Pennsylvania about an hour and change from Bucknell. I spent most of my four years here ashamed of that identity. I tried actively to hide it and all of the negative connotations that come along with it. When I graduated from Bucknell and transitioned to Vanderbilt, I suddenly found myself in Nashville. Everything was changed. I could make U-turns. I tried Ethopian cuisine. I lived in an apartment complex with more neighbors than my entire home county. Slowly, feeling isolated in a strange land, that former sense of place, of home, became increasingly essential to both my work and myself. The shame yielded to a conflicted sense of affection. My poems I'm most proud of work within that liminal space, where shame and love and pride and home all became inextricably tangled.

Can you share any goals/plans you have since you have graduated? How do you plan to continue using your passion for Creative Writing?

Right now, I work in an Administrative capacity at Ithaca College — sort of an academic advising/program coordination hybrid. It treats me well, I enjoy the job, and I'm thankful for the work.

When I agreed to forgo a third-year scholarship at Vanderbilt to move to Ithaca, New York with my partner, she purchased me a beautiful desk. Each night, I come home to that desk, make a coffee, and spend at least an hour there. Whether that involves submitting, drafting, or reading depends on the day. I've had a few publications since, and I would savor the opportunity to complete surround myself with the arts — be it teaching, a Ph.D program, or a residency. For the immediate future, my singular goal is returning to that desk every day and producing work — refusing to let go of such an essential part of myself.

 

An excerpt of this Q&A was posted on Feb. 8, 2017 on Bucknell English: Creative Writing, Film/Media, Literary Studies, the facebook page for the programs in the Department of English.

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