An Interview with Poet Carl Miller Daniels

Interview by Joseph Osel for The Commonline Journal #010, Summer 2009

Photo Courtesy C. M. Daniels 
Somewhere around 1970 a then teenage Carl Miller Daniels was plotting his own death. That is, until his mother found the detailed plan laid out in his journal and quickly sent him off to a mental hospital. Forty years later Daniels is still writing, but now he’s turned to poetry.

Daniels poetry is anything but disarming. He describes his poetry as “homoerotic in content, spirit and theme” and speculates about the nature of his work saying “Maybe I write porn. Maybe I don't.” According to Daniels, his work has, for the most part, always focused on “smolderingly hot sexy guys,” but as the years have past he’s become more interested in how his muse fits into the grand scheme of things. “What does it matter that a hot sexy big-dicked guy is spurting his cum and his toes are tingling in a pleasant way when the planet Jupiter is being hit by a comet?” Daniels asks. Now, I don’t have the resources or resolve to answer a question like that, but, I can tell you one thing: whatever Daniels is doing, it’s working, and not just for me. The poet Antler wrote that "Carl Miller Daniels' poems incarnate youthful gay sexuality with gentleness, passion and delight,” calling Daniels’ book Shy Boys at Home a “unique contribution to the renaissance of gay poetry in America…”

Daniels first entered my consciousness after reading Zygote In My Coffee #6, for which he was the feature contributor. In the summer of 2009 The Commonline Journal published a poem by Daniels called “Political Moderate.” In my view, Daniels’ poetry represents some of the finest and most provocatively amusing writing that the small press offers. On the other hand, Daniels’ work, because of its homoerotic content and trying tone, has met opposition from some editors. Daniels told Future Tense Books that some magazines are “totally unwilling to consider sexy gay poems.” In spite of this, his poetry is seeing the light of day and that in-and-of-itself is testament to Daniels’ artistic perseverance, not to mention outright ability.

Carl Miller Daniels is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Museum Quality Orgasm (Future Tense Books) and Shy Boys at Home (Chiron Review Press). His published work is abundant and can be found in My Favorite Bullet, Thieves Jargon, FRiGG, Sic Magazine, and Slipstream, among numerous others.

In September I ran the gamut with Daniels as we discussed his personal history, his poetry and its “pornographic willy-nillyness,” artful madness, obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and even the hypothetical nature of animal poetry.


CLJ: You've been writing in various forms for a long time. Can you give me a brief overview of your literary career?

Daniels: I'm 57 years old. I'll be 58 soon. When I was in high school, I kept a journal, diary, whatever you want to call it. You know, that thing saved my life. I was suicidal during part of the time I was writing in that thing. I detailed my feelings, and I wrote in detail my exact plans, when and where and how, I was going to kill myself. My mom was snooping around in my room, and she found that diary, and she and my dad took it very seriously, and, after conferring with the family physician, they locked my ass up in a mental hospital. It turned out to be a good place. I was a patient there for 3 months, and, after I got released, I was in out-patient therapy for another year or so. The diagnosis: manic depression with accompanying paranoia. Yep, I was sure a mess there for a while. What happened to that journal? I talked about it to my psychologist at the hospital, and asked him if he'd be interested in seeing it. He said yes. My mom brought it to him, and he indeed read it and talked about it with me. He asked if I wanted it back. I said no, I didn't want to ever see the thing again. He said ok. That was that. That was MANY years ago. I was 18 at the time.

As for other writing, I wrote a few poems in high school. A few short stories. After I got out of college, I wrote 3 really really bad novels, which I in fact figured out were really really bad, and I destroyed them. Then I wrote short stories for a few years -- had over 50 of those published in various places. Mostly in horror magazines, since that's the genre I was writing in. Then, at age 40, as if all of a sudden, a switch flipped inside my head, and I renounced short stories and started writing poems. Mostly homoerotic in content, spirit and theme. I've been doing that ever since, except for a creepy 6-year block of time that started around the age of 44, 45, or so, when I wrote NOTHING NOTHING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING because I was going through some kind of creative/existential crisis. Then, that passed, I started writing poems again, and I'm still doing it. During that 6-year block, a couple folks in particular, let me know that they missed my submissions, and me, and looked forward to when I would send them some new stuff: Michael Hathaway at Chiron Review, and Lee Thorn at FUCK!, in particular. I'll always feel good about the sense of interest and support I got from them.

CLJ: It sounds like you’ve seen your writing evolve over the years. What has changed? What has stayed the same?

Daniels: I like to think I've gotten better at describing what I want to describe. I like to think my images are richer and more vivid, and I can do more with less words. I like to think that anyway! (We all need our delusions, right? teehee. hee.) My interest in smolderingly hot sexy guys, and in the sexy things they do, alone, or together, has remained constant, I think. But now I'm more willing to wonder how a hot sexy guy and his hot sexy sexual activities relate to his place in the entire world, and relate to the way the world, the universe, everything, all of it!, works, in general (i.e., what does it matter that a hot sexy big-dicked guy is spurting his cum and his toes are tingling in a pleasant way when the planet Jupiter is being hit by a comet?). Also, I try to keep in mind that I hope my poems are mainly supposed to be fun, and not take themselves too seriously, but, sometimes, I find myself (and my poems) taking things pretty dern seriously. It's a weird place I'm in: not wanting my poems to take themselves too seriously, but, every now and then, I want to be taken seriously as an artist. Sort of a cognitive dissonance: laugh and chuckle through my sexy homoerotic poems, but take me very very seriously as an artist 'cause I KNOW what i'm doing! (Er, if I do know what I'm doing. And mainly I think I do know. Mainly.)

CLJ: I know you’re not a poet for the money, so what’s the pay-off? Is there a pay-off?

Daniels: This is a sort of like asking me why I write. Golly. Well, one of my favorite quotes, and I'm going to approximate it/paraphrase it here, because I'm waaaaaaay too lazy to actually look it up anywhere, is by some writer who said that he writes out of an infantile need for attention. He said, for him, writing was akin to stamping his feet and demanding to be noticed. Sheesh. I don't know if that's true of me. But I do write because it's fun. Honest to gosh, it's fun. And, it helps pass the time! There's a quote I like, and it's only tangentially related to your question, but I'll quote it here now anyway, and I do know the source of this one. Here's the quote: "Poetry and drink are the two greatest things on earth." --actor Richard Burton.

CLJ: You write, but also send out your work for publication; so, you must consider it worthy of an audience beyond yourself. Some might say that the submission process reflects the necessary, but self-congratulatory mind-set a writer looking for exposure needs. With that in mind, what does Carl Miller Daniels the reader think of Carl Miller Daniels the writer?

Daniels: One reason I think I submit my work is I know there's a lot of exciting art going on out there, and, when I submit my stuff and it gets published, I get to feel like I'm a part of what's going on out there. It's a feeling of connectedness that, real or imaginary, I do enjoy. But the FEELING of connectedness, that is a real feeling for me, no matter what, precisely, it is actually based on. Also, I've learned to trust many of the editors I work with, and I think when I send out a batch of poems, they'll be able to spot the good ones and spot the clunkers. I do of course try NOT TO send out the clunkers, but, well, sometimes a few do slip by, and sometimes I still have a difficult time standing back and dispassionately reading a poem of mine before I send it out, and saying, oh this is good, oh this is bad. Send this one out, don't send that one out. I know that a good editor won't have any trouble separating the good ones from the clunkers. A good editor will spot the good ones right away, and quietly and gently dismiss the clunkers.

Soooo... that brings me to your question, which I'm interpreting here to mean, "What do I think of my own work?" I think I write some good poems, and I think I write some clunkers. I enjoy reading my good poems, especially after they've been published and I know that an editor that I respect has confirmed my opinion of that poem. I like the feeling I get that the editor is taking pleasure in sharing that poem of mine with others, as I enjoy the feeling that others may be reading that poem, and enjoying it. Again, there's a feeling of connectedness I get when my work is published and I feel like I'm a part of the exciting art that's going on out there. It's a sense of communicating without having to have a potentially unsettling one-on-one, face-to-face, real-live human-to-human interaction. But that's another story....

CLJ: When and how did you first recognize your capacity to write well?

Daniels: So much of what I do and think about art comes from pure gut feeling. I felt in my gut that some of the stuff I was writing was pretty good, and I think the first acceptance letter bolstered my confidence. Also, I guess I took a bit of perverse pleasure in knowing that some of my stuff could be viewed as offensive to some folks/editors, and it got to the point where tempting a rejection letter from them was just kinda puckish fun on my part. Generally, though, I didn't want to waste anyone's time that much (including my own!) and tried to figure out the kinds of publications that might be open to my work, and pretty much submitted to them, and stayed with them. Generally, I find that places that publish the kinds of things I like to READ, also publish the kinds of things I WRITE. Examples: Zygote in my Coffee; Chiron Review; FUCK!; My Favorite Bullet; Nerve Cowboy; others. I pretty much always enjoy acceptance letters. Acceptance letters give me kind of a rush. (Almost like a gulp from a strong drink!) Rejection letters, in general, still kind of bring me down. I still receive both kinds of letters in the mail, and my guess is I always will.

fluorescent mangos
by. Carl Miller Daniels

nothing was obvious to him.
nothing was clear.
the smell of rainwater, so much like lavender.
the taste of whiskey, so
much like happiness.
how could he be this good-looking on the
and feel this bad
on this inside?
it just didn't make sense.
in the
heart of the forest, surrounded
by nothing but pretty things,
how could
he feel as bad as he felt?
nothing made sense.
nothing followed
logically from anything else.
sitting pretty and alone in his spiffy
surrounded by nothing but pretty things,
it would seem he
should feel, well,
better, wouldn't one think it would
work out that
that wispy beard he was growing,
was starting to seem like a good
he didn't know why, exactly.
but he decided to just let it grow.
might as well. meat on the
table, meat on his bones. where
was the
logic? perhaps in the marrow,
there in the long calcium tubes
with oil and
bits of salty red pepper.

(Originally published by Zygote In My Coffee. Permission to republish granted by the author.)

CLJ: Your biographical note in Zygote In My Coffee’s winter 2009 edition says that you’re an obsessive compulsive agoraphobe who is “a neurotic mess.” In your estimation, just how thin is the line between the creative act and madness?

Daniels: Oh I have fun playing up what a neurotic mess I am in the bio blurbs -- and sometimes I have fun playing it up in real-life too, to some extent. But, in reality, I really am kinda a mess. Jon, my lover -- he and I have been living together for over 30 years -- is a huge stabilizing influence in my life. He keeps me grounded, and, when I'm at my messiest, he just always seems to know what to do and say. He really is the sweetest man in the world, and I feel lucky that we're together. Anyhow, at my core of cores, I'm still a pretty big mess. It's true I have a history of manic depression and paranoia, and while I think that's all pretty much behind me (mostly), I do tend to be OCD and agoraphobic, as well a few other things, too! And yes, heavy drinking is involved. As to your question about how thin is the "line between the creative act and sheer madness" -- golly. I think that's a question that's never been fully answered by anyone, and I sure don't think I'm gonna be the guy that answers it! I don't know if artists tend to be nuttier than the general population. My guess is that, per capita, though, there probably are more nuts among the artists than among the rest of the not-so-artsy folks out there. Just a guess, though. Just an inkling. Call it a gut feeling!

CLJ: You talk about your lover, Jon, being a stabilizing influence in your life and it seems, based on your own commentary, that you need that evenness. Do you think stability is a balancing act between array and disarray? When it comes to your writing, how significant is stability? What do you think would happen to your poetry if you sank too far into order or too far into disorder?

Daniels: I love to flirt with absurdism. It's kinda fun. And it's kinda dangerous. It's nice to juxtapose a bunch of cool, possibly unrelated images to make a nice unified whole, if it all works out that a nice unified whole is the result, that is. Nihilism scares me, but I think it's fun to flirt with it in writing. I think some of my poems are extremely ordered, and that some of my poems are extremely disordered. If they work, they work. I try not to question too much. Again, it's a matter of gut instinct. I think gut instinct is pretty important.

CLJ: I get a sense of pornographic willy-nillyness when I read your poetry. That said, how important is your own experience as a subject for your poetry?

Daniels: I KNEW we'd get to this eventually! But I wasn't expecting the phrase "pornographic willy-nillyness!" Just plain ole "pornographic," yes. I was expecting that. But "pornographic willy-nillyness!?" OK, I love that an artist can totally blur the line between "pornography" and "art". And what, exactly, is "art" anyway? I'm not gonna really get into that one now -- Jon and I have discussed it endlessly, that question, what is art? -- but I will pause and offer my favorite quote at this moment: "It's not what you see that is art; art is the gap." -- Marcel Duchamp. Where was I? Oh, maybe pornography removes the gap! And maybe I like having that gap removed? Why is it that a depiction of a sexy big-dicked young man spurting cum, be that depiction verbal or otherwise, is deemed pornography? Culture, rules, mores, oh the times, oh the customs. Maybe I write porn. Maybe I don't. I think the "maybe" is the part that makes folks nervous. Me, I just write what I write. Yeah, often (VERY often!) there is the element of "homoeroticism" in my work. Is that a polite word for "gay porn?" Quite possibly. I don't know. Maybe I like blurring boundaries. Maybe I think I actually have that power. Maybe I want to make folks nervous. Maybe I think art SHOULD make folks nervous. Not that I think art has any particular "duty!" Golly, the thought that "art" has some duty makes me feel kind of sick, actually. Art should be free and willy-nilly! And as to your question "how important is your own experience as a subject for your poetry?" I think every writer is writing from his own experience, no matter what he's writing about. How can one escape one's own experience? And why would one want to, especially if one has had some good experiences, bad experiences, learning experiences? Everyone has had experiences of some kind. How they get converted to art is always a variable. Do I blather now? I blather. Right this minute, somewhere in some locked sunny bedroom, a sweet sexy big-dicked young man is happily spurting cum. That's an image I've learned to savor, and not repress.

CLJ: If non-human animals wrote poetry what kind of animal poetry do you think you’d be attracted to? I’ve always felt a profound connection with the feral Valais Blackneck goat, and at times with the Stiefelgeiss goat, but that’s just me.

Daniels: This question is kinda out there, isn't it? Are you drinking what I'm currently drinking (Jim Beam bourbon 'n' Canada Dry ginger ale, gently mixed, over ice)? Anyhow, if animals wrote poetry, I think I'd like to read poems written by...skunks! Actually, I've written poems ABOUT skunks. But if skunks were WRITING the poetry, I think they'd have an intriguing viewpoint of being able to spray their way out of tough situations, and of roaming through the night, looking for food and sex and stuff, and mostly knowing trouble was running the other way. I'd like to read a skunk's description of digging up a nice juicy worm, and how yummy and tasty that worm was, the texture, how it writhed and struggled as it went down the tube! The goat names you mentioned sound intriguing. Goats have cool eyes. Horizontal pupils as I recall. And if I remember correctly, the young males are fertile and capable of fucking at something like 3 weeks of age! Again, memory fuzzes as I get older. But that number of weeks in a young male goat's life seems to stick in my memory cells. Who knows if it's right or wrong, though. Ah well. Still a fun figure, no?

CLJ: If one wanted to become a scholar in Carl Miller Daniels where would be a good place to start: Museum Quality Orgasm, Shy Boys at Home, or something else?

Daniels: I love those two chapbooks. They are the only chapbooks I've ever done. I'm pretty lazy when it comes to chapbooks. I'm pretty dern lazy when it comes to everything for that matter! The editors of those two chapbooks were willing to work gently and supportively with me and my laziness. Anyhow! Yeah, those two chapbooks would be a nice place to start. And you know what, good ole' Google is a nice place too. If someone does a search on "Carl Miller Daniels" then links to quite a few of my brand-new poems that have been recently published on-line will show up. On-line zines that I've particularly grown to love are Zygote in my Coffee and My Favorite Bullet. Also, in terms of paper publications, I'm slated to be on the cover of the Autumn 2009 Chiron Review. That cover article will include photographs, an interview, and lots of my brand-new poems. And actually I'm told there is a new chapbook of mine in the works, being produced by an editor who I really love. Don't want to jinx things and talk about that one too much, though. Sometimes I think it's better to talk about stuff after it's already happened. Shouldn't have mentioned Chiron Review should I? Ah well. Tempting fate yet again aren't I? Actually, not so much this time, since I just went to the Chiron Review website and saw that Editor Michael Hathaway just announced that issue #88, featuring me on the cover, was mailed out September 9, 2009. So that sounds rather definite, huh?

CLJ: Where do you think your literary future will take you? Is anything in the works at the moment?

Daniels: I just want to keep writing what I want to write. I don't see any money, any entrepreneurial success, in all this. If I were doing this for the money, I would have quit long ago. I do it for love. Artists who are successful entrepreneurs as well as being artists continue to amaze me. I am in awe of them. Then again, some of those artists produce a product that is in higher demand than exuberant, free-spirited, and possibly absurdist, in-your-face, homoerotic poems! But the places that publish my work, don't tend to pay money to me or to anybody! That's just the way it is in small press. Everybody's in it for love, and those who eventually find themselves making money with what they produce, well, they awe and amaze me, and I'm pretty dern sure I'll never be one of them. As to what's in the works: I've got A BUNCH of brand-new poems out there on various editors' desks (including yours!), and I am eagerly awaiting their decisions! Also, I just now mentioned (see above!) there seems to be a new chapbook of mine in the works, and then there's that Autumn 2009 Chiron Review with me on the cover.

CLJ: What is the answer to the question I should have asked you, but didn’t?

Daniels: I thought the questions you asked me were hard, and I wanted you to ask me at least one easy question!!!! Example: "Carl, what is your favorite color?" Answer: It is green! A rich verdant green!! Such as the color seen on a blanket of ancient moss growing on a massive flat rock deep in the forest. And, on top of that rich verdant green blanket of moss, there is a stark naked handsome big-dicked college sophomore boy who is lying on his back and happily sunning himself and exploring oh-so-gently the smooth furry texture of his lightly wrinkled scrotum! Duh! Hey, that question was fun! And so was the answer. The answer is green! A rich dark verdant green!!

Carl Miller Daniels' poems have appeared in Chiron Review; FUCK!; Nerve Cowboy; Pearl; Poetry Super Highway; Poetz; Slipstream; Strangeroad; Swell; Wormwood Review; Zen Baby; Zygote in my Coffee; and 5AM, to name a few. Daniels has had two chapbooks published in the past dozen years or so: Shy Boys at Home (published by Chiron Review Press), and Museum Quality Orgasm (published by Future Tense Books). Daniels lives in ruggedly masculine Homerun, Virginia.

Joseph Osel is a critical theorist and poet. He is the founding Literary Editor of The Commonline Journal and an Editor for Int'J of Radical Critique. His forthcoming poetry collection is called Catastrophe-In-Miniature: Poetry in Fatal Tense (2016-17).