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10 Questions for David Moolten

We stayed together like two voices
trying to find each other in the dark.
She had an uncle like a father to her
except when like a king he made her
bow her head, and if he held it
to his groin it was in a secret life
she kept from no one save herself. . . .
—from "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," Volume 61, Issue 2

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
One of the first mature pieces I had published was a poem called “Trajectories,” about a boy diagnosed with cancer and his relationship with his mother. I was at that time dealing with such a diagnosis. I wasn't a boy. I was twenty-six, but scared, felt I'd suddenly regressed in certain ways. At the same time, the diagnosis shook my sensibilities, brought urgency and focus to my writing. It was a liminal experience I fortunately survived.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Some writers I've admired obsessively and hope to have acquired through osmosis a few charmed molecules, include Vallejo for his plaintive surrealism, Derek Walcott his boundless palette, Philip Levine his feisty plainspokenness, Gerald Stern his filibustering reveries, Louise Gluck her terse, omniscient camera.

What other professions have you worked in?
To name a few, I've been a paperboy, worked the grill in a fast food restaurant, sold vacuum cleaners, been an orderly in a nursing home, a security guard at a chemical plant, a package delivery driver, a glassware washer in a laboratory. Currently, I am a physician specializing in transfusion medicine and blood banking, and have lately been involved with the effort to make convalescent plasma available for treating patients with COVID 19.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I hoped to someday be Spiderman.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I've used fairy tales as a resource for a number of my poems. I look for situational metaphor, something real that riffs off the story and finds ironic synergy. “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” relies on lived experiences. It's driven by memory and regret over my helplessness in handling a partner's trauma and grief.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Boston, where I grew up. Puerto Rico, where I grew up in the summertime; my mother was Puerto Rican. Philadelphia, where I now live. My poems don't rely tremendously on geography, but are affected in their scenes and atmosphere by locations I have known.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Any music I like (and I like most genres) can at times gin up the passion inspiring a particular poem. Other times, in fact most of the time, I like silence. It depends. I think music helps me more in the earlier stages, when I'm trying to fling words on the page and want to go for broke. If I'm sitting around getting neurotic about word choice, it's a distraction.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Wake before everyone, open the windows if at all possible. I need a breeze. I need solitude. I need birdsong and coffee.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Film. I find poetry to be a very cinematic experience both as a writer and a reader. I did in fact make a short film motivated by a poem years ago. It played at a number of festivals. I swore I'd keep at it, but never did. I think the poem, not surprisingly, carried the film, which consisted of my own simplistic animations; but one of these days...

What are you reading right now?
The Largesse Of The Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson. Poetry-wise, I'm reading Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky and Poems Seven: New and Complete Poetry by Alan Dugan.


DAVID MOOLTEN's most recent book, Primitive Mood (2009), won the T. S. Eliot Prize from the Truman State University Press.  He lives & writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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