VOICES: When did you start writing poetry, and why did you start?
DP: According to my mother I was around five years old. It was about some daisies growing outside my bedroom window where we lived in Kentucky. I handed it to her and just walked away. And that was that. I’d started down the path. And I never looked back. I had my first poem published when I was twelve in the local newspaper. It made me a celebrity of sorts among my school classmates.
Later in high school I wrote a poem for our senior yearbook that was printed on the first page. I thought it was cool because they had superimposed it over a picture of some girl blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. I was kind of embarrassed and happy about it at the same time. Girls used to tell me I talked funny because my vocabulary was so big. Because of this I started to talk in shorter sentences and use smaller words except when I wrote the poems. I always had a poetry journal going. In college I received a scholarship to edit the school’s literary magazine. I came into contact with many poets then like Anne Sexton and Ginsberg and Wendell Berry and Susan Fromberg Schaeffer and Lyn Lifshin. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Once we were in a dorm room together with a bunch of other hippie like fellow young men and young women and Allen and I were singing LIKE A ROLLING STONE by Bob Dylan with what I thought was tremendous serious musical enthusiasm. When the applause died down he turned to me and softly said through one side of his hand: that’s not how He plays it. I was somehow greatly taken aback by this crazy out of place remark. My reply: but that’s exactly how Darryl Price plays it. He gave me one of those goofy little elongated smiles from behind his thick little glasses that made his eyes look like marbles and we both let the whole thing drop. But I never forgot the moment.
I still have a postcard Anne Sexton sent me with a drawing of a flower on it. But being a poet was never easy. It alienated just as many people as it attracted. And it made guys with girlfriends very jealous. So I decided to try to write songs instead. I started out in folk groups and moved to rock as I went from acoustic to electric and back again. There are still tapes floating around. My daughter likes to listen to them. Nobody else gives a hoot that I know of.
VOICES: You have quoted people as varied as Kafka, Seneca, Vonnegut, and The Beatles, and you clearly draw inspiration from the wisdom of others. Who are some people who inspire you most (writers or otherwise), and where else do you find inspiration?
DP: My biggest inspiration comes from nature. I’m also inspired by music as you have already stated. My love of the Beatles is legendary among my family members. But the truest inspiration for me is simple; wind, leaves, stars, meadows, lakes, boats, clouds, bees, flowers, basically anything that moves catches my poetic attention. And a certain kind of headspace that is hard to describe. Sometimes I’ll just be walking along and it will hit me; I can write right now. It’s a feeling I get.
Another great influence was Jennifer Bosveld, founder of Pudding House (the largest literary small press in America) for never wavering in her dedication to poets and poetry her entire life. She has inspired countless individuals from all walks of life to be creative and to express themselves through the art of poetry. She is a champion of the highest literary order.
This might sound funny but people are also an inspiration for me because I want to say something to them that will ease their pain at living. I want to pronounce words of comfort and healing that help us celebrate being here together. Although of course just like the next guy sometimes I’m just frustrated or sad and end up writing something about that — but that is not what I intend in my heart of hearts. There I want to simply add to the volume of beauty already in the world, give my yes, and back out quietly and go home and drink a beer.
VOICES: When you are writing poetry, do you consider the form, the message, or the language most important?
DP: I consider the words most important, and not just what I am saying, but the how. I often go back and forth over certain words — to see if I can come up with something more colorful, more interesting, more original, more fun. Form for me is an art that I enjoy that’s different than the coming up with of words. I enjoy playing with it because it makes me happy to make something beautiful in a shape.
As for the message it’s pretty much the same. We are talking about the human condition or what the world looks like through that lens and searching for purpose. The one thing we can all agree on is that we are in this condition together — some suffering more than others I realize — but its beginning and end are the same.
VOICES: As you have noted, Wallace Stevens said, “Poetry is the supreme fiction.” Tell us a little more about the association between poetry and fiction for you, and also the idea of truth in fiction and poetry — another theme Stevens pondered.
DP: When I first read Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist I thought of it as a poem. I read it as a poem. It might be called something else by others but to me it was just a very very long poem. The best fiction for me always has passages in it that are pure poetry. How could it be otherwise? When you hit that mark of truth and beauty it passes over I think at least for me to the poetry side. Truth is tricky because it’s always changing but I think you know it when it hits you. When the right combination of words and thoughts and images come together to form a thing you can’t deny. To deny it would turn you into someone or something false. My triangle of poetry’s purpose — for me — is truth, beauty and goodwill.
VOICES: You’re from Kentucky originally. Does geography influence your poetry? Does your immediate environment?
DP: Absolutely. I grew up in the country. We had no choice but to interact with nature. Cooperation was key but also full of many wild surprises. When I was in college I would tell others about the many strange and wonderful plants and animals I had encountered in my childhood from snakes to chipmunks to opossums, and many of them shook their heads in disbelief. It wasn’t in their own vocabulary, their own experience. Many had never seen a luna moth underneath a porchlight — the real thing, not a picture in a book –something you could touch and hold and marvel over. And more animals too: foxes,frogs,wolves,horses,cows. All kinds of cats and dogs of course. Also we had many different- color lightning bugs rising up out of the fields and grasses at dusk (along with your regular regiment of little brown bats and the occasional owl of some sort). You had your regular yellows of course but also blues, greens, and reds. You heard me right. It was considered good luck to find one of these rare beauties.
One time I decided to give my Mom a unique gift. I spent the whole day picking butterflies off the flowers outside and putting them in the house. I considered it a kind of living art poem. They weren’t afraid of people back then. I must have been pretty little because I remember having to reach to get to the tops of the flowers. The butterflies could be plucked off as easy as pinching a blade of grass, only softer. When my Mom saw what I had done she went ballistic and told me to get those “insects” out of her house, pronto, although she did not use nice words to express her desire to have all the butterflies removed as quickly as possible by me. I made sure each and every one was returned to the great outdoors to fly their colors around for another day. Another mom. But I was crushed by my defeat to impress her with this dazzling gift.
I still try to remind myself to look up at the sky. So many people never do. They miss the stars, the moon, the clouds and rainbows. It gives you great perspective against the onslaught of the ego.
VOICES: You express vivid and powerful reflections from simple, everyday things. Does a simple thing evoke the reflection, or does it work the other way round? Or is the process completely different?
DP: It’s our world. If we are to find wonder then here’s as good a place to start as any and why not start with what we’ve got? If we can’t find the answers right where we are then all is lost. Of course I believe, as much as I like to travel, home is as good a place as any to experience the miracle of living out a poem or inspirational moment on the earth as a man.
VOICES: Finally, please tell us (if you’d like) about what you’re presently writing, or about your next project.
DP: I’m always working on a new poem. Always. My biggest fear is that I will end up like poor Emily Dickinson with a drawer full of poems that somebody discovers after I’m gone. That’s why even though I have a crippling fear of putting my stuff out there in the real world I still continue to do it.
: Anything we’ve left out?
DP: Poetry is a voice and a way for that voice to carry. But it doesn’t do the work of living compassionately or beautifully or with appreciation for you. You have to give it your own mind and heart to truly receive its gifts, but it’s worth it.
VOICES: Thank you, Darryl Price, for sharing your poetry and your beautiful voice and vision with our readers here on VOICES.