Poet Dan Sklar seems to be a man who enjoys life. He is not a brooding, booze-swilling tortured artist, but a middle-aged man with an engaging smile, and an unabashed love for the written word. Sklar, the author of the poetry collection “Hack Writer” is the head of Creative Writing at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass, the faculty editor of the undergraduate literary magazine “The Endicott Review,” a published poet, playwright, and kibitzer of the first order. Sklar’s poetry has appeared in the “Harvard Review,” “Ibbetson Street” and many small press journals. Sklar is a great admirer of little magazines, and uses them as a teaching tool in his classes at the college.
I talked with Sklar on my Somerville Community Access TV program: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer:”
Doug Holder: Dan being a small press freak myself, I am impressed by use of small press journals in the classroom. What’s the method behind your madness?
Dan Sklar: I think that students really do better when they read poems from people who are alive. There is an urgency there—a real life urgency. They say: “Hey—I know what that person is talking about.” I mean they dig Walt Whitman and Charles Bukowski, but as Gertrude Stein said “the contemporary is the thing.’ What’s happening in our time—that’s what I like to use. There so many gems out there that someday will be classics.
DH: What do you read?
DS: I read every small press magazine I get. I read mostly small press magazines, but yes, I do read “The New Yorker.”
DH: Any favorite small press journals:
DS: I like the “Main St. Rag,” and “Free Verse.”
DH: You have ambitions for an MFA program at Endicott College. You say you want it “non-competitive.” What do you mean by that?
DS: It’s interesting. Many of these MFA programs say: “highly competitive.” The students are competing against themselves. Our feeling is that students write better when they feel safe. You feel safe to express yourself. You take more risks. You don’t have to best the other guy.
DH: You know how brutal workshops can be. How will you foster constructive, supportive criticism?
DS: Someone who is serious about writing will come to it on their own, without me saying anything. The more they read, etc… it will come to pass. I have had students come to me with these poems—and they are bad. They are full of clichés and sentimental. Do you know how many poems end with: “I will love you forever!” With these people, I talk with them and see how serious they are. If they are serious I’ll tell them to take a writing class. I never criticize. Instead of that I ask them to get into details, description etc… If I criticize them too much they will become guarded.
DH: You write that your playwrighting style is in the “Absurdist” school. Explain.
DS: I like characters to be so quirky. I want them to say what they are thinking and feeling at the moment. I am not worried about what goes along with the plot. The characters have to be “characters.” I let the characters be who they fully are. But not ordinary.
The plots always turn out absurd. But they start out ordinary. There are so many plots. But my concern is to have the characters fully imagined.
DH: In your poem “Something to be a Hack” from your collection “Hack Writer” you use the sight of your son putting your manuscript on a shelf to give the reader an insight into your philosophy of your writing life.
DS: I’m not sure why I write. I’m not doing it for fame. I am doing it because I am compelled to do it. I didn’t know where I was going with that poem—I just saw my son stacking manuscripts.
DH: Can you talk about the art/expansion at Endicott, particularly the college’s affiliation with “the new renaissance” lit mag?
DS: When you approached me about a home for tnr at Endicott, I thought it sounded great—not much chance—but I thought I would try. “the new renaissance” is a wonderful, eclectic magazine. It is a magazine that has art, covers politics, and presents poetry.
DH: And the new Arts Center?
DS: Yes a new, big center for the arts is in the making. It will include a Black Box theatre, art studios, high tech publishing workshops, you name it...