Poetry, Prose, & Profit Series: Daniel B. Summerhill
“My mother told me I used to talk to angels in my room. I may have been asking them if they’d seen you.”
- 19 Letters to My Father
Interview by: Chiereme Fortune
Daniel, such a strong name. What would you say are your strengths? How do you handle your weaknesses?
Knowing I have a lot of work to do! Knowing I am weak in many areas and not neglecting those things and embracing that is 80% of the battle. I have a lot of work to do to become a better writer and a better human being before I die.
How would you describe yourself? Writer, Poet, or Performer?
I am a poet first. I write shit down...pretty often and I always have. I haven't always performed poems, but performing poems adds another level of liberation. But usually, when folks ask what I do, I say I am a poet. Being a poet is at the root of me being a performer. I am a poet first and most importantly.
When were you introduced poetry? What drew you to the art form?
My oldest sister left behind a photo-album full of poems she had written in high school. I picked it up, read through them and I was amazed that words could have so much pulse and power. From there, the rest is history. My whole freshman year of high school, I spent all of my lunch and free time in the middle of fields writing and reading. Mostly Baldwin and Neruda.
To answer the second question- the pulse and power is what drew me in. I’ve always been a quiet dude until I have something to say, and typically I say it on paper. Words have more purpose that way for me. The rawness and bareness of poetry is appealing. Poetry is the only medium that is timeless. You can read a Shakespeare sonnet today and it would still be applicable. There aren't many mediums that exist that way.
Why is it so important to express yourself in a world that just wants us to consume?
God made me in his image, which means I have an obligation to create. Some of those creations may be terrible, but I still have that duty. I also have a “duty to reflect the times,” as Nina Simone would say. Not sure how much of a comparison it is, but rather the awareness that I have a responsibility to myself to write things down.
Hell, even consumerism is an expression- it may not be as creative as writing a poem or choreographing a dance, but even consuming is a conscious act of expression.
How do you keep going with your creative pursuits in seasons of discouragement or distraction?
Making sure I have goals and values. Those are my pillars, and no matter what is going on around me, as long as I look at those goals and values, I never get lost. Of course there are times when I get side-tracked or tripped up; however, I never lose sight because I have the same goals and values.
Self-affirmation is huge for artists and writers, in particular. Find ways to surround yourself with folks that are where you want to be and then pick their brain. Find people who genuinely care about you becoming the best you and then annoy them with your presence. But also, take time to be alone and tell yourself how dope you are!
What role does belief or faith play in your writing and in your life?
God is everything. He provided me with the game plan, I just have to execute (the hard part). Folks think they’re finding salvation in poems I write, but they're really finding the God in my poems. Believe it or not….
Tell us about your first poetry performance. What was going through your mind?
I am about to bleed in front of strangers.
What would you tell other Black Millennial Men about writing, telling their story and making their voice heard?
Be honest with yourself. Take time to self-reflect, cry, laugh, and frown. Be every black man that society doesn't allow you to be. Those are the narratives that need to be written. The stories of black men in love or black men loving one another. That is a story I’d spend my last dollar on. Those are the stories we need. That is a reflection of the time.
A large part of my critical thesis for grad school revolved around authentic voice and fostering that in black male writers. It is important to include those narratives as they are often silenced. Toni Morrison said, “the presence of black people is inherent,” and that is true for black writers as well. Their voice IS America and IS the narrative of this country even if it isn't published as much as it should be. Those are the voices that need to be fostered.
Let’s talk about the practical side of performance art. Gigs, pitches, marketing. What’s your advice on full-time creative work?
It's a grind- the first stages can be daunting because America doesn't value art. You have to do a lot of homework about marketing, advertising, performing, the craft, etc. Being a full-time artist forces you to be multifaceted while still being a creative.
Don't be discouraged and always take the initiative. In order to truly promote your art form, you have to be your biggest fan. You may have to sacrifice some sleep or some other responsibilities. Make sure your art is number one no matter what. Don't sacrifice the art.
Push your work to everyone and everything. There will be a lot of rejection and a lot of judgment; however, when you have your opportunities, it will pay off.
Many writers consider getting a MFA at one point or another. Tell us why it’s important to you and how you plan to use it.
Don’t take advice from anyone concerning getting your MFA. Some folks discourage you for monetary/career assumptions and other see no value in MFA’s. I decided to get my MFA because I love writing and I want to become a better writer. That's it. I do plan on teaching full time at the collegiate level; however, the MFA wasn’t the determining factor in that, just an addition to the resume.
Get your MFA because you love the craft because you're interested in contributing to the advancement of the literary community.
I plan on creating platforms for black writers to write authentically without being rejected by the literary canon and without being subject to one version of “good writing.”
Last bit of advice for writers and creative hustlers on craft, hustle, and purpose?
About six years ago, I spent nearly three years working 9-5 jobs and didn't have much time to write or be an artist at all. I aged fast. I was depressed. I wasn't happy. It wasn't until I decided that I didn't want to work just to pay bills and get old that I decided that I wanted to be an Artist Entrepreneur. I decided that no matter what it took, I would do what made me happy. Poetry is what makes me happy, and when you do what makes you happy, the hustle isn't as taxing and the rewards are greater.
Be a student, learn everything there is to know about your craft, whatever that is. Be diligent. Create routines. Find your rhythm. Break that rhythm, and then create a new rhythm. That is true freedom.
Please list links to where we can find you and follow your glow-up:
Youtube- Daniel B. Summerhill