An Interview with Donovan Hufnagle

  • What’s your favorite thing you have written?

All my pieces, collections, and books are like my children; they each fill a special space—I favor not one more than the other. How could a parent pick their favorite child? My first book, The Sunshine Special, will always be my first. The book tells the story of my great uncle, like a grandfather to me, traveling by train in 1920 from Fort Worth, Texas, to Los Angeles, California and back. He meets his future wife along the way, a love they have held for over 50 years. It is written in the style of a journal interrupted by letters and telegrams. The Sunshine Special is my favorite because it allowed me to tell his story. Shoebox, my second collection tells a poetic story of a woman, who was adopted from Russia as an infant and who now struggles with depression and dysplasia. This is my favorite book because it tells her story. My third collection, 30 Days of 19, was written during the first 30 days of the covid quarantine. I inverted the haiku from 17 syllables to 19. Each poem represents a daily snapshot of my world. Each poem is juxtaposed with a tweet about the pandemic and the total case and death numbers. This book is my favorite because it is my mom’s favorite. My current book, Raw Flesh Flash: The Incomplete, Unfinished Documenting Of, is a poetic scrapbook investigating the universal narratives of tattoos. Through the voice of artist or canvas, survivor or prisoner, you or I—the collection captures the personal and shared accounts of the people part of the tattoo ethos. As poet Kristen Prevallet says, the book is “a careful poetic ethnography of tattooed bodies and the stories that they tell.” This book is my favorite because it tells their stories.

  • What’s your favorite thing that someone else has written?

This is also a difficult answer. I have some of my influences off the top of my head, such as Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, Ed Sanders, Langston Hughes, C.S. Lewis, Derek Walcott, George Oppen, Frank O’Hara, Yusef Komunyaka, Allen Ginsberg, Alice Walker, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor to name just a short list of many. I have some contemporary loves such as Tony Hoagland, Kim Adddonizio, Campbell McGrath, CD Wright, Dean Young, Mark Nowak, Tyehimba Jess, Anne Carson, Brenda Coultas, Kristen Prevallet, Joseph Harrington, Cornelius Eady, Chris Abani, Natasha Trethewey, Peter Levitt, Sherman Alexie, Mark Doty, Denis Johnson, George Saunders…oh my there are so many to name. I could go on and on. To sum this up, I have two favorite books of all time. I think. My first love is The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. And my second love is the book that I read (and sang) to all three of my children, The Best Nest by P.D. Eastman.

  • What are you working on writing now?

I have several projects in the works. And that’s my biggest problem. Well, I think it’s a problem. Whenever I start something new, another idea pops in my head. I have a list of projects on my refrigerator. And that list grows and grows like a beanstalk, twisting and twisting into the air, into the clouds, with no end in sight. I guess it will keep me busy for years to come, but every time I cross one off, another two, three, or ten pop up. Will I ever find that golden egg? But, to answer your question, I have several seeds in the ground, but the one that I keep trying to water the most is a poetic narrative about my grandfather and his farm. My grandfather on my father’s side worked an orange and avocado farm for many years until he had to retire. Age, NAFTA, family, or for some other reasons, he had to sell the farm. I want to tell you the memories that I had from visiting. The book starts with the day we traveled to the farm to help clear the pile of junk on the side of the ranch house…That’s enough for now. You’ll have to wait for the book for the rest.

  • Do you have a favorite food or drink that helps you write?

Coffee. To tell the truth, I do drink too much coffee, but I don’t have a magic food or drink that shrinks me into a doll-sized person, so I can cross the threshold into Wonderland. I wish I did. Speaking of coffee. I think I need a cup right now.

  • What’s your favorite kind of music?

Drive with me in my car, and we could listen to Clutch or Corrosion of Conformity, Metallica or AC/DC, Frank Black or Bad Religion, Tom Waits or Ezra Furman, Alice in Chains or Nirvana, Dr. Dre or Ice Cube or really anything that strikes me at the time. But one of my inspirations is listening to music, singing the lyrics or what I think are the lyrics, and that is what I love. Misinterpretation of lyrics. I can’t tell you how many lines I have recycled by misinterpreting lyrics.

  • Forest, country, beach, or city?

I grew up by the beach. I’m a California native. I surfed all the time, so my response must be the beach. However, the forest is a great escape, a place to dream, and a place to lose time. I spend more time in the forest now than on the beach, so I guess my response, then, is the forest. But wait, I now live in Fort Worth, Texas, which is a city and country, kind of. A juxtaposition of new and old. Cowboy hat and ballcap. Concrete and Mother Nature. Stone and Flower. Cold and warm. To steal the words from William Carlos Williams’s, Patterson, “A man like a city and a woman like a flower—who are in love.” So, it looks like my response is—to love the place I am and am not.

  • What movie can you watch over and over again?

I have a horrible habit; I can’t fall asleep without the TV on. And I have strict criteria for what can be played while I try to fall asleep: 1) it must be a film. Television shows are interrupted by commercials, and those commercials are louder, so it is difficult to try and fall asleep to sitcoms or television dramas; 2) It must be something I have seen before. If it is new, I become too interested and, again, can’t fall asleep; 3) It must be something I am interested in but not too interested in; 4) it must be something my wife doesn’t hate; and 5) it is usually in the realm of fantasy or Sci-Fi. Not always, but usually. I watched Independence Day almost every night for months. It’s not allowed in the house anymore.

  • What would you like people to know about being an Indie author?

Well, I am not an independent author, so I am not sure how to answer this question. My current book, Raw Flesh Flash: The Incomplete, Unfinished Documenting Of, was the winner of a book contest, which was published by Uncollected Press.

  • When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Honestly, I don’t really remember what I wanted to be. Probably a rock star or a surfer. I definitely didn’t want to be an English Professor and a writer. LOL

  • What does the writing process look like for you?

I’m not a daily writer. Well, at least I am not a daily writer in the traditional sense. I don’t sit down in front of my computer and start typing. A page or two a day. A poem or two a day. I’ve tried to be that type of writer, but my life nor my brain works that way. Instead, I write in my head daily. I think about it and think about it, planning, developing, and editing until it is ready to be typed out. Then I purge it all out. Once it is typed, I let it sit. A day. Two days. A week. A month. Once I’m ready to step back into the ring, I develop and edit some more. If I think it is finished, I ask (beg) my wife to read it. If she likes it, it is good. If she has questions, I know it needs more work. 

  • Do you have a blog, and what content do you post?

I have a website: I write journals when I have the chance. I have tried to write at least once a month. But as I answer this question, I realize I am a little behind this month. Anyway, I usually write about writing or the things that have inspired me to write. For instance, I just wrote about documentary poetry, which is mostly the style of my writing. The blog “The Truth and Dare of Documentary Poetry” is about why I love documentary poetry and the reasons I write in that style. The previous post, “Prerequisite: Poetry Before Chicken,” is about using a poetic mindset to not only write poetry but using it to think about all types of writing. It is an experiment I’m working on with my own students. I posted some of the sonnets they wrote for the class. The next blog is going to be about my experience with my two oldest children wanting tattoos. Since I have many tattoos, both arms are sleeved, and my legs are covered as well, I really didn’t have an argument against allowing my 18 and 19-year-old to get tattoos. But those “old” stereotypes still came into play.

  • Where do you get inspiration?

All over, but as I wrote in my last blog post on my website, I don’t wait for inspiration; I find inspiration through research. Here is a portion of what I wrote:

I do have fits or fists of inspiration hitting me. Through dreams, music, car rides, or whatever, it invades my poetic drive. However, inspiration is not like dinner, which I regularly eat almost every night. Inspiration is more like the weather in Texas. Hot and cold, sometimes during the same day. Docupoetry requires some or a lot of research. In this way, I’m searching for inspiration. And within research, I don’t have to wait for random punches; I actively seek inspiration, ideas to write about, and ideas to always keep me in the fight.

  • What about writing do you enjoy the most?

It’s not that I enjoy writing…Now, don’t take this the wrong way; I do enjoy writing but writing for me is something that I must do. It is therapy. It is a sport. It is a way to communicate the things I can’t verbally speak about. It’s a locksmith for my memories. It’s binoculars for the far away and a telescope for the up-close. It’s my family. It’s my lover. It’s my mistress. It’s a stranger and my best friend. It is the darkness and the light. It’s the pain and the pleasure. It’s a fantasy and a reality. From a practical standpoint, though, I enjoy the clicking of the keys.

  • What is the most challenging part of writing for you?

I believe I mentioned this in a previous question, but I tend to have too many ideas in my head at once. Before I finish a project, others pop into the equation. I want to write a science fiction novel. I want to write a novel about a friend, his marriage, and his eventual death. I want to write a coming-of-age novel set at a beach house. I want to write a collection of poems dealing with WPA narratives. I want to write a collection of collaborative poems. I want to write a book about poetry and college composition. And so on. My challenge with writing is time—and time management.

  •  How have you grown as a writer?

My first poem I ever wrote was about death. I only remember it because the student-teacher of my class asked me to read it in front of the class. It was horrible. I mean bad. Really bad. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think all first poems are about death, and, probably, all first poems need to die a quick death. I am joking, of course, but from where I started to where I am now is really night and day, death to life (I still write about death, though). Many things have changed over the years, and age has its benefits. Reading and reading some more has helped me grow as a writer. Education, too. But really, I think understanding has played the most important role. I understand more than ever that my writing is what it is. I understand that I can’t please everyone. I understand that not everyone will like my writing. I understand that the publishing world is mostly subjective. I understand my audience better. And I understand myself better.

2 Comments on “An Interview with Donovan Hufnagle

  1. Pingback: Raw Flesh Flash: The Incomplete, Unfinished Documenting Of by Donovan Hufnagle (May-June 2023) |

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