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FG: How were you introduced to writing?
DB: My writing is mostly my old teacher's fault. From nursery, I went to a Waldorf school, where topics like math and science were substituted for Norse mythology and astrology. It wasn't a very rich school, but that didn't matter, because all the students needed was the huge forest next to the school. In lieu of expensive textbooks, our teacher read books to us as we rested on blankets on the floor.
Reading became my favorite part of the school day. Before long, I figured out that I could make stories as well. After our teacher read us the Narnia books, I wrote my own story about an alternate fantasy world; when she moved on to the Percy Jackson series, I tried my hand with tales about greek gods. I wrote so voraciously that I often didn't have time to finish a project before I was on to the next.
Shortly thereafter, our teacher introduced us to poetry, and there was no stopping me then. I fell in love with the freedom of the form, its ability to tell a fantastical narrative or a private introspection. Eventually, I left the Waldorf school for an art-focused high school where I studied creative writing and learned of even more creative forms, but I still owe everything to my teacher back there. Not only did my school give me my passion for writing, but it also gave me an experimental approach for my work (as well as the fond memories I write about to this day).
FG: Those teachers are so important to the development of young writers and artists! Since then, what has influenced your writing? Who inspires you?
DB: Though I don't have to pick a teen or writer to answer this, my main inspirations are teen writers. I'm surrounded by extremely talented young minds at the art high-school I attend, and even outside of there, young writers constantly amaze me (such as Adriane Tharp, Emma Camp, Kathryn Hargett, and many more). They prove to me that writing is a field where everyone can speak, not only pretentious old guys with tons of degrees (no offense to pretentious old guys with tons of degrees, but you know what I mean). There's a constant pressure when surrounded by so much young creativity, but it's a pressure that keeps me producing work so I can keep up.
FG: It's very easy to burn out from such a pressure to write, and even easier to compare yourself to others in creative environments like your high school. However, you seem to be taking it in stride with the recent release of your book, In Migration, as well as the numerous publications of your poetry. Tell us about the writing process of In Migration: what inspired you to begin it? Did you face any creative "Blokhs" (blocks)? How did you go about organizing the essays in the book?
DB: In Migration was conceived when I began ninth grade and took my first class of creative
nonfiction. I had fallen in love with fiction and poetry in the past, but I had known of those
genres' existences long before I began to write in them. Discovering creative nonfiction
was like coming across an unexplored universe. I had never read or wrote in the form before,
and yet it seemed perfect for me, combining the enticing narrative structure of fiction and
the lyricism I loved in poetry. I had a lot of anxieties and concerns that time of year, and
the genre of creative nonfiction let me take those worries, explore them, and turn them
From that point on, the semester was a blur that I came out of with a handful of essays.
My teacher (Iris Rinke-Hammer, wonderful person) loved them, and told me to submit
to the Books-A-Million Publishing Contest. I submitted the collection on a whim, and
that was that.
When I sent my work in, I had no hope in the possibility of winning. When, months later,
I found out my book had won and was to be published, I knew there was work to do. I
spent days sorting through possible title fonts. I reordered my essays, then re-reordered
them, and so on. This went on for weeks, mostly because these were the last things
that could change the book's impact on reader. I could have edited the essays themselves,
but for me that was out of the question. The collection was a record of all my anxieties at
the time of writing it. I didn't want to alter that, no matter how many typos I had made.
So finally, I chose an order and went with it, sent the final draft of the manuscript to my
publisher, and it was smooth sailing from there on. It's odd to say this, but I believe that writing my collection
with no hope of winning the contest was a great gift. If I had written the book after getting the publishing deal, I would have pored over each word just as long as I did the order of those essays, and gone through a lot more creative "blokhs." But when I wrote those essays, I wrote them mostly for myself, to figure out my life and worries. Of course, careful writing and revising is very important and something I do to this day, but for In Migration, I just kind of had to let it run free.
FG: Do you have any other passions? Any projects you’re working on?
DB: I just got recruited as an editor for Parallel Ink (check it out!), which is really exciting. Outside
of the literary world, I'm a huge fan of movies and music, both consuming and creating. I've
made a fair amount of amateur short films with friends that I'm pretty proud
of, but I also recently participated in a film festival youth group, where the goal was to
write, shoot, and put together a short film over the course of the school year. It was a great
experience, and my approach to making that movie is the same I now use while writing,
that technique of mapping images and scenes out in my head.
As far as music goes, I often wind down from busy days by making a little song from a few
samples. I try to make them into the kind of music I'd want to listen to while writing. They're
just little experiments for me, nothing professional. Still, that ability to take things I love and
work off of them to come up with a new creation is something I really cherish. If
you're interested, you can find a few of them here: https://soundcloud.com/user-182568613 ).
FG: What do you like about making films and music that you don't experience with writing essays and poetry? Which form of creativity do you tend to gravitate to more than anything else?
DB: With film, there's an ability to be a lot vaguer about things. In some of my favorite movies, images are very open for interpretation; something I find strange and powerful, my friend may find mystic and frail. You can kind of have that freedom with writing, but you still can't give as much up to the reader as you can with a visual medium. In music, I'm in love with the idea of sampling. As I said before, it's a wonderful way of paying homage to the music you love, and just like with film, that's a freedom you just can't necessarily have in writing.
Still, in the end, I tend to return to writing as my default form of expression, because its limitations are often its strengths. That complete freedom of abstractness one has in film is perfect sometimes, but often, the specificity required in written forms is what I need. Same thing with music; even if I had all the tools required to put together an orchestral ballad, it wouldn't be the best tool for capturing the feeling of calm contemplation on a warm afternoon. I definitely sometimes finish a story wishing I could conjure an onscreen image to end the piece. But it's this limitation of the page and the language that keeps me thinking of new, more creative ways to convey what I want to.
FG: If you could travel back in time to any age, what would you tell your past self?
DB: Tell him something? I'd knock that sucker out and relive my childhood.
FG: What have you been reading or listening to lately? Your favourite tv shows? Are there any books, shows or albums that are not well-known that you’d recommend?
DB: Ah, the question where I get to be unabashedly hipster. I've been making
my way back through Radiohead's discography lately, and also really starting
to love Beach House, Sigur Ros, and Bon Iver. Plus, Bjork is always a must for
me; she's as much of a musical inspiration as she is a poetic one. I'm also
working my way through Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson at the time,
which I'm digging. With shows, I'm a huge fan of OITNB, True Detective, and
Breaking Bad, though I've recently found some really neat cartoons such as
Rick and Morty that have caught me off guard.
Not well-known books I'd recommend: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
This book was like a gut punch for me, though I'm not entirely sure why, and
everyone I've talked to who has read it seems equally blown away.
Not well-known shows I'd recommend: Most shows I like are pretty well-known,
but I'm seeing far too few Twin Peaks fans lately...
Not well-known albums I'd recommend: Feels by Animal Collective. Sung Tongs
by Animal Collective. Person Pitch by Panda Bear (of Animal Collective). You get
the drift. Also, Zaba by Glass Animals. I guess I really like animal-related bands.
FG: Lastly, to stay true to our name, do you like sweet or sour food better?
DB: Sweet. There's nothin' like a little sugar cube every once in a while. Or maybe sugar-"Blokh?"
Welcome to this month's Sweet Talk, a series in which we Rascals chat with cool and creative teenagers. Today, I’ll be talking to Daniel Blokh, an accomplished poet and essayist. You can read his official bio below:
Daniel Blokh is a 15-year-old writer living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of In Migration (BAM! Publishing, 2016), which is now available at booksamillion.com. His work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing awards, Foyle Young Poets, Cicada Magazine, Thin Air Magazine, and more. He attends the Alabama School of Fine Arts. To find out more, visit his website at www.danielblokh.com.
Farah Ghafoor is a sixteen-year-old poet and a founding editor at Sugar Rascals. Her work is published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, alien mouth, Big Lucks among other places, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Farah is the recipient of the 2016 Alexandria Quarterly Emerging Artists and Writers Award. She believes that she deserves a cat. Find her online at fghafoor.tumblr.com.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Daniel! We’ll be looking into all these album and book recommendations, and we encourage all of you Rascals to check out Daniel's book and other work online as well.