Local author explores “the spaces from which questions arise” with latest poetry book

  • Writer and poet Daniel Hales with his new book, “¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English,” on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Writer and poet Daniel Hales with his new book, “¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English,” on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/DAN LITTLE—

  • Writer and poet Daniel Hales with his new book, “¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English,” on Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Writer and poet Daniel Hales with his new book, “¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English,” on a recent Friday afternoon in Greenfield. Staff Photo/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/15/2020 9:03:29 AM

In his latest poetry book, “¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English,” Greenfield-based writer and poet Daniel Hales ​explores the spaces from which questions arise — the memories, musings, and metaphysics we use to seek out meaning.

“¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or, How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English” is the latest book from Hales, and was published this past April. The writer, poet and musician was recently joined by a dozen residents for a virtual poetry reading, organized by the Warwick Free Public Library, during which he shared excerpts from the upcoming book and spoke to his creative inspirations.

Hales joked that he didn’t expect to look forward to more Zoom, but was excited by the familiar faces on the screen and names in the chat. Lit by the computer screen and candlelight, Hales selected a handful of poems to share with the virtual crowd. Rifling through the 105 pages of poems littered with sticky notes of selected pieces, Hales said he likes to choose poems he reads regularly and some he has never read in public before.

“Part of what I try to do is not get bored, so I pick ones I didn’t read last time mixed with ones that are perennial favorites, or ones that I don’t have deep anxious doubts about, which I wish there (were) less of in the book,” Hales said. “I think the ‘me back then’ maybe thought those poems were ready and the ‘me now’ and the ‘me in-between’ is constantly doubting these things. Part of having it done, holding it and having all the sticky notes, is it’s done. I can’t mess with it anymore.”

While he said he can’t turn off the part of his brain that brings these doubts, Hales said it’s fun to include these poems in his readings and re-assess them over time, making his peace with some. Knowing that more than one reporter was on the Zoom call, Hales selected a poem titled “How to Write a Cover Letter,” which was partially inspired by his first-ever job as a paperboy. Hales also read “How to Deliver A Toast,” which exhibits some sense of the changing seasons.

“To those who live in houses on streets/named for shady trees/with those they share/meals/genes/and germs with/And more specifically/to the very old man/at a lake’s edge trying to reach/the stick his golden refused to retrieve.

“To whatever makes him risk falling in/to reach it/The reason/this particular stick matters more/to him than it does to the dog/who now waits/bored/in the pickup.

“And especially to whatever causes/the man to suddenly pause/forgetting/the stick/as if listening/though there are just calm waves/distant/traffic/assuming his hearing/aid can even reach it.

“Maybe gauging how much/is left before sound ceases/And of course/to you/as you pass/the lit windows of strangers on Linden Street/rubbing your blood-filled hands/and ghosting your breath.”

When asked by an audience member how he recognizes when a piece may become a poem, or develop into a song, Hales said he can tell what the piece will be when “the first hard rhyme drops,” or a refrain comes to mind. Sometimes a line feels like it needs to be repeated, which can happen in poetry but is more conducive to a song’s structure with a chorus.

“I don’t always know, but I usually feel like I know pretty quickly,” Hales said. “But then sometimes it shapeshifts and goes the other way.”

Reflecting on Hales’ musical prowess, Warwick Librarian Ivan Ussach said the two met several years ago when attending a Velvet Underground event in Turners Falls. Ussach said Hales’ band, the Forest Heaves and Hales, was playing without a drummer and being a drummer himself, Ussach asked to sit in. After some time, they got together and “rocked out.” Ussach said he fell in love with Hales’ music and lyricism right away. He was so captured with the music that he learned all of the songs on Hales’ record. They went on to make several more records together.

“Daniel is a genuine artistic talent,” Ussach said.

Riffing on the literal translation of the Spanish phrase "hacer preguntas," the collection of poems focuses on the making of questions, rather than the answering of them. How to make questions is one possible, “and maybe a kind of strange,” way of interpreting the title. Hales said it could also be interpreted as How to ask questions? To further add to the slight trickery of the title, Hales said there may actually be more than 69 poems in the book, but he enjoyed the playfulness of the number.

The poems take readers on a journey and interrogate everything from the mundane through poems like "How To Pass The Time,” to thoughts of fading love in "How to Change Your Mind.” Hales says the collection of poems may disappoint anyone wanting definitive answers or guidance. But for anyone willing to be involved in the making of life's important questions, this is the book for you.

“They all pretend to be giving instruction of some kind, and some of them maybe do and most of them probably don’t,” Hales said.

A copy of “¿Cómo Hacer Preguntas? or How To Make Questions: 69 Instructional Poems in English” can be found at the Warwick Free Public Library, and Usaach said it is being cataloged into the Western Massachusetts library system, but COVID-19 is delaying this process.

The book may also be purchased at frayededgepress.com/como-hacer-preguntas.html.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@rec order.com or 413-930-4579.


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