Contributor Interview: Todd Dillard

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Dillard, Todd

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

The genesis for “Pompeii” came from a Twitter account that posts pictures of weird, strange things, and they ran a couple pictures of the Pompeii statues. I was immediately fascinated by the idea that these poor people were forever poised, concrete iterations of their final agony. But as I researched the phenomenon, I found a paper by a volcanologist (what a profession!) that described how it’s probable a pyrostatic cloud killed all the citizens of Pompeii before they even knew what was going on. As a result, the “agony” was a bodily alteration caused by heat made permanent when the cadavers were encased in ash. And yet, I couldn’t dismiss the pain and fear I saw in them . . . which meant there was something inside me that I needed to interrogate. This poem came from that interrogation.

For “St. George and the Dragon” I was bored, and lonely, and reading the work of my former professor Jericho Brown. (This is a weird thing I do; when I’m feeling down I read the work of my teachers—their words are the comfort food of my soul.) He had just won the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award for his poem “Ganymede,” which is a searing and beautiful poem projecting a narrator’s want for a story onto the story itself, a kind of self-aware retelling. At the time I was working on some speculative writing and had dragons on the mind, and, guided by Jericho’s poem, remembered the myth of St. George and the Dragon. Using Jericho’s style and that myth as a nudge in the right direction, I wrote this poem.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

I just love all the work “where once there were lambs / before she was saved” does. And the lines: “what will remain / will not be us but the shape of us, / and those ahead who think to look back / will see something else entirely, and shake / their heads, and wonder—”

Both of these endings are a bit on the nose, but not in a bad way! (I think.) Endings are something I often struggle with, so it’s hard not to choose endings I like as the favorite lines in my poems.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Read outside of your demographic, your wheelhouse, your presumed interests. Read wildly and voraciously and with kindness and love for the work you encounter. Don’t be cruel to writers or their work; that’s akin to being cruel to yourself. If you center celebration in your writing, the ways you see and experience and can describe the world increase in manifold ways. Your soul learns to sing.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

I change shirts five times a day, if not more! I hate wearing dirty shirts! I’ve been doing this for as far back as I can remember.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

I’ve begun submitting a poetry manuscript, so that’s taking up most of my focus. I am happy with it for now, but that could change with a new poem, or poems, or pretty much anything . . . I anticipate going through several drafts, just because that seems to be how these things go. Otherwise, I am pretty active on Twitter as @toddedillard, usually tweeting about poetry and the writing world.

Todd Dillard’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Best New Poets, Barrelhouse, Electric Literature, McSweeney’s, and Asimov’s Science Fiction. His chapbook “The Drowned Hymns” is available from Jeanne Duval Editions.

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