An Interview with Dana Yost

An Interview with Dana Yost

An Interview with Dana Yost

Thank you for joining us for another Haunted Waters Press Featured Author Interview. In this series, we sit down with contributors to chat about their craft and explore the experiences that have shaped their writing.

Today's interview is with HWP Contributor Dana Yost. Dana's work Twenty to Thirty Years is showcased in the 2021 issue of From the Depths. Enjoy!

Do you recall the first poem that really spoke to you or sparked your interest in writing your own?
Yes. It was short one—and a famous one—A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes. I was taking a poetry class from Phil Dacey, and we were required to memorize a poem. I chose A Dream Deferred because a) it was short and easy to memorize, but b) because it also packed such an immense punch in those few lines.

How long did it take you to find your voice in your poetry? Do you look back on your early writing and see the ways in which you have grown as a writer?
It took me several years. The first time I had a poem published was in 1994. The next time was in 2008. So, 14 years. I underwent some serious psychological issues—mental health problems such as depression and severe anxiety in the meantime. Plus, I was working as a daily paper editor. When I quit journalism, I had more time to write poetry, and in that process, and in exploring my mental health through writing poems, I found my voice. Yes, I do look back on my earlier writing and see how I have changed, grown. I think I am more introspective now, and, as I age, I find myself writing more about aging. Not more about death, because that's always been a major theme of mine. But aging.

Believe in what you write. That's always my first rule. If you're going to write something, make it worth YOUR while—draw deep from within you for your thoughts, your emotions. Make it true to you, even if it isn't exactly the truth.

—Dana Yost

We’d love to know more about your process for writing poetry. Do you sit down to write on a schedule or rush for a pen and paper when an idea strikes?
I sit down each morning with my laptop and write. I always try to write a poem from beginning to end each day. Some days more than one poem. But I try to finish a poem. That way, I can say I have accomplished something. It may be worthless; it may be good—it more than likely is one that I'll save and go back and revise or pick some lines from. With my journalism background, I have grown to have a self-imposed daily deadline. So I will try to write and complete something by 11 a.m. each day.

Do you find your poetry driven more by truth or fiction? How much personal experience makes its way into your writing?
Definitely driven by truth, although there are some poems where fiction has crept in. Sometimes, I will take a truthful situation or thought and add fiction to it to make it more poetic or deepen the idea or situation. But almost always, I am writing about truth—real events, real people, real thoughts. My personal experiences make their way into my work quite a bit. I write quite often about mental health, so I draw straight from my life for those poems. As mentioned above, I also am writing more about aging. But I write about my experiences in nature, my relationships with other people. Lately, I have had a poem published about my visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the profound effect the visit had on me.

What advice do you have for the self-conscious aspiring poet?
Believe in what you write. That's always my first rule. If you're going to write something, make it worth YOUR while—draw deep from within you for your thoughts, your emotions. Make it true to you, even if it isn't exactly the truth. This is not journalism, not reporting, but maybe akin to it. You're relaying something to the outside world. But make what you relay true to you. Secondly, don't be afraid of rejection. There are thousands of poets out there. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of places publishing poetry. Your work is not going to fit every editor's liking. But if it's good, if you believe in it, it will find a home. Who cares if it's rejected three, four times. Submit it again. Also, research the places you're thinking about sending it to. Is it a good match for what they publish?

Is there an under-the-radar poet you wish more people knew about?
Leo Dangel. A Minnesota/South Dakota poet who passed away a couple years ago. He writes in a plain-spoken way but also writes with such care and wisdom. And humor. He writes often about rural settings or farm life, but his lessons have universal meaning.

When you’re not writing poetry, what might we find you doing?
Out for hikes with my wife in the state parks and wildlife refuges around Sioux Falls. I also play a cards-and-dice tabletop baseball game called Strat-O-Matic, which is my second main indoor hobby. My first main indoor hobby is reading. Prose and poetry.

What are you reading right now?
I am reading the novel The Brothers K by David James Duncan and the poetry collection A Book of Luminous Things edited by the great Czeslaw Milosz.

What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
Not exactly. But if I did, it would be what I said above: "Believe in what you write."

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Relax. Things will come to you. I think I worked too hard, too many hours as a newspaper editor and it worsened my depression and anxiety. It also made it harder for me to write poetry. My best poetry now comes when I let things go in my mind and just begin to write—fresh, alive. New ideas, new word relationships emerge. So relax, let go, find an inner peace.
From the Depths 2021

Lightning Round with Dana Yost


Dana Yost was an award-winning daily newspaper editor and writer for 29 years. Since 2008, Dana has published eight books—most recently, his first novel, "Before I Get Old." Dana's poetry role models or inspirations are Midwest poets like Phil Dacey, Leo Dangel, and Susan McLean. He has lived his entire life in the rural Upper Midwest and has lived in Sioux Falls, S.D., since 2019.

Share this Post

Leave a Comment