Interview with National Student Poet Daniel Blokh
On August 30, AWS alum Daniel Blokh was honored in a ceremony at the Library of Congress along with four other 2018 National Student Poets from across the nation. The National Student Poet program was founded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. At the awards ceremony, Blokh and his fellow poets also had the opportunity to meet with U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith.
“The National Student Poets are representatives of language at its best: seeking discovery, forging new modes of meaning, singing the particular music of this very moment,” Smith said in a statement. “They remind us how much poetry continues to matter, and how much we need what poetry fosters, which is care, belief, courage and empathy.”
AWS: When did you first start writing poetry? Daniel: It took me until about 6th grade to start writing poetry, though I was writing silly fantasy stories since the first grade.
AWS: What are some of the themes in your poetry, and where do you draw inspiration? Daniel: I guess the thing I'm "known" for writing about is my family history. I'm the only American-born member of my family, with my parents, grandparents, and siblings immigrating from Russia in '93. I'm fascinated by this experience, and I'm always observing the way my family is affected by living in a place they love but struggle to truly belong in. The more I write about this, the more I find I want to write; it's a bottomless pit of interest for me and I struggle with putting it into words. Lately, though, I've expanded a little and written more poems about myself and my concerns as I grow up and prepare for college.
AWS: What was the process involved in being selected as a National Student Poet? Daniel: I was picked from all the students who submitted poetry in the Southeast Region. I will be attending a poetry festival in New Jersey in October, and several others. Schools in the Southeast can also request me to visit and give a reading through the National Student Poet website (and NSP funds my travel!).
AWS: Who are your key influences? Daniel: There's been so many people in my life that have been integral to my writing. Plenty of Waldorf teachers. I have no clue where I'd be without Melissa Downs, who taught me first through sixth grade and was responsible for a lot of my interest in literature. At ASFA, my creative writing teachers are an endless source of inspiration. They show me that you can be engaged in writing your whole life, and also that teaching writing can be a satisfying career. The entire faculty at ASFA is wonderful (shout-out to my English teacher, Mr. Slatton, if you're reading this!).
AWS: Do you feel your Waldorf education benefitted your poetic endeavors, and if so, how? Daniel: Without a doubt. I think ASFA and AWS are very similar in the way that they value difference. In a public school, students strive to fit in and be like everyone else. But I've had the luck of going to schools where you become popular by being creative, where you're pushed to stand out. For example, in fifth grade at AWS, I remember writing and performing a rap battle between Rudolf Steiner and Rudolf the Reindeer, in which I played both roles. Silly as this is, it speaks volumes about how encouraging of creativity AWS was. If I hadn't grown up in that sort of atmosphere, I may have never started writing poetry, or at least would have never had the bravery to submit my work to various journals and competitions, which is what made me an NSP in the first place!
AWS: Do you have plans for college? Any other plans or ideas for the future? Daniel: I’m entering 12th grade, so college is on the horizon. I have some big dreams, but also very little certainty about what college I'll attend, what I'll major in, or what career I'll end up pursuing. Without a question, though, I'll keep writing the whole time. It's been a wild journey that has taken me places I never expected, and I trust that as long as I continue to pursue the art form I love, I'll be content. Or, rather, if I don't pursue writing, I know I'll be unhappy.
Daniel Blokh is a 17-year-old American-Jewish writer with Russian immigrant parents, living in Birmingham, Alabama. He is one of the 5 National Student Poets for 2018, representing the Southeast region. He is the author of the memoir In Migration (BAM! Publishing 2016), the chapbook Grimmening (forthcoming from Diode Editions), and the chapbook Holding Myself Hostage In The Kitchen (Lit City Press 2017). His work has won 1st in the Princeton High School Poetry Competition and been recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing awards and Foyle Young Poet awards, and has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, DIALOGIST, Permafrost, Blueshift, Cleaver, Gigantic Sequins, Forage Poetry, Avis, Thin Air, Cicada, and more.
AWS is thrilled to have Daniel as our guest speaker at Parent/Guardian Orientation tomorrow evening, Thursday, September 13, 5:30 pm, in our Community Hall!