The Poetry Editors, Rappahannock Review : In what ways has your location helped shape the way you write?
Denton Loving: My writing has probably been more influenced by place than by any other factor. I live in the heart of Central Appalachia, near the Cumberland Gap, where Daniel Boone opened a trail that made it possible for hundreds of thousands of our ancestors to settle the West. Specifically, I live on a family farm. The property hasn’t been in my own family for very long—only a little longer than my own life. But the farm was part of my parents’ dreams, and I know the land intimately. I feel very connected to it in different ways. First, there’s the connection to my parents. There’s also the symbiotic relationship to the land that includes raising cattle, mowing hay fields and fixing fences. And then, there’s this other, natural world that I can barely experience more than as a witness, and that includes a dozen or more species of birds that are almost always present, a family of red foxes that lives in the woods behind my house, and deer that play and chase each other around the apple trees in our orchard. For me, writing has always been about being aware of my surroundings and paying as close attention as possible.
RR: Where did the idea for “A Love Poem About an Exploding Cow” originate?
Denton Loving: The central images of this poem came from a dream. In the dream, the cow stood at a particular place in a field near my house. My dad really did own a 1978 brown Ford Thundrbird once, but why it showed up in this dream, I’ll likely never know. When I can remember my dreams, I like to write them down, and when they particularly strike me, as this one did, I can’t help but try to figure out what my subconscious is thinking. As I started associating meaning with the images, it became a poem.
RR: Can you tell us about some of your work as executive editor of drafthorse?
Denton Loving: As executive editor, I oversee most of the submissions process. I coordinate with a group of truly smart and generous readers to make sure that every submission is carefully considered. drafthorse has a constant theme to publish material about work and the absence of work. So part of my responsibility is to ensure that we’re respecting that mission in a significant way.
RR: As it is a fairly new literary journal, can you elaborate on the experience of getting that up and running?
Denton Loving: I had wanted to be involved with a literary journal for a long time when my friend Darnell Arnoult was hired as writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University, the same school where I work. We kept talking about what kind of journal we’d like to see. Darnell deserves the credit for identifying drafthorse’s theme, which is partly related to the university’s early history as an opportunity school where students paid their tuition by working on campus. Once we knew our mission, the university gave us the blessing to begin. We started by producing an inaugural issue that we referred to as our “sampler.” It included work from writers such as Maurice Manning, Joseph Bathanti, Lisa Alther and Michael Chitwood—writers that we knew and respected. Since then, we’ve been able to publish work from other writers that we’ve known and loved, and we’ve also been able to find work from new writers we didn’t know. Our mission has always been for drafthorse to be a national journal, and we’re really fortunate that our theme of work and no work is one that speaks to both writers and readers.
RR: What are you working on now?
Denton Loving: “A Love Poem About an Exploding Cow” is a part of a book-length collection called “Crimes Against Birds.” Until I find a home for the collection, I continue to shape and play with those poems. I’m in my final months of the MFA program at Bennington College, where I’ve been working on a novel and a collection of short stories. I’m close to completing a solid draft of the novel, and that’s what I’ll focus on after grad school.
“A Love Poem About an Exploding Cow” appears in Rappahannock Review Issue 1.3.
Denton Loving lives on a farm near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together. He works at Lincoln Memorial University, where he co-directs the annual Mountain Heritage Literary Festival and serves as executive editor of drafthorse: the literary journal of work and no work. His fiction, poetry, essays and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in River Styx, Flyleaf, [PANK], Main Street Rag and in numerous anthologies. Follow him on twitter @DentonLoving.