In 1817 John Keats coined the term “negative capability,” writing in a letter to a family member that artists and thinkers are “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”
Negative capability has come to represent an important aspect of poetry in the intervening centuries — the ability to hold disparate ideas without coming to definite conclusions — but Jackson author and poet Matt Daly has one problem with it.
“It sounds like a term engineers use when they’re making something for a physicist,” he said.
Daly, a longtime writing teacher, is set to publish his first book-length work, “Between Here and Home,” on Tuesday through Unsolicited Press. But he wasn’t satisfied with releasing just one first book. Daly has another work, this one a chapbook called “Red State,” set to be published by Seven Kitchens Press aroud the same time as “Between Here and Home.”
As the title may reveal, “Red State” is a musing, on one hand, about living in the Intermountain West and the political tides that have swept the country since the 2016 election. It juxtaposes those loftier ideals with the goings-on of daily life, stopping to watch his dog dig in the snow or ruminating on his feelings as that pup approaches death.
“I feel like poems can exist in this space of cognitive dissonance,” he said. “People expect prose to make a point, and I don’t think that’s expected of poetry.”
Daly’s negative capability is on full display in “Independence Day,” one of the poems in “Red State.” The through line of the poem is Daly’s dog’s inevitable need to be euthanized, set against the mundane details of his day and a chaotic world.
“I read the newspaper online and I will do this on the day I call the vet. I follow stories of people casting off one government then another,” read the lines of the third stanza. A few lines later, the fourth stanza begins “In the other room, I hear my dog not eating despite the bullets of raw meat I put in his bowl.”
Daly’s thoughts, political and otherwise, exist next to each other. As is often the case in poetry, a single word — “bullet” — ties the images together, raw dog food evoking the violence of regime change. This type of associative logic binds “Red State,” while “Between Here and Home,” which has its own lyrical quirks, is a narrative work.
The story revolves around a group of friends who live in a small town and frequent its watering hole, The Campfire Tavern. The plot stems from a car crash: Pam, a regular, drinks too much and leaves the tavern, swerves to avoid a deer and crashes on her way home. That wrenching though seemingly commonplace event reveals their collective trauma and the intricate ways the small-town residents are intertwined.
The characters, even with their specific, individual lives, are archetypal, amalgams from Daly’s travels around Wyoming as a writing teacher.
“There were towns that I’d return to regularly,” he said, “and it felt like you would see either characters or people who started to feel like Wyoming characters.”
In looking at a set of people, Daly takes an ambitious leap. Rather than adopting an omniscient voice, or looking at the events through a single lens, Daly employs nine voices in telling the tale: those of eight humans and a fawn, which is important as the impetus for the crash and, therefore, the book.
Using nine narrators forces the reader to infer connections, to pay attention to small details the characters use to reference each other. The multitudinous narration wasn’t necessarily intentional, at least at first.
“It really was that the voices started to suggest each other,” Daly said.
Though the books aren’t out yet, Daly is already planning a party during the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, at which the poet is a faculty member. There, the resident poets will lead an evening event called “Invoking Our Muses: A Conversation on Creative Process,” a reading and workshop that will also function as a celebration of “Between Here and Home.” Daly’s also planning a July 5 reading at Valley Bookstore, though details on that event are forthcoming.
A writer’s publication cycle is often several years and that held true for Daly, who wrote the first draft of “Between Here and Home” years ago. Beyond the excitement of publication, revising the book and submitting it for publication allowed Daly to return to the period in which he composed the draft in a bit of literary time traveling.
“It’s kind of interesting to go back in time,” he said. “That’s kind of a cool thing I think about writing is that you get that chance to sort of revisit yourself.” ￼