Leadwood: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker
By Chase Dimock
In Leadwood, Daniel Crocker surveys twenty years of his work as a poet. Ranging from the metaphysical significance of the McRib to courageous deep dives into bipolar disorder, Crocker’s book is more than a collection of poems; it’s a chronicle of a poet’s maturation and a man’s coming to terms with his upbringing and identity.
Leadwood is the Daniel Crocker origin story. He was born among the long closed lead mines and chat dumps that littered his rural Missouri hometown. He confronts poverty, bigotry, and religious zealotry along with personal tragedies that shaped him as man and a writer. As a middle aged poet, Crocker depicts the lingering effects of Leadwood, balancing nostalgia and care for his home with trauma. In his newest poems, he gives us stirring insight into his relationship with bipolar disorder.
No matter his age, his work has always been confessional and brave. Crocker is a rural Anne Sexton, a Sylvia Plath raised on Sesame Street and WWE wrestling, a John Berryman in the Wal-Mart aisles, a Robert Lowell with a smirk and morbid punchlines.
Chase Dimock: Although this is a collection of your work from the past two decades, you decided to give the book a title: Leadwood. Once the reader hits the first poem “Where We Come From,” they will learn that Leadwood is the name of your small hometown. Why did you decide that this one word would be descriptive of two decades worth of your work? What does understanding Leadwood as a town achieve toward understanding Daniel Crocker as a poet?
Daniel Crocker: This kind of dates back to my very first full length book, People Everyday and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), which I dedicated to Leadwood. Later, me and my wife, Margaret, would do a chapbook together called “My Favorite Hell.” It was put out by Alpha Beat Press. We used the Leadwood population sign as our cover art. So, I guess Leadwood has had a hold on me from the beginning.
Like you said, it’s my hometown. I think most of us are shaped by where we grew up–for better or worse. Most of my formative experiences happened there, and I’ve written a lot about them. And, I certainly have love/hate relationship with Leadwood. I have many great childhood memories, but also worries about lead poisoning and the ecological disaster that my home town is. Mostly, however, I wanted to make sure that the voices of my small town, and by extension other small towns, aren’t lost. There are small towns all over the country that have been ravaged and left behind by corporations–whether it’s Leadwood, which was founded by a lead mining company who later up and left the town with huge piles of chat (lead and dust) that were as big as football stadiums. The cancer rate there is extremely high. The soil has been tested there was found to be 10,000 more times the lead in the soil that is considered safe. Continue reading