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Being a better person … through poetry

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

There is something intense about listening to a poet read words purposely put together by expressing thoughts with a combination of language and art. When a poets read their own work, they are allowing the listener a peek into their psyches, into the very core of who they are and if the poem is good enough, the listener may well find himself moved by the experience.

When Kevin McDaniel reads one of his poems, he takes the listener with him, most often to someplace within his own memory. By poem’s end, the listener almost feels as though he was there with the eight-year-old McDaniel as he and his scruffy friends played ball in that vacant lot 30 years before.

Kevin McDaniel is a rarity in the modern world. He is a twice published poet with a third book of poetry coming out later this year.

“I think poetry is the medicine for the microwave generation that we live in today,” said McDaniel. “The world we live in today, everything is fast. It seems like we’re always in a hurry and I think as poets, we need to do a better job promoting our genre.”

McDaniel is doing his best to promote the genre. He published his first book of poetry entitled “Family Talks,” in 2017. That was followed by “At the Foot of the Mountain” in 2018. His latest book, entitled “Rubbernecking,” which contains 80 of his poems, is set to come out in August.

Though McDaniel is now going through a period of prolific production of poetry, this was not always the case. After graduating from Riverhead High School in Augusta County, McDaniel attended Radford University and graduated in 2000 with a degree in English.

He spent his first years teaching reading and writing to middle schoolers in Mecklenburg County. Though he enjoyed the experience well enough, McDaniel decided to attain his master’s degree in English and enrolled in Virginia Tech, graduating in 2007.

“I knew I wanted to stay in the area because I always liked it being an undergraduate here,” said McDaniel. “It was very similar to my area back home but it was a way for me to kind of have my own life. Then I met Erin in 2007. She was an occupational therapist in the area.”

Upon graduating, McDaniel took a job at Eastern Montgomery High School where he taught English before deciding to do something completely different.

“I decided to step away and open a pet store in Salem called Genesis Pet Shop,” said McDaniel.

His pet shop sold fish, guinea pigs, snakes, rabbits, dog supplies but no dogs, except for one occasion. “I did at one time buy three Chocolate Labs from a local breeder there,” McDaniel related. “I sold one and I ended up keeping the two.”

Shortly after opening his shop, McDaniel “got the itch” to teach again and took a part time position teaching English at New River Community College. In 2009 he married his physical therapist girlfriend and she became Erin McDaniel.

In 2010, McDaniel was hired as a adjunct professor teaching “Core Curriculum,” at Radford University and the next year after that, McDaniel closed the pet shop.

“I’m glad I went through that experience to run a business because I really learned a lot about myself and working with people, so I consider that experience a success,” said McDaniel.

RU’s core curriculum course was designed to teach writing, research, public speaking and ethics. For the ethics aspect of the class, McDaniel often used contemporary TV shows as a point of reference.

“As an educator I feel like now more than ever you have to show them that your course has relevance in their lives beyond that class,” said McDaniel. “The second most important thing is to hook them and make them interested. So I’ve used courses like the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad as a visual medium to get them to analyze it and get them to write about it.”

McDaniel would often focus his course on one character in one of these shows. His class would then discuss the ethical decision making of said character and what a particular theorist might say about that character’s decision.

“If you want to bring your student to a certain place, you have to build a bridge to take them from where they are to where you want them to be,” said McDaniel. ” Be very clear with your expectations to help them reach those expectations.”

It was during this time in his teaching career that McDaniel, who had always appreciated poetry, began writing poetry.

“I remember the day vividly,” recounted McDaniel. “It was June 24, 2015. It just came over me to write. The first poem I ever wrote was called Cable Bill. It was about the cable going out in our house.”

In 2016, McDaniel left his position at Radford and began concentrating on his writing. Though he would teach again at NRCC and for a stint at Bluefield College, much of his energy went into writing poetry and raising his two young daughters, Madison (5) and harper (2).

In 2017, Finishing Line press agreed to publish Family Talks, his first book of poetry.

“Family Talks is rooted in childhood memories but also my time as a father with my two girls,” McDaniel related. “A few of the poems really tap into where I spent my childhood, which was in a little stucco house on Middle Brook Road in Augusta County.”

In 2018, Old 70 Creek Printed published McDaniel’s second book of poetry entitled, “At the Foot of the Mountain.”

“At the Foot of the Mountain is really centered on an emotion or a feeling,” said McDaniel. “I use that term ‘at the foot of the mountain’ for those times in life when we feel like the mountain is going to come down on us.”

This August McDaniel will see his latest poetic publication, entitled “Rubbernecking,” emerge into the public sphere.

“Rubbernecking returns back to family memories but there are also poems about the individual because I think it’s also very important to maintain a sense of individuality within the family unit,” said McDaniel. “Life really does change when you have children. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about raising your children, being a good role model and trying to maintain a sense of individuality. Sometimes that’s not always easy.”

Rubbernecking is dedicated to his wife Erin, who he refers to as the backbone of the family and fellow poet Parks Lanier, who he refers to as his mentor.

Not one to rest on his laurels, McDaniel has already begun work on his latest book of poetry which will be a collection of ekphrastic poems. These are poems about visual art. McDaniel plans to complete 20 poems based on the paintings of Kentucky artist Fred Thrasher.

McDaniel’s teaching tenure has led him to have strongly held beliefs regards education.

“It seems like now we’re in a time where educators are supposed to be more like a friend than educators … like a buddy,” said McDaniel. “Just because you go to class and turn something in, that doesn’t mean you should get credit. That’s not learning. You give feedback, you do rough drafts, you meet with the students one-on-one, that’s when I do my best teaching is one-on-one conferences. The day I see my students as customers, I’m done teaching. I don’t want someone to see my children as a customer in their school.”

Considering his love of the literary, it’s likely that McDaniel will continue producing poetry for the foreseeable future. Whether or not he returns to school as teacher or even a student, has not yet been decided.

“I’m at the point in my life where I’m going to put it in the Lord’s hands,” said McDaniel. ” I think it’s time to ask the Lord what it is that I’m supposed to be doing and what is my path. Before any decisions made, I’ll pray about it.”

Until then, McDaniel will be reading his latest poems at coffee houses and libraries around the area and perhaps beyond.

“I’m still learning to be a good dad and a better person,” McDaniel admitted. “I think poetry has helped me do that, become a better person.”

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