Dan Schneider vs. the Rest of the World

The never-ending showdown between a relentless poetic provocateur and the back-patting literary establishment that shudders at the very sound of his name

Schneider could go on, and he usually does. He has a shitlist longer than Louis Zukofsky's colossus A, which, incidentally, he despises. And what Schneider despises he despises loudly, volubly, exhaustively, in obsessive, cutthroat detail. His loathing extends from individuals (and individual poems) to local literary institutions such as the Loft ("Six weeks and you, too, can be Emily Dickinson," he says. "A bunch of white, middle-class housewives looking to exorcise their demons.") and S.A.S.E. Poetry has certainly had its fair share of polymath creeps--e.g., Ezra Pound, Arthur Rimbaud, and Philip Larkin--but Schneider's peculiar temperament has more in common with unregenerate early punk rockers like Lou Reed and John Lydon.

Since he moved here from his native Queens, New York, in 1991, Schneider has assumed for himself the role of the local poetry scene's loose-cannon prosecutor and provocateur, strident, ballistic even, so intense that he can seem irrational even when he is speaking the plain truth. His in-your-face passion has frightened and alienated people even as he has attracted a small group of loyalists and admirers.

Turning his attention to his own poetry, Schneider proffers a copy of his Siamese Reflection, a complicated double-star sonnet. "If 10,000 Maya Angelous banged on 10,000 typewriters for 10,000 years, they couldn't produce a poem with this greatness," he declares. "If my poetry isn't widely known and disseminated in 100 years, it will be a crime against literature."

Hugh D'Andrade

Daniel Schneider, born in 1965, was an adopted child who grew up in a working-class family in the tough Glendale-Ridgewood area of Queens, where he attended Franklin K. Lane high school ("The school was named after the undersecretary to Seward, the guy who bought Alaska," he says. "Red Holtzman, the old basketball coach, was the most famous alumni."). His childhood and adolescence were turbulent, and he ran with a gang for a time in high school. He was six years old, he remembers, when he first saw someone murdered.

"It was a Rilkean moment," he recalls. "I watched the life go out of him. I was reminded of it when I assailed Robert Bly at a reading a few years ago." After high school there was no money for college, and Schneider went to work in a Finast supermarket, where he stuck around for eight years and eventually worked his way up to the position of dairy manager. Somewhere in there he remembers discovering poetry.

"My introduction to poetry was driven by poon," he says. "I was already writing bad Neil Young-like rock lyrics, and I had a crush on this girl. I was watching the Phil Donahue show one day and they were talking about romancing a woman, and this guy on there said that poetry always worked. I remember that I had to look up the word in the dictionary."

Shortly thereafter he made his way to a B. Dalton bookstore and picked up a volume of Walt Whitman's poems. "I discovered that poetry didn't have to rhyme," he recalls. "For a few years after that, I wrote bad Whitman-styled doggerel." Schneider eventually paid Carlton Press in New York to publish 2,000 copies of a "real bad long poem" called Od Infinitum. "I figured that was how Whitman published his first book," he says. "It was a failure--highly imitative of many famous poems--but you can see that there's some talent there. I sold a couple copies to people at the supermarket, and I think I made $13 in royalties."

He also sent copies to poets Donald Hall, Allen Ginsberg, and Amy Clampitt, soliciting feedback. "Ginsberg's secretary sent me a catalog of his books," Schneider recalls. "Hall sent back a two- or three-line response that basically said it sucked. I didn't understand why he couldn't apply the same critical thinking to his own work." These days the remaining books are stashed in Schneider's basement somewhere. Although he's no longer proud of the work, he did recently give a copy to his current girlfriend, as an "act of intimacy," and he figures that it will surface again some day in the juvenilia section of his collected poems.

Schneider's last years in New York were spent working in the grocery store and hibernating, reading and writing poetry. "I was writing like mad," he says. "I wrote thousands of poems, mostly crap. I was still in the first-thought, best-thought stage, but I could see that I was getting better, and I knew that I had more raw talent than any of these old farts I'd see at readings around New York. I was learning that the whole poetry scene was built around developing incestuous relationships with other poets who could help you get ahead, which was complete bullshit."

Schneider's adoptive father had died in 1983, and around that time he had started looking for his natural family. "I heard about the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association on Oprah," he says. "It's this organization run by a woman who's a real shrew and believes that adoption is akin to slavery." He eventually tracked his birth parents to Superior, Wisconsin, and discovered that he still had family living in Minnesota, in Staples and Edina.

"I found out that I had insanity on one side of my family and serious inbreeding on the other," he seems almost happy to disclose. "Every few branchlets of the family tree--going all the way back to Norway--there was someone who was crazy or institutionalized." He also learned that his natural mother had since died, but a trip to Minnesota to meet the rest of his birth family provided the eventual impetus for the move to Minnesota.

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