An Interview with Daniel Thomas Moran

An Interview with Daniel Thomas Moran

An Interview with Daniel Thomas Moran

I write every day but not always poems. I have written essays for a number of newspapers and magazines, some of them humorous, some of them memoir and some of them discussing ideas about life. I live my life seeing the world as a poet, paying attention and thinking about it all.

An Interview with Daniel Thomas Moran

In conversation with Karunesh Kumar Agarwal, Managing Editor,, Daniel Thomas Moran tells us about his success as an international poet.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Tell us about you and your background.

Daniel Thomas Moran:  Thank you for asking. From a very early age I was always a big fan of music and was fortunate to have lived through a lot of really great music going back to the advent of The Beatles when I was seven years old. Back then, the lyrics of music became more important and the songwriters often expressed their ideas about things in ways that offered understanding of life’s complexities, especially emotional complexities. Music helped me make sense of all the matters of my young life and I often sat in my room for hours listening to music and reading the lyrics. I have always loved to read and did that a great deal when I was young. I still read almost constantly and have nearly all of the books I have ever owned in my life.

     I always did very well with writing, even when I was early in school.  When I was about thirteen or fourteen I was moved to try and write a poem and it felt good to do it. I never showed any of those early poems to anyone, and did not until I was in my first years of college when I confided in a teacher I liked very much. His support and encouragement were critical. All of those poems are now archived among my collected papers at Stony Brook University in New York where I earned a degree in Biology in 1979. Writing poems gave me an outlet for the churning ideas and emotions that I experienced.

     But, I was also drawn to the idea of helping people and gave thought to a career in medicine at an early age but soon realized that I could not have coped well with the profound emotional issues of life and death. I also liked to do things with my hands and so dentistry came up as a viable option and I decided to go in that direction when I was only about thirteen or fourteen. I never really considered writing as a profession although I had teachers who encouraged that. I felt that dentistry would afford me the autonomy and independence to do other things I felt passionate about. I earned my Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Howard University in 1983. About twenty years ago I was contacted by the Medical/Dental librarian at The University of Michigan who wanted to tell me that she had done a research paper on poet/dentists and that I seemed to be the only one in the United States. There was one in Romania but that was it for the entire world, just the two of us. That is not to say that there are no other dentists writing poetry but I have had an entirely separate career as a poet. I am aware of many fine physician/poets but no other dentist/poets.

     I have often said to audiences that a poet is what I am and a dentist is what I do. Poet defines how I live my life, how I consider myself in this life. I was fortunate to have been able to get my Doctorate in Dentistry and my practice in an area of New York called The Hamptons, where many famous writers and artists reside, allowed me to get to know many very interesting people who influenced my writing. In 2005 I was honored to be appointed poet laureate by the Legislature of Suffolk County, New York, a place with a population one about a million and one half people.

     I am now retired as a Clinical Assistant Professor from Boston University’s School of Dental Medicine. I loved to teach and used my poet side to teach in ways that perhaps had never been attempted in a dental school. It worked well as I was chosen to give the commencement address in 2011 after only two years teaching. Somehow it has all worked out, improbable as it seems, and my profession as a dentist allowed me the freedom to live two lives at once. Now I am simply the thing I always yearned to be. A poet.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Do you write every single day?

Daniel Thomas Moran:  I write every day but not always poems. I have written essays for a number of newspapers and magazines, some of them humorous, some of them memoir and some of them discussing ideas about life. I live my life seeing the world as a poet, paying attention and thinking about it all. The writing of my poems has always come as a flash of inspiration and I never know when they will come. I trust that they will. It always begins with an insight that leads to a first line and then it feels as though someone is dictating the poem into my ear. Most of my poems have taken only an hour or so to write. I revisit them in the following days to sharpen them a bit, look for a better word, change the layout on the page but the final version is never that different from the first draft. I used to write with a fountain pen in an artist’s sketch book but now find the computer irresistible and easier to manage.

     Still,  I have written on scraps of paper, the back pages of books I am reading and other odd places. I have even stopped my car on the side of the road to write when that inspiration hits me. If I put it off, even for an hour, I almost always lose it. I cannot go back to that flash of lightning in my head that starts the poem. I never know where the poem will go as I write and never know the last line but I know when I have written the last line. That line is as crucial as the first line, always. All that said, many fine poets sit down each day for a period of time and try to make something happen but that has never worked for me. I can do it but it almost always lacks the magic I rely on.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What is the measure of success as a poet?

Daniel Thomas Moran:  It is very simple. It is simply the joy of writing and the joy of having just written. I write for only one audience, myself. That said, I now have sixteen collections in print and more than four hundred poems in journals in some twenty countries. My hope in that is that someone, somewhere, will find some insight or wisdom or comfort in my words. Publishing my work also gives my poems a home and gives me the hope that they will live beyond my own lifetime. I am not a religious person in any way and my poems are my attempt at some modest measure of immortality. If some anonymous someone in the future reads a poem of mine, it will be as though I am still very much alive. There is a miracle in that.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Which is easier to write, fiction or non-fiction?

Daniel Thomas Moran:  I am a big reader of both fiction and non-fiction but especially prefer biographies and history. Writing non-fiction does not imply imagination on the part of the writer. The things they need can be found through the tedious process of research and comparing one’s ideas to the ideas of those who wrote before you. Fiction is far more complicated and demands a distinct ability to assemble words in ways that are novel and beautiful. The fiction books I have loved, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez immediately comes to mind, are ones in which the writing is astonishing and elegant. I read less fiction than non-fiction because if I love the writing I fall in love with the words and tend to lose touch with the story. If I do not love the writing, I abandon the book altogether. It can be a conundrum. I want to read  lines and books that I wish I had written. No greater compliment can be paid. There are non-fiction writers who write that well but they are rare birds in the forest of literature. I see writers in defining categories. There are journalists, then non-fiction writers, then fiction writers, then playwrights and then there are poets. I have known many great fiction writers who wished they could write poetry. There is something mystical about poetry that puts it above all other writing. I often look at poems I have written and wonder just how I came to the lines I have written. It is from the unconscious mind and it is something that cannot really be taught or learned. I believe that one is either a poet or is not. That said, I fully support in anyone who writes poems to express themselves or who undertakes any other creative endeavour. It is a nourishing thing to do.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your experience of writing the book Balance. Any specific reason for choosing title Balance.

Daniel Thomas Moran: I had the great privilege of attending the wedding of two of my Indian students in Jabalpur, India and they had a nice man drive us around that city. He took us to a place where an enormous boulder was perched somehow on another boulder. It was hard to believe. I asked the man, who spoke little English, just what it was, this amazing thing. He said one word, “Balance”. I took a photo of it and showed it to many people when I got home. When you offered to publish a book of mine in India, a great honour for me, I immediately thought of that photo and that title. That photo is on the cover of the book. In so many ways, after spending two weeks touring India and witnessing the incredible, churning beauty of the place with so very many people and at times sense of chaos and how it all seemed to work, it was especially wonderful to know that there would be a book of mine published in that profoundly amazing country . I am so very pleased to have seen it all and wrote several poems along the way after all that inspiration.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal:  I see you have received Outstanding Clinical Faculty Award. Please share your feelings on winning and few words about this award.

Daniel Thomas Moran: I was honoured to be chosen for that award on two occasions and it meant everything because it was awarded by the graduating class in both 2011 and 2012. The 2013 class also wanted me to get it but the Dean would not allow it. He said they would have to choose someone else. Unfortunate, but that is the nature academia. In his defense, the Dean loved the idea that he had a poet on his faculty and was very supportive of me in almost every respect. He might not have fully understood it but he knew it had to be a good thing. All that aside, I lasted at Boston University for about five years. I came to understand that if one is passionate about teaching, American universities are not the place to do it. There is too much in the way of politics and egos and petty jealousies. But I am glad I did it. I loved teaching in ways I cannot describe. As an aside, I had applied to Boston University back in 1978 and was rejected. To have been made a faculty member and to have given the commencement speech some twenty-five years later was a lovely vindication.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Which contemporary poets do you personally believe will be remembered in the coming years and why? 

Daniel Thomas Moran:  My take will surprise you. Poets in the United States are really not valued at all. I expect that is the average person was asked to name one poet alive today, I guarantee that ninety-five percent could not do it. Poets are a greatly undervalued resource in our society, but with the erosion of religion in America, especially among the young, things like poetry and art might become a source of consolation and insight over time. I have been to readings of some of the most celebrated contemporary poets and the audience is still counted in the dozens. I myself have read my work in front of as many as five or six hundred people, and as few as two, one of whom was my wife. I have basically stopped doing readings because of these unhappy circumstances which only seem to remind me of how little value is placed on what I do by the country I live in. Ireland, where I have had two collections published, is a different story. Poetry and poets are in the very fibers of Irish culture and poets are held in the highest esteem. America, on the other hand is a culture based on celebrity and far too few people read for pleasure, a very sad and concerning reality. This would seem to be fatal for poetry and for poets. It will not stop me nor discourage me from writing. It is the life spring of my existence and I would do it with all the passion in me even if no one ever read it. How lucky I am.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What inspired you to write the poem The Haiku Poet.

All of the verse

he ever wrote


he penned within

a Post-it Note.


Asserting, “There must

be things far worse


than poems square

and pale and terse”.


Daniel Thomas Moran: I was sent some haiku by someone and wanted to respond, if only to myself. I would have never sent them this poem for fear of hurt feelings.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?

Daniel Thomas Moran:  The short answer is no and it is because I do not see myself in comparison to other poets. For me it has always simply been about my trying to personally make sense of life and especially my emotional life, and I am also creating a written record of my life using verse. The idea that someone, long after I am gone, perhaps a descendent of mine reading a poem I have written is just delightful. I am interested in my family genealogy and wish so much that some of my ancestors had left something written for me to enjoy, to know more about them.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your thoughts on writing Haiku.

Daniel Thomas Moran:  I know it might sound awful but it is because of how much I hold poetry in high regard. I always felt that haiku is poetry writing for people who cannot write poetry. It is a kind of word game and some of it is good but it is like asking a painter to make a painting that is only two square centimeters in size and only uses black paint. I would find that terribly confining and unsatisfying to look at. That said, I am and have always been an encouraging supporter of anyone who attempts creativity even in things such as cooking or gardening or even singing. Imagining what is possible and then doing the work to realize your vision is one of the most important human traits and abilities.  It applies to many things but especially to art.


Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Do you have any advice for new poets?

Daniel Thomas Moran:  Read everything you can get your hands on and when you find a word that you don’t know, look it up in the dictionary. Do that every time. That word might be useful one day. American English is one of the richest languages on Earth because it contains so many other languages as a result of our being a nation of immigrants. Find places of quiet introspection and observation where you rid yourself of distractions. Be curious about everything. Write as often as you can and simply for the joy of it. Don’t base your pleasure on how others receive it and don’t expect it. Be brave and see failure as an opportunity to learn something. One learns little from success. Write what you want to write regardless of who might not like it. If you cannot please yourself, you have no right to expect what you write will please anyone else.

Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Thank you very much. 

It has been my great privilege, Dr. Agarwal.

Daniel Thomas Moran: 

Daniel Thomas Moran, born in New York City in 1957, is the author of fourteen collections of poetry. He has had more than 400 poems published in some 20 different countries. His most recent collection In the Kingdom of Autumn was published in Ireland by Salmon Poetry in 2020 as was Balance by Cyberwit/Taj Mahal Review in India. His previous collection, A Shed for Wood was also published by Salmon Poetry in 2014. His Looking for the Uncertain Past, was published in Austria by Poetry Salzburg in 2006. His collection, What Color is Blue? was published in a bi-lingual Romanian edition by The University of Bucharest in 2022. He was poet laureate of Suffolk County, NY from 2005-2007. He has had four collections published in bilingual editions, one in Spanish and four in Romanian. He has served as Vice President of The Walt Whitman Birthplace Association where he instituted the Long Island School of Poetry Reading Series. He has collaborated with artists on a number of projects including the renowned Password Project, based in Austria. He is retired Clinical Assistant Professor from Boston University’s School of Dental Medicine, where in 2011 he delivered the school’s Commencement Address. He was twice awarded the Outstanding Clinical Faculty Award by the graduating class. His collected papers are being archived by The Dept. of Special Collections at his alma mater, Stony Brook University in New York where he serves as Chair of The Dean’s Advisory Board for The University Libraries. He is an ordained Humanist Minister and Arts Editor for The Humanist magazine in Washington, DC. He lives with his wife, Karen, in New Hampshire.