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The Beat Poet

Daniel McTaggart’s shift from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. is like a recurring rough draft that requires meticulous editing, cleaning and discarding.

As a lead custodian, McTaggart makes part of the Evansdale area of the Morgantown campus glimmer from dusk to dawn. But during the day, McTaggart, BA ’92, English, is the one who gets to let it all spill out. 

In 2017, he was named West Virginia’s first Beat Poet Laureate by the National Beat Poetry Foundation. Beat poetry, a mostly free verse and jazz-like form of poetry, emerged in the post-World War II era from a group of writers rejecting conventional literary traditions. 
Qs by JAKE STUMP
PHOTOGRAPHED BY RAYMOND THOMPSON JR.

Q Was there a breakthrough moment for you when you realized, "Hey, this is what I want to do. I want to be a poet or writer?"

A I played with the idea through college. After college, I had a bad bout of depression and just lost the ability to write. I could not write anything for at least four years. I was working at the BFS on the Mileground one night and suddenly got the urge to write something. It was like a dam burst. I was writing things that meant something to me and I couldn’t stop. It was something I had to do, like breathing. It was therapeutic. When you’re overridden by anxiety, you’re taken out of your rhythm, and it takes something hard to knock you back into it  and it can take a while. It did for me.   

Beat Poet
It seems like most of your writing is observational.

Yes. My friends would say I’m an observational poet. I've eaten at a lot of diners. I've sought out diners to see what I see and write what I write. 

What is it about the diner that fascinates you and inspires your writing?

Besides looking like a place where Norman Rockwell went to die, they are places where people gather and just talk about anything. They air their grievances or talk about the best things that ever happened to them. They’re places where people go to relax and really be open. You don’t get that at fast food places. You stop there to eat, get up and get out. When you stop in a diner, you’ll likely hear about the birth of someone’s seventh grandchild, as well as someone who just got fired from a job they held for 45 years. It’s a wide spectrum of experience you can get at a diner. 

How does your night job as a facilities worker on campus influence your writing?

I work in two buildings. One is the Advanced Engineering Research Building, a very quiet building. When I’m in there, I have a lot of introspection going on. But if I spend time in the Evansdale Library, that place is open 24/7 during the week. I hear snippets of conversation that strike me into writing them down. They’re totally out of context, but there may be a line that has a hook to it.

What do you get out of writing?

I’d say writing is my passion. No one gets into writing thinking they’ll get rich. All Stephen King has to do is write and never have to push a mop. But you can’t count on that happening to you. It’s a crook of fate. The important thing is to keep your passion, whether you make a living off of it or not. 

I get a fulfillment of purpose. It’s like a building block of yourself. The more I write, the more I complete who I'm supposed to be. 

For examples of McTaggart's work, go to WVUToday

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