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Wolfpack Writers: Tyree Daye

cover of "Cardinal"

Poet Tyree Daye graduated from NC State’s Department of English with a bachelor’s degree in 2014 and an MFA in poetry in 2017. He was one of 10 recipients of the 2019 Whiting Award, one of the largest and most prestigious awards given to emerging writers in the United States.

His second poetry collection, Cardinal, is already getting national attention and was featured on The New York TimesBest Poetry of 2020 list. As Copper Canyon Press, which published the book in October, writes:

Cardinal is a generous atlas that serves as a poetic “Green Book” — the travel-cum-survival guide for black motorists negotiating racist America in the mid-twentieth century. Interspersed with images of family and upbringing, which have been deliberately blurred, it also serves as an imperfect family album. Cardinal traces the South’s burdened interiors and the interiors of a Black male protagonist attempting to navigate his many departures and returns home — a place that could both lovingly rear him and coolly annihilate him. With the language of elegy and praise, intoning regional dialect, and a deliberately disruptive cadence, Daye carries the voices of ancestors and blues poets, while stretching the established zones of the Black American vernacular.

We caught up with Daye to learn more about his poetry inspiration, writing rituals and time at NC State.

Where do you find inspiration for your poems?

My inspiration comes from reading. It comes from the world around me through nature. A particular thing will happen in front of me — say a chicken hawk will fly by — and lines will start coming to me. I find inspiration from talking to other poets and helping students work through their poems. 

What are your writing rituals?

I write outside in the morning or in the morning by a window. I like to write after a long walk. I have whatever I’m reading at the time with me. I find ten words, phrases and colors from that book, and I start writing. 

How have your NC State degrees impacted your career?

NC State is where the foundation of my poetics was created. Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, Sheila Smith McKoy, Kwesi Brookins, Deidre Crumbley, Eduardo Corral, John Balaban, Wilton Barnhardt and Belle Boggs all support my poetry in many ways. 

Tyree Daye sitting on steps in Court of North Carolina
Tyree Daye

What was your favorite class at NC State?

My favorite course that I think should be required for Black students, especially at PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions), is Kwesi Brookins’ Psychology and the African American Experience (PSY 345) course.

What got you interested in poetry?

I come from a family of storytellers. I’ve always been drawn to a good narrative structure.  

Do you have a favorite poem?

This question is so impossible for me. I like many poems for many different reasons. But here are the ones that come to mind: Larry Levis’ “The Cry,” Lucille Clifton’s “The Lost Baby Poem” and Etheridge Knight’s “Idea of Ancestry.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Lucille Clifton, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison.

What’s next for you?

To keep reading, writing and searching for language.