How Journaling and Observation Shape Dani Castonzo’s Prose Poetry

Dani Castonzo is a fundraiser and creative writer from Chicago. She is an avid reader, traveler, and walker. She is a frequent performer in Chicago’s live storytelling scene. She is currently working on her first young adult novel.

Her prose poems “City Seasons,” “September Sadness,” and “Walking Tour” are published in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition. The poems detail one summer spent in a small town in Michigan and another spent in Madrid. In these poems, Dani Castonzo explores themes of wandering, growing up, and the significance of seasons passing.

Your ex has her nipples pierced, and I am the kind of girl who only talks about getting her nipples pierced. So I wake up, hungover and sleepy, and I dare myself to walk 20 miles.

I pack the essentials: notebooks, pen, chorizo, backup pen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, slightly old cheese, sunscreen, ointment for the road rash on my ass (note that I will never dare myself to go rollerblading again).

I walk all damn day. Sweaty men jog in Casa de Campo through the yellow grass and sparse, piney trees. Battles were fought here. I spit; I imagine it mingling with the blood and spit of Spanish soldiers and give myself chills on a sunny day. Five miles blur by and my feet keep moving. I’m a little bored, a little thirsty. I sit on a picnic bench, one cheek off the seat. “FUCK SOCIALISM” is etched in the table. I am here to write, to make something of this day and this grand adventure my life is supposed to be. But the wheels just turn like the cyclists whipping by, kicking up dust and twigs but no prize-winning words.

—”Walking Tour” by Dani Castonzo

Capsule Stories: These poems are brimming with detail and specificity. How do you pull up these vivid details as you write? Do you take notes while traveling, have an incredible memory, or make up bits to fit the piece?

Dani Castonzo: I took notes throughout the day to write “Walking Tour” and wrote the poem based on my journal entries. My undergraduate degree is in journalism, and although I didn’t pursue reporting as a career, I’m still in the habit of paying attention to little details and carrying a notebook. 

Most of the poems I’ve written while traveling have been based on journal entries. Every few months, I would go through my journal and clean up poems I’d started on a park bench or while in a hostel. Journaling is a big part of my writing practice; I filled at least 40 notebooks the year I lived in Spain, which resulted in me being charged a huge fee for my suitcase being overweight on the way home! I spent 20 minutes at the airport throwing out shoes and clothes and souvenirs to lighten the weight, but I wouldn’t throw out any of my notebooks. 

Capsule Stories: In “Walking Tour,” you write, “I haven’t spoken more than a couple words all day.” Talk about this aspect of traveling alone—the silence and solitude—and how it affects your writing about travel. Do you find yourself observing more, writing more when traveling alone compared to traveling with other people?

Dani Castonzo: Yes! I’ve always found such value in traveling alone. Once I’ve stopped interacting with other people, I feel like my writing brain has room to turn on, and I pay attention to the world in a new way. I’ve found that I can conjure up this experience at home by taking a solitary walk without my phone, letting my mind wander on a long bus ride, or exploring a new neighborhood.

Capsule Stories: Capsule Stories’s publication schedule and themes are centered around seasons. Your writing explores seasons as well. What is the significance of the seasons passing for you and for your writing?

Dani Castonzo: I was born and raised in the Midwest, so seasons have always been really significant for me. When I lived in Madrid, where they don’t have four traditional seasons, I realized how much I rely on seasons to mark the passing of time and to allow for a shift in energy. I complain about every Chicago winter, but the time for rest and relaxation allows me to have more energy in the summer, when the days are longer and there’s so much going on. I’ve found that I do a lot more unpolished and spontaneous writing in the warmer months and spend the cooler months reviewing and editing. 

Capsule Stories: What draws you to the prose poem form rather than flash or poetry with line breaks?

Dani Castonzo: I’m drawn to prose because there aren’t any rules. You can just write what’s true and interesting and cut out unnecessary words until it flows. 

Capsule Stories: How does your background in live storytelling affect your written storytelling?

Dani Castonzo: The biggest thing I’ve learned from live lit is that it’s okay to jump right into the meat of the story. That’s something I strive to do in my writing as well; rather than get caught up in the details or the background, just start right at the heart of it. 

Capsule Stories: Where can readers follow you and find your work?

Dani Castonzo: I’m a bad millennial and very infrequently on social media, but I keep my writing website updated at danicastonzo.com.

You can read Dani Castonzo’s prose poems “City Seasons,” “September Sadness,” and “Walking Tour” in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition. Grab your copy today!