Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Skylight Press author Daniel Staniforth to my blog to tell us about his writing, his music and his latest book. Welcome Daniel!
Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?
How to encapsulate oneself? Well, British born and bred, now living, working and raising a family in the U.S., but always glancing back to old Albion. I’m in the habit of referring to myself mostly as a musician and composer as that craft was the first thing to become a prominent part of my life – and indeed I’ve kept a diary of sorts through hundreds of musical recordings and assorted whispering projects. I have some academic background in music but my official degreed expertise and training is in art of Literature, mainly avant-garde and 20th Century works.
Having said that, the various grades of college were only ever a touchstone and I love to dabble in various periods all the way back to the mediaeval. The son of an evangelical preacher, I have a fascination with religious and theological themes, as well as the more shadowy side of spirituality found in occulted collectives and esoteric lore. I latch on to various subjects and read up on them at length, with no particular methodology beyond simply trudging behind instinct. I’m an odd blend of the ancient-futuristic, loving old forms and philosophies while wishing to chase up Pound’s invective to “make it new” and embrace fresh experimentalism.
Coming from a family of teachers I suppose it is not surprising that I should find myself a part-time college professor, albeit slogging thanklessly in the backwaters of academia for some time now. I must say that teaching, even at the introductory university level, has become the most agreeable vocation after grinding away at various administrative jobs at different universities, although I did have an interesting stint at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where I forged friendships with some super writers.
I am also a stringed instrument luthier, acquiring a fascination for the craft while working at an old violin shop for a few years. After a spell with a major musical instrument wholesaler as the quality control specialist, about which I could relate some harrowing stories, I now restore instruments in the comfort of my own garage as a form of therapy as well as extra income. I also try to keep the music flowing as the proprietor of Flowforth Productions, which has released numerous recordings under my name or that of various creative collectives like Luna Trick, Alchymical Muse, Rebsie Fairholm, Dreamhaus and Dream Nth. From neoclassical to alt-rock to psyche-folk – I dabble in it all shamelessly.
In the last 3 years I have had the privilege of uniting with like minds to help develop an up and coming British press. Along with my own books I have edited two lengthy poetry collections and worked with a number of wonderful authors. Of all my vocational endeavors to date it has been the most blessed.
Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?
I sort of have to “dream my genesis” a bit here, borrowing a line from Dylan Thomas. I’m much surer of my beginnings as a musician, being all too briefly a bit of a cello prodigy.
A late bloomer academically, I was always comfortable in English classes, or any class where I could express myself through writing rather than some short-term memory selection process. I suppose my beginnings, and indeed the mainstay of my writings, came as a songwriter, having written hundreds since I nicked my mum’s junior Yamaha and taught myself how to play at about age 12. It’s natural then that my first initial literary interest should be the versification of the Romantic poets (more Keats and Blake than Wordsworth), by whose stylings I would scratch out my first attempts at poetry. I could also mimic Elizabethan verse at will and became convinced that I was an old soul born in the wrong century, a notion that lingers amongst poets. This early fascination was followed by a score of others across the genres and I remember considerable flings with Hesse, Woolf, Beckett, Bulgakov, Borges, Nabokov, Calvino, Dylan Thomas, Wilfred Owen, all the Symbolists then the Surrealists, Julian Barnes, Angela Carter… the list goes. Other disciplines slipped in between… Ricouer, Nietzsche, Russell, Ingersoll, Pagels…oh stop showing off… to the point somewhere around 2005 where I burned out and couldn’t read anything for months. I think it was at this point where I realized that I couldn’t keep taking and had to give… and began taking myself a bit more seriously as a writer beyond the odd poem and song.
It’s difficult for a writer to assess his own development. I think I’ve learned to balance my love of automatic handwriting and ‘stream of consciousness’ type ecriture with that severe and crippling self-critical reaction that so often borders on immediate censorship. While most of my poetry still comes from the immediacy of impulse and my old-fashioned faith in the muse, I have learned to write in more shapely and architectural ways. Perhaps I learned this from the postmodernists or the ouli po set, where constraint, device and artistic burden can become an equal part of the creative process. I had to learn this in order to write my series of short stories, Diddle, although they still allow for some surrealist indulgence too. I’ve also come to love writing essays and various forms of non-fiction, perhaps boosted by my editorial work with other authors and my nerdy love of theoretical gamesmanship. But in real honesty – I’m still somewhat of a novice and have no right to speak so emphatically about writing – but sod it – my most recent book is a blend of non-fiction, poetry, conspiracy, riddle, parody and pastiche.
How would you describe your work – its themes and the important things about it?
These questions don’t get any easier. People often ask me what one of my songs or poems is about and I irritate them by replying, very honestly at that – “I don’t have a
bloody clue.” Perhaps I have an inkling… can stab at some meaning behind a feeling or some collective codices of language, but the fact is a lot of this stuff is sort of dictated from some place just the other side of immediate coherence.
It’s hard to talk about this without sounding pretentious or up one’s own liturgical arse… but I think people like Breton, Artaud, and more recently Philip Lamantia or Will Alexander, instruct us in the electric and cathartic function of the subconscious and how the writer can tap into the immediate states of language, or like many esoteric writers that learn to channel voices from various planes. But there are some poems where you have to write towards a concrete notion and I have learned to write outside-in, which requires a very different sort of discipline. My fiction, and to a lesser extent my cryptological book on Shakespeare, required some forethought and planning although I still allow myself to be roguish and tangential within the flimsily established template. I would like to describe my method of working as not allowing myself to settle on a method of working. When I sit down to record music or write I try to change up the approach and methodology as much as possible. Whether such a description is true or not is anyone’s guess!
As for themes, there are some reoccurring throughout my work. A lot of my work points to the mystical, the blasphemous, the primordial, the cosmological, often hinting at states rather than outlining them in detail. I’m under no illusions and know that for many such represents an intellectual dead-end – but I’ll take my chances. I’m awash with submarine themes as I’m often subjected to underwater dreams – as evidenced by my poetry collection, Weaver in the Sluices, the title of which is drawn from a poem about my ancestors who were Forths upon the English canals
and rivers. I also find myself drawn to nature, not in a bona fide nature-poet sort of way, but more to the pagan underpinnings behind natural phenomenon and to the dark and ancient folk soul of the land. I do write about urban settings but more the world of shadow and possibility rather than implicit settings found in much contemporary fiction. As a chronic daydreamer I admire the discipline of such writers
of actuality and plausibility, but I must be content to be pulled along my own peculiar tides.
Tell me about your current book – what is it about and what makes it a great read?
It’s called The Groundlings of Divine Will and it’s an odd little book. I’m not sure what its target audience would be – or even how to talk about it with any conviction. Loosely, it imagines Shakespeare’s first audience, the ‘groundlings of the pit,’ as a secret and enlightened society. I juxtapose these early followers with other examples of messianic discipleship and play with notions of orthodoxy and heresy.
It gets into some dark historical places but allows for gleeful but sometimes uncomfortable parody. It all stemmed from my annoyance with how Shakespeare is taught in contemporary academia, in that he is completely annexed from the historical period in which he wrote and hardly ever taught alongside fellow playwrights or the leading intellectual voices of his day. I throw him back in with Montaigne, Hollinshed, Bacon, Dee, Spenser, Kidd, Marlowe et al in what was the theological bloodbath of Tudor and Stuart England. The whole book is addressed to the Master of Revels as an affront to authority and orthodoxy. It is a very different book to my short-story collection, which was an absurd grouping of immigrant tales woven around the lines of a nursery line, or my book of selected poems. I hope to follow it up with a theoretical work about experimental fiction that I have been honing for a number of years. Also, there is hopefully more poetry and fiction in the works.
Where can I buy a copy of your book?
Author Page: http://www.flowforth.com/flowforth_literary.html
Music Site: http://www.flowforth.com/