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?
All my books are available from Amazon here(both US and UK sites) and various online vendors – or direct from www.skylightpress.co.uk
Author Page: http://www.flowforth.com/flowforth_literary.html
Music Site: http://www.flowforth.com/
This was really fascinating to read, Chris and Daniel. It makes me realise anew what it really means to be well read. I’m afraid I’m not as I could probably claim familiarity with only half of the authors you have mentioned here :-p Daniel, you are a man of extraordinary talents by the sounds of it. I’m very interested in the musical angle . Apart from the guitar, what is your instrument or are you multi-skilled there as well? As a stringed-instrument luthier, that suggests all of them, but I’m curious to know what you play when you keep the music going. And what music do you play? As a teacher and writer, lyrics, poetry and dramatic verse must be connected somehow. I think I will need to investigate your writing, but I’d also like to hear some of your compositions too, so I’ll go to your websites for more!
Thanks Val! I’m hoping Daniel will pop along here and answer any questions people pose for him – I think there may be a time difference as he is based in the US – but I’m sure he will be along at some point.
Thanks, Chris! I’ve just answered one of my own questions, I think 🙂 I’ve been looking at Daniel’s music site and see he composes for piano, guitar and cello, so I will assume he plays all of them! I’ll pop back later. A great post!
Thanks so much for your interest and questions. I think “well read” is a subjective term and it’s hard to talk about literature without sounding like a bit of a name-dropper. I’m often embarrassed by what I haven’t read – and simply follow my own reading paths in concentrated areas like avant garde literature. Regarding music, I am a cellist by training but taught myself to play guitar and other stringed instruments. I can hack away at the piano a bit and will give anything a good go. I recently acquired a hammered dulcimer and bowed psaltery and they will appear on my upcoming Alchymical Muse album (with Rebsie Fairholm). As you will see on the website I have quite a few musical tangents. Luna Trick is my ongoing alternative rock project that has produced 3 CDs and a few download albums, which probably reflects various influences like Bowie and a few alternative groups from the 80s. But I love composing and arranging classical and ambient type works and have been lucky enough to do some commissioned pieces for theatre and independent films. You are right to talk of interconnectedness as my passion for music and writing comes from the same place and I’m always trying to explore ways to combine them. I like to do pieces that I call “sonic poemscapes” – which is a reading of a particular work (either mine or other) in a sonically activated environment. I believe great poetry comes alive when it is read or performed – and every reading can be different.
Thank you so much for this, Daniel. I’ve listened to some of the tracks posted on your site and I really like the mix of medieval and modern. It’s very compelling. I am going to listen to some more as soon as I have a moment. I agree about your voices being so well matched (yours and Rebsie’s). It’s quite remarkable how similar the tonal quality is. Lovely, in fact!
Wow! Daniel certainly sounds like an interesting fellow and may I say probably a bit of a secret genius – if all his interests, family and academic background are anything to go by. Thanks for sharing Daniel’s journey, fascinating read. 🙂
Ha – thanks Laura – I expect he’s blushing!
Indeed I am – you have lovely readers!
Great post. Amazing how many ‘Renaissance ‘ men there are out there.Modern and original.
Modern yes, I think so too Carol – but I think Daniel also seems to have a keen eye for history and heritage, not least in the subject of his latest book.
A fascinating read into someone’s background and ongoing endeavours to entertain. Having known Daniel for some years now, albeit through the love of sport and not literature, it was clear to myself that he was well read and oozing with talent. Nice to see one of life’s good guys stamping his signature on a World void of passion.
They say there is a good book in everyone, I believe with Daniel it could easily run into double figures.
I do have two questions for Daniel.
Do you think being so diverse in your literature background is an advantage or disadvantage when trying to make your own mark?
How do you define the difference between a good poet and a lyrist?
My second question is based on my own experiences in trying to separate the two. Maybe they shouldn’t be separated, as personally I believe when done well, both codes achieve the same.
By the way, good luck to the both of you on your future endeavours.
Great first question Gordon. I would have to say both. Of course, having a diverse background in literature can be a great boon – and I’ve always thought that the best way to learn how to write is simply to read the works of the greats rather than wasting money on expensive creative writing courses. But one can also be crippled by too much influence when trying to find one’s own voice – and there’s a point where you have to shut out the influences and get on with things. It’s sort of similar to my musical experience as a multi-instrumentalist. While it’s wonderful to collect and play so many instruments you can only be a true virtuoso if you stick to one. I often think where I would be if I’d just stuck to the cello. I think literary writers can sometimes chase after too many ‘tricks’ and lose the individuality of their own voice. As to the difference between a good poet and lyricist – there is very little. A lot of my lyrics are drafted from poems and I’ve found a lot of good song lyric writers often make good poets. Although I confess I listen to the music before anything else – good lyric just complete the mood that the music creates. I would say that good lyricists are scarce in today’s music scene and I’d much rather listen to the poetry of a lesser band like the Legendary Pink Dots than the shallow and derivative lyrics of what is peddled as ‘popular.’