Broken Asides with Daniel Gustafsson


When did you first feel like a writer?

It was an early, but gradually dawning and deepening, sense of vocation. I remember a New Year’s Eve party, when I was probably 20 years old, where I declared in intoxicated enthusiasm that I would change the world through poetry. I may have been reading too much Mayakovsky, and drinking too much vodka, but since around that time I’ve made conscious choices to make room for writing in my life.  

What’s the most interesting thing that has inspired your writing and what was the result?

Having grown up in Sweden, I then lived in South Korea during two formative years in my late teens, attending an international school in English. If it hadn’t been for this, I may not have started writing in English and may not have found my way here via my love of literature. The time spent in that part of the world also kindled an enduring fascination with East Asian art and philosophy, which surfaces in themes and forms of my poetry. Being uprooted from Sweden, to where I’ve since returned only at longer or shorter intervals, may also be the source of some of the themes of exploration and home-longing that feature a lot in my work.    

Paint us a picture: what does your writing process look like? Do you write in coffee shops at night or only on an old type-writer?

I’m rarely spotted without pen and paper in my breast pocket, always ready to jot down phrases or impressions. At the same time, I try to allow lines to linger in my head, since I want them work on the ear and be memorable and resonant, before settling down to sustained writing. I usually work on several related poems at the same time, and tend to conceive of what I wish to say in terms of sequences or variations on themes and forms. I garner most ideas when out and about in nature, and do most sustained writing over repeated cups of tea. I often print rough drafts and work over them in pen, often several times over.  

Describe your ideal reader: who would your work speak to?

Someone thirsting for re-enchantment, looking for poetry and thought spurning back against entropy and disillusionment. Someone unafraid of a playful treatment of traditional themes and forms. A lover of language and beauty. 

Who’s an author you’ve changed your mind about and why?

I’ve lately warmed to Wordsworth, through getting to know Grasmere and the areas that inspired him, and through finding resonances with my own childhood and my own philosophical preoccupations in his work. As an ardent Blakean, I initially felt that I had to reject Wordsworth, and I can still find him a bit plodding, but I’ve come to admire the patience of his blank verse and the depth of his thought.  

If you could interview any other writer/artist, who would it be and why?

I don’t know about interviewing, but there are a number of people I’d enjoy talking to, off the record over a glass of whisky or a pot of tea, about the creative and contemplative life; the painter Ian McKeever, and the poet and translator David Hinton, for example. I’d also love to meet the polymath Iain McGilchrist, whose tremendous new tome(s) The Matter with Things will prove an enduringly vital resource for those of us wanting to vindicate a poetic worldview.  

What motivates you to keep writing?

It is what I love doing and feel I need to do – and one way in which I may contribute meaning and beauty to the world.  

How do you deal with writer’s block or being overwhelmed by the writing process?

If I dry up, I seek out flow and movement – go for a walk by the river, go swimming or rowing, or sit down to a gong-fu tea ceremony. There are also writers whose work I can open pretty much at random and be sure to be inspired by – Blake, Elytis, Wilbur, for example.    

Where would you like to see yourself in a decade? A creative writing teacher? As a best-seller?

I’m working on several projects at the moment, which I hope to complete and publish within the next couple of years. A poet friend is hatching a somewhat bonkers idea of a kind of poetry school where he wants me involved; we’ll know within the next decade if that takes off in interesting ways. I don’t have any realistic hopes of making a living from writing, but the aim is always to carve out a kind of balance in life where the necessary evil of paid work does not encroach too much on my imagination or time to write. A decade from now, I hope to still keep trying different forms and approaches to what I have to say.   

What has your work taught you about yourself?

That I know less on my own than when I trust inspiration and poetic form to speak. It has taught me to recognise what kinds of things and places inspire me, and where to seek them, and it has given me the courage to follow where poetry leads.

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