Daniel Knauf is best known for his work on such television series as Carnivale, Supernatural, Fear Itself, The Phantom, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Dracula, and The Blacklist as well as the comic Iron Man. Most recently he set out to bring the world a glimpse at his more poetic side with a collection of poems coming straight from the soul that speaks of both hope and angst while mixing grit and glamour as few can. The collection called NoHo Gloaming & the Curious Coda of Anthony Santos, slated for release October 30, 2018, is now available for preorder direct from Clash Books (where the first direct 200 preorders come autographed), as well as on Amazon. I recently set down with Daniel to find out what inspired him to bring this collection to life.
Have you always enjoyed poetry? Who were some of your influences in that particular genre?
When I started out writing in college I was an art major. My early work was naturally very visual, instinctive, impatient and undisciplined, so I was drawn to the form of free verse poetry. I liked the fact that I could create a finished work in one sitting, like a drawing. Poetry was like a gateway drug that led me into longer forms. It didn’t take me long to realize that “short” did not equal “easy.” Unless one has no standards whatsoever and is content vomiting random, half-formed lines absent serious intent or any degree of complexity, one learns that the shorter a form, the more unforgiving it is.
The truth is, far more people can write a good novel than a good screenplay, and almost none at all can write a good poem. And there are maybe 3 writers alive on the planet at any given time that can pull off a terrific haiku.
My early writing influences varied depending on what form in which I was working. Different influences for prose or screenwriting. For poetry, Charles Bukowski primarily, followed by the West Coast/Beyond Baroque crowd–Ron Koertge, Gerald Locklin, Dennis Cooper, John Doe—as well as Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, the English Romantics—Keats and Shelley. And Dante.
What was the very first poem you ever wrote?
I really can’t recall. Probably something when I was a child for my Mom or something. I was brought up in a California suburb, not on some windswept Scottish heath, so poetry took a back seat to Gilligan’s Island and riding our Stingrays. Seriously, the earliest poem I memorized starts with “Milk, milk, lemonade.”
But I do remember my Dad got a real kick out of reading us limericks and humorous poems. He really loved the Gentle Jane Experiences, these super-dark, martini-dry short poems written by Carolyn Wells. Things like, “In the big steamroller’s path/Gentle Jane expressed her wrath/It passed over, after that/Gentle Jane felt rather flat.” Plus, later, there were song lyrics. Those would have to be my first real introduction to verse.
What led to your writing poetry at this particular stage in your life?
Part of it was a personal transition, a way of sorting out chaos I was experiencing at that point in my life—a lot of confusion, pain and terrible, deep loss. Plus I was balancing multiple projects, and I found composing poetry an effective way to clear my mind between going back and forth between projects—a creative rinse between cycles, so to speak. I found real joy in the rigor and discipline of it, and it allowed me to work some unfamiliar muscles. In television—especially when you’re writing someone else’s show, as I was on The Blacklist—you long to create something that’s yours alone; something that just bears one set of fingerprints.
What do you love most about the act of writing?
Starting with nothing, and finishing with something. It’s like a conjuring trick, but real. Like, “Fuck me! I made that!”
How did spilling your soul out in words in such a manner affect your outlook at the time?
It clarified things. I was able to externalize some heavy, sometimes humiliating, often devastating experiences and gain some objective wisdom rather than being dazed and punch-drunk by it. Most of all, it decisively refuted what was my biggest fear.
I’d gone through almost a decade during which the only way I could survive was by emotionally shutting down. It was a state of self-imposed anesthesia; I simply couldn’t bear the abuse to which I was being subjected. Once I was clear of it, it was hard to open up and feel again. Keep in mind, one of the most important tools a dramatist has is empathy—the ability to discern and extrapolate emotion. And if you’re numb inside, you’re done. You’ve got zero ammunition.
Those years when I wrote NoHo Gloaming was a time when I started actually feeling again—great surges of completely unexpected pain and passion. Even when it was negative or toxic, it was still so exhilarating. Life-affirming. I got drunk with it. I was like, “Yeah, bring it on! Make me hurt! Make my heart soar! Love me! Hate me! Rip me to shreds! Fuck you! I’m ALIVE, motherfucker!”
What led you to decide to put all of the various pieces together in the form of a book?
That wasn’t my idea, smartass. That was you all the way! I was just catching fireflies, putting them in jars, and floating them down my Facebook stream. You’re the one who collected them. Which was nice because, once I posted enough of them, people started asking, “When are you going to put out a book?” And I’d think, “What book?” Then you sent me all my poems in one file and said,“This book, dope!”
Can you tell our readers a little about what this collection contains in its pages?
A lot of giddy-ass shit. An alternate title could be The Portrait of the Artist Standing in the Town Square With His Pants Down. Moments. Loss. Redemption. Stupidity. Wisdom. Epiphanies and regrets. Joy. All that stuff.
Are you excited to see how the world reacts to such a thing? What do you hope the reader takes away from this particular body of work?
It’s deeply personal, but I hope others connect with it, see themselves reflected in it.
In drama, the gold standard is to inspire the ecstasy of recognition; that is, the moment when the artist renders a moment in a very specific, unprecedented way and the audience goes,“Holy shit! I thought I was the only one who ever felt that way! I thought I was all alone in that!”But you’re not, because the writer wrote it, and the actor acted it, and the director directed it, and the crew shot it, and the entire audience is empathizing with it, comprehending it. And you feel this exultation because you thought you were all alone, but you aren’t. There’s a whole fucking army of you!
It’s hard to do. If you can pull off one scene like that in a movie or episode, people are thrilled. If you can do it twice, you win awards. If you can do it more than that, you’re fucking Shakespeare.
Do you ever get nervous about exposing so much of your self to the world through your words?
Not really. That’s why people who make art are called “public figures.” It’s part of the job description.
I understand one of your poems was for your mother Dorothy. Can you tell us a little about her? What do you love about her most? What would you say is the most important thing she taught you?
My mom had no governor on her impulse to tell the truth—at least the way she saw the truth in that particular moment. It could be feckless and charming or cruel and thoughtless. My Dad used to tell her, “Jeez, Dorothy! Make sure your brain is engaged before your mouth is in gear!” Nevertheless, she’s still a cipher to me. I knew her as a Mom, but never as a woman—and certainly never as a girl. I regret not having more conversations with her grownup-to-grownup. I really regret only half-listening to her when she did reminisce. It was like, “Yeah, Mom. Right. Whatever…”
We’ll have a lot of catching up to do on the other side.
The best thing I think she taught me was to just be who I am.
Is there any one poem in this collection that is more deeply personal to you than all the rest?
They’re all pretty personal. My favorite is Perfection, because it’s about the person I love most in the world. My first and last great love.
Do you think you there might be second collection in years to come?
Probably, at some point. I love this book more than anything else I’ve ever done.
What projects are you currently working on?
I really can’t talk about active projects, especially since they’re based on intellectual property that doesn’t belong to me. Suffice it to say, they’re all fairly high-profile and awesome as all get out. As for projects I’ve developed over the years, they can all be found on the web at https//Knauf.TV/
Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
Only a note to all those folks who avoid poetry like I avoid mimes.
There’s poetry-poetry and there’s the poetry I write, which is something else—much more approachable and relatable, I think. And perfect to keep in the bathroom in reach of the toilet. Seriously. Buy a separate copy for every bathroom in your house! Each poem has been engineered to take no longer to read than it does to evacuate your bowels. It’s all clinically tested and proven and very scientific, I swear! Except The Curious Coda of Anthony Santos. Save that one for when you’re severely impacted because that one’s an epic and it takes a while.
Oh, that. And I love you all.