San Diego You have to kiss a lot of toads before you find a handsome prince... Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly... If a relationship is to evolve, it must go through a series of endings. Such is the wisdom served up in sweet, gooey heaps at San Diego Romance (www.sandiegorsomance. com), a local matchmaking website that also editorializes on love and its thorns. In its search for the perfect articulation of what romance is, the site's editors recently turned to the city's self-proclaimed sage on the subject -- none other than Lord Staniforth, who calls himself "San Diego's Finest Poet." Some of Mr. -- excuse me, Lord Staniforth's poems and musings on love are currently featured at the site. Insightful though they are, they left me with a few nagging questions. What, for example, is a lord doing in San Diego? And is he really the best poet in town?
I managed to track down this elusive literary figure and tease out some of his secrets. Following are excerpts from our correspondence.
Q: I know that you have said that you would "rather remain a mystery, an essential part of a romantic." But what can you tell me about your background? Where are you from, how old are you?
A: There are many things which make a man, least of all his age. The places he has roamed, the women he has loved, the enemies he has fought -- and that's not just the physical -- the mates that would make sacrifices for him, the family who has abandoned or loved him -- these things build character. Years are only a form of measurement for a life but account for nothing at the end of that life.
You are right, I would rather remain a mystery. In other words, I would rather live through my poetry. My poetry is my life. I can say that I have spent most of my life in England. I lived in several places including London. I have just moved to San Diego from a place called Lone Pine. I spent four years there wandering in the wilderness...though, unlike Christ, I had a meal or two and found some temptations overwhelming.
Q: Staniforth sounds like a very distinguished name. Can you say anything about its genealogy?
A: Yeah, "Staniforth" is a northern derivation of the southern name "stanford." It means "dweller by a stony ford." "Ford," as you know, is a crossing on a river. Perhaps one of my ancestors built his estate by a stony ford.
Q: Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is a lord?
A: It's hard to say, just about anyone with a title of some sort or other. The word has changed in meaning over the years. Vaguely it is someone who is a member of the House of Lords, the upper house in the British parliament -- though the great Lord Byron and other well-known lords never set foot in it. It serves as a sort of superior court where appeals of the highest order are made but insists in keeping its paws in other matters such as selling the country to Europe. A long time ago, lords used to be bishops, earls, dukes, or barons, but the bishops have long since been ousted. Now it's only people with a title, or people awarded for some obscure thing they've done for the country. Oddly enough, lords are called "life peers."
Q: Are you in fact a Lord?
Q: You have a new book of poems coming out, called Dormancy and Deliverance. Tell me about it.
A: Most of them have been written over the last year, though I did pluck a few from my youth. A theme does unite them...a theme that shifts in feeling. I begin with my poetry that is of a darker nature...a world devoid of romance. I call this "the dormant age" -- an age without affection, the key to romance. This world was often the reflection of a relationship that lacked affection itself. A dormant volcano is cold rock with an empty interior. Understand?
There is one poem that springs to mind, "The Amorous Abortion," a poem in which the spiritual heart is ripped out and the romantic in me dies. At such times, when affection was lacking, I have wanted to tear the romantic from within. I wished there were some sort of clinic that dealt with that. I never could. It is a natural part of me that cannot be removed. I would be characterless without it.
This leads to the next section of my book, "Hope Poems." These are the poems of strength. If one lives for heart, then that heart is his strength in times when there is little else. The heart is willing to fight when there is no ground to fight on. The heart is willing to long for passion when there is no feeling to be found. Rationale is as useless as a grain of sand when one longs for an oasis. These poems fight and long for something beyond.
Then there is "deliverance," those goose-pimpling moments which make life seem an hors d'oeuvre for something brilliant when we die...perhaps a heaven. I choose the word deliverance because there are two meanings (and I don't mean surrender). Deliver means "to set free" and "the utterance of words." In these poems, words describe moments of liberation. There are poems in this section where the sight of a lover, an angelic landscape and so on have liberated the heart to the point where words just fall on the page. It is that explosion of feeling, like that of a volcano, which most of us secretly long for!
Q: You call yourself a "romantic," which is a label that means a lot of things to a lot of people. What exactly do you mean by it?
A: Quite simply, a true romantic is someone who lives and would die for the heart. You're right, there have been many appellations over the last 200 years...for instance, the romantics of the early 19th Century were absorbed by the mythology of the dark ages. Romance these days is strictly associated with the feeling between two lovers. I merit both, though I don't consider one-night stands to be romantic, that's dragging a beautiful word through the gutter. It should be something more lasting than that!
Q: How influenced are you by the actual Romantics, the English poets from the end of the 18th Century and the beginning of the 19th Century?
A: In feeling, I am influenced by poets such as Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and John Keats. It's almost a spiritual affinity. However, I do not use the same forms. Form, unlike sensation, changes. I prefer free verse; though, when I'm composing for a lady, rhyme seems to do her a better service.
Q: The Romantics -- Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, for instance -- certainly took flights of fancy and were seduced by idealism, fantasy, the "long ago and far away." But their poetry was also political, in that it used a language and heroes more in keeping with the time's vernacular. It sought to shrug off the irrelevance of classical poetry and classical heroes. Does your poetry attempt a similar conversation with its time? Is it political?
A: Absolutely! I have a chivalric nature and love an old chivalric tale, but I deal with the heroes and issues of our time. For instance, I wrote a poem about the O.J. Simpson trial called "O.J and Vodka." Can't wait till that one makes the headlines! It borders on the absurd. O.J. is the hero, but like the heroes in Byron's plays, is he innocent, or does he suffer from some guilt? Then again, was O.J. on trial, or was it justice?
Q: Liberty is a theme that pops up in your poems. Your poem "Highway 101," for instance, opens with imagery that recalls the Beats, on the road and all that. But it closes with the narrator driving away from a bum, blowing a plume of smoke in his face. Is liberty a privilege or a right in this poem?
A: It is a modern "flight of fancy." I'm sure Burns or Wordsworth would have loved to have been in my jeep the day I stripped it and took flight down one of the most scenic drives in the world. It's all part of that carpe diem spirit. However, neither my jeep nor the 101 were around then. Liberation? Well, liberation is one of those few moments, a spiritual thing. You can argue that it's a right or a privilege, but then again, some people who have the right or the privilege -- which their forefathers sweated and toiled for -- seldom use it. So many people spend their lives in front of a television, isn't that a form of imprisonment?
Q: In the poem "Battle Amour" you write, "Carpe diem, you dull fuckers/ To your mundane, dug-in ways!/ If those spinster mines don't toast me/ Then my blare will never fade!" What are you blaring against? I think I know what you mean by a "spinster mine," but can you give me an example?
A: I'm fighting for love. Let me put it this way, I realized some time ago that my affection was my strength. In the words of Gandhi, "A coward is incapable of exhibiting love, it is a prerogative of the brave." If we were to replace "love" with "affection" -- I'm sure Gandhi wouldn't mind -- we can begin to see my point. Generally speaking, in this day and age, affection in a man is viewed as a weakness. Bollocks!! When in battle, the heart carries a man much farther than rationale. If only some women didn't view love as a weakness --the "spinster mine" -- a man could go a lot farther in love. With the heart, I'm blaring against such barrenness in a charge to find true love.
Q: Do you covet the past, or do you prefer coloring the present with its highlights?
A: When I write, I write in reflection of something. That is a romantic's tool; it adds more color. I don't covet the past, though. I wrote a poem about this called "A Recollection of My Future." It basically calls on the reader not to live in the past, but to only learn from it:
If God wanted us to constantly say,
"Remember the good old days!"
Our eyes would be turned to face our dark memories.
I ask you a question; are these memories dark because our eyes are turned round, or is it otherwise?
Q: You have said that the "heart has a youthful nature." Can you tell me what you mean by that?
A: That's the spiritual heart. One who lives for this heart is constantly rejuvenated -- returning us to a youthful nature. For example, when I fell in love last summer, I did the famous coast-to-coast walk across England. The walk was almost 200 miles, but that was of no significance. I was in love! I would have run back if the young lady were waiting at the starting point. You see, I wasn't walking with my legs....
Q: You call yourself San Diego's finest poet. Do you really believe that? What makes your poetry better than other poems?
A: Yes, I do! I have not seen any better. Then again, this is my life and these are my poems. I can't wear someone else's, only my own.
Q: So what's the key? How do we get romance, and how do we keep it?
A: Hmmm. I could go on for hours! I do think a woman should be adored, perhaps even worshipped. A woman should feel the beauty on the inside when a man looks on her. Too often, men are after one thing, they miss the beauty. If I see a woman that I find attractive, I can simply look at her for hours. Spontaneity -- there is nothing like spontaneity: doing something exciting on the spur of the moment. So many relationships grow stale from just sitting around and talking about doing something. Bloody well do it!!
You know, I looked up the word "romance" in a dictionary once. Did you know, a "romance" does not include married couples according to definition?