Daniel Battigalli-Ansell is a poetic contributor to our upcoming issue of Bombay Gin. He is a poet, rapper, and spiritual student. Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, he moved to Colorado to attend Naropa University where he graduated with degrees in Religous Studies and Traditional Eastern Arts: Tai Chi Chuan. With far-reaching influences, from Nas to Rumi, he draws verbal pictures to captivate the ear and mind. His work ranges a spectrum of content touching on personal, cultural, spiritual, and political themes. Whether on the page or on the mic, this self-defined “word wizard” embraces the power of language to make meaning and convey feeling.
Keep an eye our for his poem Hazrat in Bombay Gin #44.
ERICA HOLLAND: How long have you been writing?
DANIEL BATTIGALLI-ANSELL: The interview answer is I’ve been writing since 4th grade, we had this poetry project and I still remember the first line, which was “Do fiery asteroids break time?” When I was like 9! I still remember something clicked inside of me… I was just like “Woah!” Just creating a thought that I had never thought before, that doesn’t even make sense, but does something to your mind, it takes you somewhere! But that’s kinda bullshit. I really started really writing when I was about 15. I started writing spoken word pieces. When I was 20 I really started getting into slam poetry and knew that’s what I wanted to do, it was awesome, and that’s when I really started writing.
EH: Anne Waldman and Ginsberg, the founders of the Kerouac School were amazing performance poets… and all of yours is so spiritually inspired, I am so happy I could interview you for this!
DB: I think it’s kinda funny, I always feel like I’m too poetic for rap, and too “rap” for poetry.
EH: I love it. I really love the line in your “Skeleton Closet” poem. There was a line in there, “I don’t need pity / pithy pissy poetry is my replacement for crying.” I could hear you say it when I read it, and I think that’s an awesome example of conveying your “rap” voice to a reader. It’s almost impossible not to read aloud. You do a lot of hip-hop and spoken word performance. What’s the difference between hip-hop and written poetry? How do you decide between something spoken versus something printed?
DB: I think they basically have different aspects, spoken word can have a whole different realm of intention, rhythm, cadence, how you’re saying things. In spoken, you can create that paradox where you create a tone that isn’t normally fitting to the words you’re saying. I think spoken word has an easier way of expressing words, I’ll perform poems differently based on how I’m feeling.
EH: Some poetry is just meant to be performed.
DB: I’m really influenced by Sufi poetry, and that was a huge trend, Sufi poets would always but their poetry to music, make their poetry into songs. I don’t think it’s new at all. If you look back into king’s and queen’s courts, and they had musicians playing the harp, and all types of instruments, while the poet was reading or singing their poetry. It’s natural. Allen Ginsberg – I don’t think you can really appreciate his poetry until you hear him read it out loud, it’s so good when he reads it; the page has a different way of expressing things. The page provides its own mediums of conveyance, and spoken word allows for different things. I feel that poetry is meant to be read aloud. I think there’s poetry that doesn’t even sound good or convey itself properly strictly on the page. If you give me any poem I’m not just gonna read it like a book, I read it like there is a voice behind it, and I think that’s one of the skills of page poets, being able to convey a really strong voice without the use of a voice in the physical sense. When I write poetry on a page, I already have a concept of how I would speak it, and I want to bring the reader into that.
EH: How do you go about writing? Do you take a lot of notes and then put them together, or do you just sit down and bang it out?
DB: It depends. Sometimes poems come really quickly. I just feel some impetus, some stirring inside of me. A lot of the times it’s subconscious or unconscious, a lot of times a first line will come to me and then I just sit down and it comes out. Other times, I’ll start writing and write it over a few days. It’s usually never fragments of things, it’s just sitting down and letting it come. Sometimes there’s some editing, but rarely very much.
EH: If a lot of it is subconscious or unconscious, do you feel like you learn a little bit about yourself when you see what comes out?
DB: That’s why I love poetry, because it’s revelatory. For me it’s the big difference between normal writing (like when I’m writing an essay or a blog post where it’s something I already know) and poetry. Poetry feels like it’s revealing something to me. Lines will come and I don’t necessarily even know what they mean, or they have a multifaceted meaning. One of the poems I gave you is lots of latent material and dark feelings, just finding expression, so it’s very cathartic — a release. At different times, like with my Hazrat poem, it feels as though another voice is speaking through me, and I just channel that, like I’m not even the voice. My muse writes, I don’t write, I just channel.
EH: And you weren’t a lit major, correct?
DB: I was not a lit major. I’ve never taken a poetry class. I majored in Religious Studies and Traditional Eastern Arts. Religious poetry has influenced me a lot, and I’ve thought a lot about what Hazrat Inayat Khan says, “Not all poetry is prophecy, but all prophecy is poetry.” Any truly inspired writing or scripture is poetic. The freedom of poetry to juxtapose meaning and words, and create concepts that seem impossible, helps bring about the paradoxical truths of religion and spirituality. In the Zohar, there’s this famous line talking to the emanation of creation, “in a single point, it both broke through and did not break through its aura.” That whole book is incredibly poetic, like, “A high holy king, adorned with adornments, gushed its flows through the ethers.” Reading it is poetry, and I think it just comes out like that because truth is spirally. Poetry is spirally.
EH: Let’s talk about our theme, “A Constellation of Ghosts.” One definition of ‘haunt’ is ‘to visit habitually or to appear to frequently.’ What haunts you?
DB: Using that definition, it’s a conglomeration of positive and negative things. Fears, regrets, and practical situations that are difficult keep recurring. Bills haunt me [laugh]. But also, things like love haunt me. Truth is the biggest thing that haunts me, the search for truth. Trying to live transparently to what is really true, and not just what I want to believe, is always disrupting my egoic plan. And then obviously there are actual ghosts that haunt me. Demons. The normal things that you would think of. Passion haunts me… I’ll be going to bed, but I just can’t because I need to write. It won’t go away.
EH: So you have happy ghosts, too? What’s a happy ghost? I feel like love isn’t always a happy ghost, or truth, because they’re such a struggle.
DB: Oh they’re not always happy ghosts. Joy haunts me. It comes up, even in the darkest of moments. It’s definitely been a recurring experience of sinking to depths of darkness and sadness or anger and really sticking with it and feeling it fully, and then it spontaneously transforming into joy. I have a hypothesis to support it, supported by lots of teachings, that joy is our natural state. No matter what’s happening, it’s a joy to exist and to be alive. I get bogged down by all types of fetters, but joy keeps coming up — in dark alleyways and black holes.
EH: That sounds like Trungpa’s teaching of basic goodness… so it sounds like you’re saying we could be haunted by our own true nature. It keeps trying to show up in between all the shit we try to cover it up with.
DB: Yeah exactly. I think a lot of times we build up so many walls and close ourselves off from our true nature so expertly that we can’t necessarily say our true nature haunts us, because in a certain way we just closed it. A false self and false walls will never truly feel right, because deep inside of us we always know how we really are, and there’s a part of us that hasn’t forgotten, no matter how lost we are. I think it haunts us in that way, but it “haunts” us as a more general feeling of angst or anxiety because we know. It’ll keep poking at us, but I think it’s different if you’re consciously deconstructing those walls, or at least open enough to experiencing truth or true nature.
EH: You think your poetry is an expression of your true nature, or a cathartic way for you to get back to it?
DB: Both. I really try to not hold myself in any type of state, positive or negative, deep or superficial. I feel like different poetry comes from different places. Some poetry is just very neurotic and it’s expressing neuroses, and some poetry feels like it’s coming from a very deep, wise place that, like I said, doesn’t even necessarily feel like me, it feels like God or something speaking through me. Poetry can be from a contracted place, or an expanded place, from a place of insight, or a place of neurosis. I feel like poetry is just a means to express the entire spectrum of thoughts and feelings. I think that’s something I struggle with as a writer, wanting to be true, and speak truth, and yet at the same time realizing truth is so multifaceted and there are different truths and different perspectives even within a single day. What my truth is can be changing. If I’m standing in line at the DMV, my truth right there is that I’m fucking annoyed that these systems are so inefficient, so I can write a poem that’s just angry rambling against skyscrapers and inefficient paper-people and whatever. And then there can be a moment of really deep peace and solace, and verse could come out of that. So it’s really about trying to represent what feels accurate in the moment, because there are no words that could ever really be the absolute truth. It’s only ever the truth from a single perspective. We have positive and negative and wise and neurotic aspects, so I try to represent all of it, and not hold a value judgment. I think for a lot of history, poetry was solely meant to be beautiful and wise and sweet, but I love poetry that’s like “fuck this, fuck coffee, fuck cigarettes, fuck the man” some Bukowski-cynical shit!” Yeah it’s cathartic, it’s maybe hyperbolic, but it’s all honest in some way.