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KU lecturer to Toronto for book release

By River Reporter Oct 24, 2012

Creative writing lecturer Todd Swift is off to Canada to promote his new collection of poems.

Alvaro Pelegrin

KU creative writing lecturer Todd Swift is promoting his latest book When All My Disappointments Came at Once in Toronto on November 6.

The River’s Alvaro Pelegrin talked to him about his writing career, his teaching position at KU and his latest book. 

After publishing seven poetry collections, what was the motivation to publish a new one?

I am a poet, and I continue to wish to explore new ways of writing.  As this new, eighth book shows, poetry is a significant form of linguistic play, but also of meaningful expression.  Poetry keeps me going, so I keep writing it.

Your new book When All My Disappointments Came At Once, is about a couple that cannot have children. In what sense is this inspired by your own experience?

The book is about fertility and infertility. It explores my own painful personal experience of childlessness, and then moves out to imagine other situations and characters who might also experience disappointments. It also explores despair, grief, and the healing forces that are love and art.

What is poetry for you?

Think of poetry as being a way of communicating that must follow some rules, must be fresh, and must say something imaginative or powerful, using vibrant language. Learn to write poems and you learn to write.

You become even more human. And, if that is too serious, try not to worry about meaning so much when reading poems. Follow the sound instead.

Before coming to Kingston, you worked as a writer in Canada. What is the difference between the readerships in the United Kingdom, Canada and in America?

I have lived in the UK for about a decade now, so my North American experience is a bit rusty, perhaps. I do think the UK poetry audience is a little more traditional in their tastes, but sometimes this can be a good thing. I like a sonnet, and find that experimental poetry for its own sake is not always any better than a more old-fashioned rhyming poem. However, everywhere one sad truth is evident: poetry is not as popular as it once was, and has a hard time competing in a digital world with so much instant entertainment to hand.

You have been considered as a follower of T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden’s style, but you have also mentioned Ezra Pound and Dylan Thomas as among your influences. If you had to categorise your book, in which poetic movement would it fall?

I tried to balance my love of 1940’s poets like Prince and Dylan Thomas with Lowell.  My mentors for this book included A. Alvarez, the famous poet and critic, and Denise Riley, a poet philosopher.  I had to find the balance between stoicism and confession to make the poems work.

A lot of anthologies have been edited or co-edited by you. How do you decide to do an individual book or a collective one?

I love anthologies, because they are a good way to discover and share new poems, in an increasingly crowded field of poets. I co-edited The Oxfam young poets anthology with former Kingston student Kim Lockwood.

Poetry has always been considered a minority form of literature.  Do you think this is really the case?

Poetry used to be more popular, but in the modern period narrowed its focus and lost its audience.  Poetry can try to compete with pop culture if it wants, as poets like Billy Collins and Carol Ann Duffy do, but in the end, I think, poetry’s pleasures are quieter, and more solitary.

Should poetry be more important?

I used to want everyone to read poems all the time. Now I think if people were encouraged to read a poem a week, the world might be a slightly better place. Not much better, just a tiny bit better, if only for the poets.

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