We are delighted to have Dr. Susan Swartwout lead a workshop on how "Anyone Can Write a Poem". Dr. Swartwout's publications, books, and chapters published do not begin to describe the excellence of her teaching and her writing skills. We are thrilled to have her for the 2016 All Write Now! Conference.
Janet Cannon - In your career you've taught creative writing, editing, publishing, poetry, and who knows what else! What draws you back to poetry again and again?
Susan Swartwout - I love poetry for its drive toward a purer language–condensed, specific—yet at the same time married to vision and image. Its purest purpose is to reveal what we, in some inherent way, already know however incompletely, but through the mind, meaning, and mirages of another human being. A good poem is a privilege and a revelation.
JC - How many different books do you read at the same time? How do you choose the books you read?
SS - Haha! Got me! Yes, I'm a word slut and I read several at a time, depending upon what room and mood I'm in. On my Kindle for bedtime, I'm reading a second Greg Iles (Penn Cage series) book. In the living room, it's Claudia Rankine's Citizen and Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. In the sunroom, also know as the Woman Cave, it's Ozark writer CD Albin's Hard Toward Home and Erin Belieu's Slant Six.
Most of my choices are by author name--someone I've read about, heard about, or have read before--or by recommendation. And I read a lot of book-manuscript drafts at work. Right now, I'm reading the Cowles Poetry Book Prize submissions.
JC - Many authors have advised you must be a good reader to be a good writer. How do you figure out what a good book is so you don't read the bad ones?
SS- Through my work as a publisher, I read bad ones and good ones. I just don't complete the bad ones. Because I rely on the author and reliable recommendations from others for my "boughten" books, I don't very often buy one that I completely dislike. When it does happen, I usually don't finish it but donate it to the Sig Tau or library book sales.
I use to believe that one should read a book cover to cover, no matter its quality or my taste. I no longer believe that. Oh, I still think one should struggle through, if the book has merits at all, but I just don't feel like donating any hours of my life to a completely poorly written book.
JC - Tell us a little bit about your experience with publishing and promoting your latest book Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit: Poems.
SS - I've mostly done regional readings; I have another one coming up in St. Louis at The Point on August 23, curated by poet Nancy Pritchard for the St Louis Poetry Center.
It's very odd to be on the other end, the author side. Although I've been editing and promoting the Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors for the past five years, I didn't have to do any readings and my life wasn't on the page. It's hard to be objective about it, but given the limited appetite for books in our country, one must. Most of the time, I feel I should be out there promoting reading groups and promoting poetry as a genre, not just my book, like some latter-day Juanita Bookseed.
My publisher, Jenn Geist, is the best! She's always looking for promotional events. And she did a beautiful job on the book. I highly recommend Brick Mantel Books.
JC - I hear you're retiring from the university. Congratulations! Care to share some of your retirement plans?
SS - I saw a t-shirt online that partially encapsulates my feelings. It has a graphic of a black cat. tipping over and spilling a glass of water, and the text says, "I Do What I Want." And that will be true, although part of what-I-want is to continue to work with books and writers as a freelance editor plus do much more of my own writing. And I plan to do more content writing. I enjoy doing press releases, strategic writing, and features writing for the university and the university press. I'll look for those opportunities, too. The University has been a great place for me to learn, too, and I'll always remember it as the institution that let me follow my dream and create a university press. But as a teacher and a publisher, I've had enough of the stress and the working 40 hours plus nights and weekends. It's not my Last Stop.
Lunarosity; River Styx; Sou’wester; The Laurel Review; Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature; Baybury Review; Spoon River Poetry Review; Pikestaff Forum; Illinois Review; Feminist Studies; Clockwatch Review; Analecta; Negative Capability; Rhino; Druid’s Cave; The Cape Rock; Great Stream Review; Vidette; Farmer’s Market; Lullwater Review; Whetstone; The Nebraska Review; Mississippi Review; Catch; Phizzogs; Beloit Poetry Journal; The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia; "Janet Frame" in Gay and Lesbian Literature, Vol. 2; Illinois Writers’ Review; American Book Review; Rain Taxi; Review of Contemporary Fiction; Mid Rivers Review; Southern Quarterly; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Hurricane Blues: Anthology; Reckless Writing: Anthology; Down to the Dark River: Anthology; Cuivre River: AnthologyStorm Country: Anthology.
Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, Volumes 1-4 (editor); Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita (co-editor); A Student's Guide to Getting Published; Real Things: An Anthology of Popular Culture in American Poetry (co-editor); Freaks: A Collection of Poetry; Uncommon Ground: Poetry.
Value and Vision in American Literature; Conversations with Rita Dove