Read Part 1 of this interview here.
Greg Santos: How have friendships, including those within the Montreal scene, been important to you in your literary career?
Todd Swift: I have often co-edited anthologies, and collaborated with friends on projects – Martin Penny, Thor Bishopric, Tom Walsh, Jason Camlot, etc. Friendship is the unspoken grease of the poetry wheel – almost everything that gets done in poetry is because of love or friendship. After all, who else do we write to and for? I miss my friends, and have fewer over here [in London], where I tend to be more isolated.
GS: I’ve spoken to three other poets based in or from Montreal: Jason Camlot, Jon Paul Fiorentino, and David McGimpsey. What do you have in common with each other?
TS: I think we are all children of A.M. Klein and Cohen – interested in humor, stylishness, joie de vivre, French culture, eroticism, play, and internationalism. Montreal never felt small or limited. We were all part of a great tradition. We still are. I think Montreal poetry of the last 75 years is as impressive as that of New York, London, any city. It just doesn’t get a fair press. Ironically, even the Montreal Gazette has a provincial attitude to its own native sons.
GS: The Montréal poets I’m interviewing often incorporate popular culture into their poems. In “Vocal Range”, you write that there are “Many mentions of popular figures, movies, and TV – / Getting overmuch of the world crammed into crawl / Spaces under text, sometimes on top of it – / How much hipness can any master muster, then use?” Yet you often reference popular figures, popular culture, and films in your poems. What is the difference between the “hipness” mentioned here and that of the poems that you write?
TS: That’s me being ironic – and debating with my own style, questioning it. I was also thinking through how I relate to the work of poets like David Trinidad, Alex Porco, and of course, David McGimpsey. I think there is a wide spectrum: on the one hand, dull poems by Andrew Motion about swallows in the evening, and then again poems by McGimpsey about, say, Bart Simpson. Both seem to me to be equally artificial and legitimate positions, one based on Wordsworth, the other drawing on Ginsberg, and Ashbery. The problem for me is: where does the poet locate himself or herself in the world, in relation to the media, but also, nature – even as mediated? Poets from the romantic English Line exclude as much as they include, whereas the O’Hara school tends to bring everything into the poem. That tension, between excess and austerity, is where poems occur.
GS: Do you prefer writing as yourself or from the point of view of a persona?
TS: I have always written in personae – in fact, many of my “lyric I” poems are enactments of speaking voices, or positions that are not my own, but ironic, or dramatic, explorations of style or psychology. This is why I find it annoying when critics speak of “finding a voice”. I have always been interested in a polyphonic approach.
GS: I’ve noticed that your poetry not only uses polyphony, but also creates a sort of “multimedia” effect. You’ve even said that you see “poetry in terms of cinema”.
TS: I love film. Film and pop songs have shaped my work as much as literary texts have. Eisenstein saw cinematic montage as being poetic. Vachel Lindsay was a poet who valued cinema early on. So did Crane and Fearing. As a screenwriter, I learned some tricks of the trade, and I suppose I have brought them to bear of my poetry, albeit subtly – in terms of editing, scene-setting, etc. Poetry is not just linguistic, but imagistic. I was quite influenced by the Imagists. I often compose poems that have strong visual effects in them. That being said, I resist narrative per se. I see that as more a novelistic device (plot). I have an uneasy relationship to prose, as I think it is over-rated. Like Poe, I think poetry is the most exciting art form.