Todd Swift's work is as playful as serious work gets to be. Nothing is labored; the poet's pleasure principle matches that of his readers. He has a swift wit capable of savage laceration. He sneaks in crafty literary allusions when you don't expect them and is far from a gullible traveler.
An outsider even at home, he stands at an unusual tilt to the universe. Being a Canadian in London in the year 2011 is a different proposition from being an American in Paris in 1950, but it has its own charms and perils. In an image that suggests the broad historical and wide geographical context for these poems, the peripatetic poet suspects that wherever he goes, "Fear [will] set up its beachhead / Turning a sandy honeymoon into D-Day."
"England is Mine" is an arresting title. It reminds me a little of "England Your England" (Orwell), "England Made Me" (Graham Greene), and W. H. Auden's question in "The Orators": "What do you think about England, this country of ours where nobody is well?" Swift's title also benefits from the homophone that is its last syllable: "England is mind." To write about England as imagined and then as found is a romantic project, and for all the comic energy in his poems, Swift is a romantic poet, writing in the shadow of Yeats ("we were the last romantics") on the one side and Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin, the poets of disappointment, on the other.
The exemplary title poem begins by donning Larkin's bicycle clips "down the hill to Hull" and progresses through quaint images (Pimm's, the "Hardy-grey" sky, Jack the Ripper, and bobby's your unarmed uncle) to arrive at an idea of "England" that owes as much to preconception and illusion as to invention or perception.
In disjunction Swift finds a certain poignancy. The word "Go" begins one of his poems but is separated by a line space and a parenthesis from "the cherry blossoms" -- as if the poem were ruefully aware of Edmund Waller's "Go, lovely rose" as an antecedent, an irresistible anachronism.
In another mode entirely, Swift makes empathetic use of the first-person-plural:
Employed or freelance we stand alone
Enjoying June tea and this promised sun,
Because inside is darker, dustier and more about
What's been than what's to come.
Swift loves words and they love him back. When I read his poems, I feel like pulling out my notebook and writing a poem. Every time. He proves that inspiration is contagious