Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Poetry & Pop Culture: An Interview with Todd Swift

ONE OF OUR FAVORITE blogs is the British project Eyewear. It was one of the first blogs to explore the intersection of poetry and popular culture, and it remains the best.  The founder, Todd Swift, is a particularly interesting guy.  Poet, professor, blogger, and cultural critic, Swift makes poetry available and accessible.  His blog posts on the The Best American Poetry Blog are always smart and funny.  So, we sat down, sort of, with Swift and asked him about Eyewear.

TWR: You started Eyewear 2005.  How has blogging changed for you since then?

SWIFT: I think blogging is dying out, as a mass fad, replaced by social networking, and other briefer fast-paced systems, like Tweeting or whatsit, but better blogs, that supply excellent content, are actually improving.

TWR: Along with Mike Chasar's site, yours is pretty much the only blog that looks at the intersection of poetry, politics, and popular culture.  How do you see these three forces intersecting at this point in history?

SWIFT: I wish there was more intersection.  Where is the poetry magazine like Entertainment Weekly, or Vanity Fair, showcasing the glamorous lives of poets?  Seriously, though, the ways that film and music now inspire poets as much as literature once did demands more engaged intertextual readings of our culture.  As for politics, that discourse has been shockingly cheapened of late in America, and to a degree, in the UK, by interventionist-media like Fox.

TWR: Though the feeble reach of The Weekly Rader extends across the pond, most of its readers tend to be bored Americans.  What's it like writing about poetry, politics, and popular culture in England? What would surprise American readers?

SWIFT: England is awash with pop culture, of course: fashion, pop and rock, movies, TV, radio.  What I find astonishing is that British people are really like their comedies, in a way that Americans aren't.  By this I mean, British people really do tend to have those accents, and drop highly ironic and acidic comments all the time.  Substance abuse, sex, and atheism are quite normal in the UK (what people aspire to, the celebrity life), so there is less piety than in American culture - only the Queen and the troops are sacred.  There is a resistance to sentiment, and also to sincere expression of emotionality, so the poetry, and TV, here, is far less filled with gestures of hope or transcendence.  Love poems are more likely to end with a gag than a rose.  Also surprising would be, I think, the high esteem American TV is held in, and the low esteem Americans themselves are, including most poets.

TWR: Who are some of your favorite British poets?  Who are some folks Americans may not know about?

Giles Goodland
SWIFT: Too many to really reel off.  The best experimental mid-career poet is  Giles Goodland.  The wittiest younger poets would include Luke Kennard, Joe Dunthorne, Emily Berry and Lorraine Mariner, whose styles are becoming hugely formative.  Keston Sutherland and Andrea Brady are the leading avant-garde poets from the Cambridge school.  Older excellent poets would include Anthony Thwaite (now 80), and Sheila Hillier.  But I have many favorites.

TWR: What's the strangest reaction you've received to one of your blog posts?

SWIFT: Some weirdo posted a comment about my anniversary, suggesting my wife was a closet lesbian and I was gay.  I mean, wonderful if true, but, since not - why go so far to attack?  I assume it was an attack.

TWR: I'm glad you never found out that was me. How close have you come to bagging-or is it sacking-the whole sodding blog project?  What keeps you going?

SWIFT: Every day I plan to quit.  Having over 240 followers, and tens of thousands of hits a months keep me going.  I feel obliged to do this.  No other blog over here so fearlessly takes on the vested interests. But it has its costs.

TWR: In what way do you wish the discourse of American poetry was more like that in Britain? And, in what way to you wish the discourse of British poetry was more like that in the Colonies?

SWIFT: I like how British poets all know each other. How they still like form,  and admire poets like Thomas Hardy.  How tone still matters, and very fine nuance.  I wish British poetry was more open to radical forms, and more shifting levels of diction and discourse, away from ordinary language and plain narrative.  There is a great fear of high language now in the UK, most mainstream poems are written in some version of middle-class or working class colloquial speech.

TWR: If Geoffrey Hill and John Ashbery got into a fistfight, who would win?

SWIFT: They're both on the same side - they both come out of late, high Forties modernism, via FT Prince and Terence Tiller.  They both understand intelligence and eloquence and surprise in poems.

TWR: What American writer would you most like to make a cross-country road trip with?

SWIFT: Nicole Blackman.  Read with her before. She is the coolest.  Least want to - Franzen.  He bores me silly.

TWR: What question do you wish I had asked? And, what would your answer have been?

SWIFT: My greatest desire in poetry.  To have a Selected stateside, in hardcover. And yes, I am an eyewear fetishist.

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