ID: Five items Amherst poet Wally Swist can’t live without: 'My writing table, writing chair, laptop, cutting board and skillets'
Wally Swist has lived in western Massachusetts since the early ’80s. He’s written over 200 published feature articles and reviews, but is most widely known for his more than 20 books and chapbooks of poetry. His most recent book, “Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), was selected by Yusef Komunyakaa as a co-winner in the Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Competition.
Full name: Wally Swist
Date and place of birth: April 26, 1953; New Haven, Conn.
Address: South Amherst
Job: Poet and writer, editor, former bookstore manager and bookseller
Education: Yale University, 1973-1980, no degree
Hobbies: Cooking; hiking; reading; listening to classical music, world music and jazz
Book you’d recommend to a friend: “Prayers of a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Mark Burrows
Favorite movies: “Wings of Desire” and “Far Away, So Close”
Five items you can’t live without: My writing table, writing chair, laptop, cutting board and skillets
Last things you purchased just for fun: An affordable bottle of good Bordeaux at Amherst Wines
What’s at the top of your bucket list? Hiking Mount Katahdin; visit the lavender fields in Tuscany; return to the trail, coming from Little Haystack, on the ridge to the summit of Mount Lafayette in the White Mountains in New Hampshire; and to bend down to see the blossoming petals of the wildflower Labrador tea
Life-changing experience: Living as a writer-in-residence at the home of my former mentor, Robert Francis
Strangest job you ever held: Writers, and especially poets, often enough have too many of these, and I’ve had too many of these
A little-known fact about you: I began my 30-plus year career in the book business at Book World in New Haven
Dumbest thing you ever did: If I need to think about this question as long as I have, then there must be too many to list
Trends you’d like to see return: Polite etiquette; holding doors open (for either gender); cooperative and proactive government (especially in the House and Senate); the true art of conversation (meaning that you ask questions concerning the person you are speaking with and resist going on about yourself ad infinitum)
What really sets you off ? The Tea Party; obstructionist politics; solipsism; rudeness; condescension; snarkiness; spiritual arrogance from spiritual people; dog owners who allow their dog, like an extension of their ego, to run unleashed on the trail in the woods, and when their dog stops only inches from you, growling and baring its teeth, these same people will then say, with that peculiar smile: “Oh, my dog doesn’t bite!”
If you could spend the day with a celebrity from any time in history, who would it be? Saint Theresa, when she was levitating, and her fellow sisters had to grab her by her habit to pull her back down to the floor of the scullery kitchen (16th century, the province of Avila, Spain)
Worst advice you ever got: “But the AMC hut is only on the other side of that ridge . . . and we can get there by nightfall”
Best advice you ever got: Once after reading some of my nature poems to Robert Francis at Fort Juniper, back in the early 1980s, Robert responded: “Never stop writing those poems ... in them you write about what you love”
Favorite place to get a bite: Amanouz in Northampton for its Royal Feast — their hummus, falafel, moussaka, tabbouleh and pita is the freshest around. Lone Wolf in Amherst for their latkes, old world fried potato pancake treat, with sour cream and applesauce. That one slice of out-of-this-world pizza (close in quality to New Haven pizza) from Sibie’s brick oven in South Amherst, served with George’s inimitable smile. Try the cheese and pepperoni
What does your ideal weekend look like? To either hear Mozart’s “Prague” or “Jupiter” symphony at Tanglewood with a dear friend, and to be followed with a dinner of grilled salmon, sweet corn and tabbouleh, accompanied with that one astonishing glass of Bordeaux
One thing you would change about yourself: Being able to stop at the end of a long day when I am writing and in rhythm with the work, especially when there is apparently no stopping
People who knew you in high school thought you were: At my worst, James Dean, in “Rebel without a Cause”; at my best, Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye”
Whom do you most admire? The Dalai Lama, for never saying a negative word about the Chinese soldiers that tortured his fellow monks after the 1956 Tibetan Rebellion
Parting shot: “I feel ancient, as though I had / Lived many lives. / And may never now know / If I am a fool / Or have done what my / karma demands.”
(From “Four Poems for Robin” by Gary Snyder)
— Compiled by Brenda Nelson
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