Art Maker: Wally Swist, poet

  • Poet and writer Wally Swist at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Poet and writer Wally Swist at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Poet and writer Wally Swist at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

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    Books by Wally Swist, including his most recent, "Candling the Eggs.” GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

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    Wally Swist opens a page of his book "Blessing and Homage" at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Poet and writer Wally Swist at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Poet and writer Wally Swist at work at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Poet and writer Wally Swist at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • ​​​​​​​Poet and writer Wally Swist at his home in Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 7/12/2018 1:59:34 PM

Amherst poet Wally Swist has won much praise for his work over the years, and he has been particularly productive in recent years, publishing several new collections. But if known primarily for his poems, Swist’s work extends further, as he’s also been a journalist, essayist, reviewer and editor, including for a recent client, Kathy Cady, a novelist from Seattle.

Swist says the novel, “The Psych Sisters,” is a story of seven female psychologists “who are ultimately portrayed as each of the seven chakras by the conclusion of the novel. It was joyous work to shape and stylistically guide the author’s novel toward a higher aesthetic. It was wonderful to instill goodness into someone else’s work beside my own.”

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Wally Swist: After a writing career of nearly fifty years, in my mid-60s, I am finishing a watershed collections of selected works, such as the forthcoming “Singing for Nothing: Selected Noniction as Literary Memoir.”

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

WS: Nature is my perennial inspiration. It is where I find the numinous in the commonplace.

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

WS: The Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky walked the cobblestone streets of Moscow until he managed to gauge whether the rhythm of his poems was exact enough. The work lets you know when it is finished. The best writing I have experienced occurs not unlike what Rilke describes as “watching your hands go on somewhere beneath you, having a life of their own,” as if the work of the writing accomplishes itself on its own.

HL: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

WS: I inherited a re-rewrite from Moscow Ballet. The copy I rewrote and expanded upon I infused with poetic prose. What I created from a kind of stick-figure sketch was a new interpretation of “The Great Russian Nutcracker,” which was published as an illustrated children’s book.

HL: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

WS: Kenneth Rexroth was an autodidact whose work I weaned myself on as a young man. I am an autodidact who is influenced by Eastern literature, just as Rexroth was. In addition, the Amherst poet and writer, Robert Francis, who lived for nearly a half-century very much like Thoreau, influenced me by his befriending me, by his example of perseverance, and by his utter humility.

HL: What’s the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you’ve attended and enjoyed?

WS: Cinema is important to me. I recently saw “Sur de la Granada,” a film about the writer Gerald Brennan, friend and lover of the British painter Dora Carrington. I also saw “Carrington,” in which Emma Thompson portrays Carrington. The Bloomsbury Group and their time fascinates me — especially their literary and artistic genius and their largely felicitous coterie.

HL: Dream dinner party: Who would you invite?

WS: Virginia Woolf, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerald Brennan, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir.

HL: What do you do when you’re stuck?

WS: I don’t really have time to become stuck. I am either working on finishing a book, writing new work, completing a freelance project or seeking one. I also read and walk.

— Steve Pfarrer

 


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