Poetry Santa Cruz
Poetry Santa Cruz

David Swanger
An Interview with Poet David Swanger by Maggie Paul

David Swanger is a Professor of Education and Creative Writing at UC Santa Cruz.   He has published poetry, fiction, and prose.  His two most recent poetry publications are This Waking Unafraid and a chapbook entitled Style.

Maggie Paul: Can you describe the joint aspect of your position at UCSC where you teach Creative Writing and Philosophy of Education ?

David Swanger:  These are two missions that I have that overlap, particularly with aesthetic education.  I teach a course called The Evolution of Education -- which deals with questions like:  What is education?  What is knowledge?  How did the idea of schooling get started, going back to Plato.  When I came here there was an emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching, but I'm a bit of an anachronism now.  I am also teaching advanced creative writing workshops.  I've been teaching at UCSC since 1971.

MP: What prompted your interest in poetry?

DS: I started out as a short story writer when I was living in England.  There was something about living in this bleak, D.H. Lawrencian kind of landscape, where one could be very lonely and miserable, and I seemed to have a lot of time on my hands.   I began to write short stories, shamelessly imitative of Thomas Wolfe -- but that didn't seem to the bother the publisher.  But then I came back to the United States and I wasn't quite as unhappy.  The bleak period created its own momentum, its own literary momentum.

MP: How did publication of the new chapbook, Style, come about?

DS: The publisher was interested in my poem, “Natural Disaster.”  “Natural Disaster” is a Santa Cruz poem -- it's got a lot of names of the creeks -- Lompico, Pajaro, San Lorenzo.  The chapbook was the chance to put together a collection of my favorites.

MP: Another Santa Cruz poem in the chapbook is “Wayne's College of Beauty.”

DS: Yes.  “Wayne's College of Beauty” is a very good example of writing about something about which you do not know anything.  I had never been in Wayne's -- it was wholly imagined.  I was advised that I should go in and get some dialogue from Wayne's, acquaint myself with Wayne's, but I resisted that.  There was enough just in knowing that Wayne's existed to inspire my imagination.  It started out as a satire, and then as I wrote the poem, my better self emerged.  Which was to say -- Listen. It would be very easy to write a poem that satirizes Wayne's College of Beauty -- try to think about something else that could happen in Wayne's -- the tenderness, the love.  That was a poem that surprised me.

MP: How has teaching Creative Writing affected your work?

DS: Teaching has enabled me to gain an appreciation of community among writers.   I who have been a writer in isolation for most of my career, have seen the value of working with other writers.  I wasn't brought up to feel that writing could benefit from a community.  So one of the things that has happened from working with my students is that if I'm seeing it benefit them, why shouldn't it benefit me?  I have a writers group that I've worked with for the past 5 or 6 years.


David Swanger read at the Louden Nelson Community Center on January 22nd at 7:30 PM.

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