Anne Swannell

Anne spent most of her working life in the newspaper business, both as a layout artist and copywriter, and, after acquiring a BFA (Uvic, 1989 creative writing major) designed, wrote, and illustrated the Art Foundations course for BC distance-ed students in grades eight to ten. For many years after that, she was a tutor/marker (creative writing, English, and Art) for South Island Distance Ed School, and has often taken part in the “Artist in the Schools” program in Victoria elementary and
middle schools, especially enjoying introducing kindergartners and the primary grades to the joy of watercolour.  Anne has eight grandchildren, and she’s an expert at getting them to explore their creativity and put the results on paper, whether it’s verbally or visually!

Anne and her husband have travelled extensively, and these experiences inform much of her work. The fact that she is a painter and mosaicist accounts for the extremely visual quality of her poems. Anne’s poetry has been published in Anglo-Welsh Review, Canadian Literature, The Fiddlehead, Malahat Review, Prairie Fire, and various other periodicals.  She has published three books of poetry: Drawing Circles on the Water (self-published, 1989, haiku about Swan Lake Nature Reserve), Mall (Rowan Books, Edmonton, 1991) and  Shifting (Ekstasis Editions, Victoria, 2008).

Anne is an experienced reader, and has taken part in readings in London, UK, in San Francisco, in Vancouver, and in Vernon, BC, as well as at many venues in her home town of Victoria.

Questions & Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

My love of poetry started when I was really young. It was during the war; my father was fighting in it, and my mother was left with three small children to look after as the bombs fell. She must have been worried and lonely, and so she used to read poetry to me at night when the younger ones were in bed. I often didn’t understand the meaning, but I loved the rhythm and the language, though I can’t have been older than five.

What is your writing process?

It is a seeking-after-something, a looking-for-I-don’t-know-what. I don’t start out with a particular thing I want to say. I start with a line or a feeling or an idea, and see where it takes me… I try to find out what’s inside my head, and, at the same time, to discover what language will do.

What is your revision/editing process?

Basically, it’s a long one! Sometimes a poem almost writes itself and cannot be improved on, except perhaps for knocking out the odd unnecessary “and” and “the.” But most of the time, I keep going back to a poem again and again, often over a period of weeks or months, reading it aloud, pruning, tightening, seeing if another word would be better here, changing a line break there, until it seems to click just right. A poem is musical language. Listening to it is the only way to make it so. (I’m not talking rhyme, but rhythm and echoing sounds.)

Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?

It wasn’t until I was about eighteen or nineteen and through school, that I began to get “urges” in the poetry department. (We were certainly not encouraged to write poems in high school in Alberta in the 1950’s). My first efforts were not-very-good versions of rhyming poetry. They used formal language, and when I read them now, they seem quite old-fashioned and funny because they don’t sound like me at all.

It wasn’t until I began to read what is called “imagist” poetry (such as Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”—that I saw another way, and began to write poems myself… in my own every-day-language.

Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?

Denise Levertov’s “Light Up the Cave” was immensely helpful when I was a beginning writer, as was Robin Skelton’s “The Practice of Poetry.” I find the internet incredibly helpful for research. For example, when composing a poem that grew out of a trip to the ruins at Ephasus recently, I needed to check facts… Greek names of gods and goddesses, the proper spelling of Turkish place names, how many people could fit into the Grecian theatre mentioned in my poem, and so on. You can click, find out, and carry on… easy! The Thesaurus is really useful too, for finding another word when the one you’ve used has too many or too few syllables.

When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?

I would have liked to have been introduced to imagist poetry instead of all the Victorian and Romantic poetry we read in school. (Dare I say it? I thought Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot” quite ridiculous!)

I would have liked to know that you could focus on what Ezra Pound called “the luminous details,” juxtaposing concrete images to express an abstraction—which, by the way, is very similar to what Cubists, like Picasso, were doing when they used multiple perspectives in their paintings. I would like to have been told there were poems like Wallace Steven’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” or “William Carlos Williams’ “So Much Depends.”

Works by Anne Swannell