Well Met! - An Interview with Author Joffre Swait
Thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
It's my pleasure. Sassiest blog name ever.
So your collection of poetry Well Met: Poems of Companionship is going to be released in soon. What has the writing, collecting, and refining process been like?
Hodge-podgy on all three counts. Some of these poems are nearly fifteen years old. I usually write the poems in one quick burst, even the long rhythmic ones. Then they sit in a journal or a folder online and over the months and years suffer iterations and endure tweakings when I encounter them again. Sometimes a conversation or a story on social media will remind me of something I scribbled, and I'll go back and mess with it. I have an entire bookshelf of journals, the majority of them handmade by my wife. The journals are mostly full of notes for my blog or Bible studies and whatnot, but much of it is verse. Some verse just rises to the surface enough times to stand out and really be worked over.
What have you been up to while you have been writing these poems?
Buying a house. Making babies and raising babies. Squeezing the wife. Opening and closing a bookstore. Coaching basketball. Teaching English. Vlogging. Going to Brazil as a missionary. Currently trying to decide whether to retire from rugby.
How did you begin writing poetry? And is there any advice that you would give to your new poet self now that you are a middle aged poet? (You are middle aged, right?)
My mother was always throwing books at me. I was immersed in the Lord of the Rings from a tender age. I was always struck by Aragorn's love for and facility with verse. I started writing poetry when I was eleven or twelve. I'm not sure what started it, but I know I was a language-loving kid who led an isolated life. Even today C. S. Lewis' descriptions of alone time and books in Surprised By Joy enters the iron in my soul. Many kids in such circumstances begin to write prose in such circumstances. I wrote bad and youthful poetry. When I was eighteen I wrote a poem I am still fond of, playing off of the title of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, playing off of merci and mercy. All my mother had to say was that merci didn't mean mercy in French. I know, mom. I know.
Now that I am nearly forty, I would advise the new poet self to dedicate himself a little more to verse, since he enjoys it so much. But really, that's the advice I'd give my younger self about everything I like; it wouldn't be just about poetry. I'm afraid one of my worse vices is to be casual about the things I love. I am so deeply a dabbler it embarrasses me.
Besides being a poet, you also have a youtube channel and a video blog. How do the two creative processes differ and how are they the same?
They are similar in that I conceive of an idea and often spend much of the creative process away from paper, usually because of work. So I turn them over a few times in my head and organize them off-paper. I often arrive at camera or paper knowing exactly how I want it to go. Anyone who has sat down in front of a camera or attempted to write a poem knows it usually doesn't turn out as planned, but I've become accustomed enough to this process that the end result is usually pretty faithful to that first day's or week's mullings.
I often rant in my videos. I haven't ranted in verse for at least ten years.
Both my YouTube channels are very interactive, with lots of audience participation. That only happens with my poetry if I perform it at public events, which is only once every year or two. I'd like to write more poetry for performance, because that immediate interaction is energizing and inspiring. We no longer associate show and showmanship with poetry, but I think we ought to. Bring it back. It's salutary, y'all. Most salutary.
When you are looking for inspiration, where do you look? Do you begin with words, ideas, or things?
In the following order and that most firmly, I begin with words, then ideas, then things. I am almost never inspired to write by a scene or situation, and a notion will occasionally strike me, but an odd word choice or turn of phrase will send me scurrying for my notebook.
Are there poets or artists that you find consistently inspiring?
The poet who most inspires me, to whom I return almost weekly, is Gerard Manley Hopkins. I lack the imagination to picture a Tolkien devotee who wouldn't delight in Hopkins. He's so hugely Anglo-Saxon, and yet so pastorally English. For that reason alone he should resonate with all Christians, since our lives are quiet and modest yet epically significant and cosmic. Next up are Eliot, Milton, and C. S. Lewis. Especially Lewis. I discovered most of my favorite poets as a teen, but Lewis was the one who most influenced me as an adult. His dominion of English seems so complete, but he uses it so modestly, even when the scale of his poems is large.
While you write, do you listen to music for inspiration?
Not when I write poetry. I reserve music for prose. The motivating factor in my music selection is lyric, which would interfere with poesy.
If you could craft people’s response, would you prefer that people reply, react, or retaliate to Well Met? Why?
I would prefer that they reply. Preferably in verse.
Social media, and especially my YouTube channel, have made me value conversation. Obviously much that is said on social media is more haranguey in nature (I have a rule pro per that I do not read comments of more than a few lines), but I do like a nice chat. Just as my favorite way to do poetry is to perform it, my favorite times on YouTube are with live videos. I would not mind simple reactions, I would be flattered by retaliation, but I would be pleased by replies.
And may I pause here to say that if we all learn to appreciate short forms of poetry we might recover the art of the remark, the mastery of which is necessary to rescue the lost art of simply commenting on something.
What is the most significant lesson that you learned while writing poetry?
That it is easier to be funny than earnest. And that I love and admire earnestness.
I hope readers find my funny poetry funny, since I suppose that to be the easier stuff. If one of the poems tries to amuse you and fails, maybe just close the book and put it aside, preferably in a place of quiet dignity.
Where can we pick up a copy of Well Met?
Any other projects forthcoming? Anything else that you are working on?
I co-wrote a little e-book called Christian Pipe Smoking. That had a good bit of success, and my co-author has been bugging me for a while to work on a second edition. I should probably get around to that.
I'm some ways into anew book, a Christian's practical guide to the enjoyment of things. One of the things to be enjoyed is poetry.
Thanks so much for joining us here at The Westminster Confession of Funk.