Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Dane Swan

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January 31, 2014 - Dane Swan is Open Book's February 2014 Writer in Residence. In his On Writing interview, he tells us about his latest book, Bending the Continuum, his next project and his ideal writing environment.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Bending the Continuum.

Dane Swan:

A decade from now, when people want an easy entry into my writing, Bending will be the book recommended to them. It's a fun, safe work that delves into heavy subjects in a digestible way. There's no screaming, yelling or preaching (I hate when people preach there ideals to readers). Bending is a series of fun poems that can be taken at surface value, or, can be read for their social context.


Can you tell us about the structure of your book and how you manage to work within a variety of genres?


Funny thing, there was supposed to be a lot more genres tied to Bending. The Visual Poems Fugue (Rampike Vol.19/No.1) and Sunshowers (“L _ _ _”: A poetic study of relationships) were supposed to be a part of it as well.

I try to pay attention, not to my personal likes and dislikes, but to the manuscript and its themes. For Bending the two main themes are:

1/Science fiction vs science reality
2/Race, culture and exploitation in modern society

I knew that I wanted poems that would play with both themes together in subtle ways. At the height of science-fiction literature the cold war was going on. Often, authors used their work as social commentary. I merely took that idea and expanded upon it.

To me, the concept of writing within one genre is silly. A blank page cannot tell that the page before it had a series of tercets, or sonnets on it. The question then becomes — what goes next?

I'm really fascinated with how the eye perceives a poem — eye movement, blank space on page, etc. I'm also interested in the psychological impact of language. I'm obsessed with run on sentences in formal verse. Things like Colloquial and regional dialects touch us in another way — some people are repulsed. Others feel more comfortable with literature tied to informal spoken language.

When putting together a collection I'm constantly asking myself, “How will the reader react to this poem beside this poem?” If I get it wrong, the collection comes off as ranting, but, if I give each idea, genre and philosophy the right amount of space it allows the reader to appreciate each work.

Bending is broken into three sections. The second, "A Dozen Red Roses," anchors the collection. It's almost as if everything before "Roses" is to prepare the reader, and everything after is in response.


How is your work influenced by the storytellers you met when you were growing up?


Storytelling is more than, “Once upon a time...” Matter of fact, that may be the biggest cliché ever. A true storyteller can pull in the listener in a single sentence. They can drop you into a world that you would never dream of. Have you believing that you are part of a culture, that beyond their tale, you know nothing about.

I guess people will have to go out and read Bending for themselves to see how much of that influences my writing.


What is your ideal writing environment?


No such thing. If I'm in a nightclub writing notes on my cellphone, or at a library it doesn't matter. Writing is writing. If you're a writer there are no excuses to not write when the muse grabs you.


What advice do you have for writers who are trying to find a publisher?


Good luck? There's nothing glamorous about being a writer. Some genres pay authors better than others, but those genres are probably the most competitive.

Being a writer involves accepting that your best work shall be rejected. The question becomes, what will you do with the rejection? You could rewrite and resubmit your work. Investigate zines, publishers, etc., who more closely fit what you write. Self-publish your work and take the sales data to a publisher with your next collection/novel/etc. You could even gather other writers that you like and start your own publishing house.

There is no single answer. It's merely rejection and then response. If your reaction to rejection is to move forward and not quit, you might be a writer.


What are you working on now?


I recently submitted my final draft of A Mingus Lullaby — the follow-up collection to Bending — to Guernica Editions. Currently, I am looking for a home for a novella that investigates the cycle of abuse – called Tuesday. I'm in the planning stages of a Novel. I'm also beginning a more wholesome novella that explores young love.

This year I hope to complete a spoken-word/hip-hop album that I've been working on for a decade. I have a spoken word multi-media project that features dub/soul step artists 1undread, slam poet and vocalist Vanessa McGowan, and my close friend/collaborator Soulfistikato. If that wasn't enough, I'm trying to get a workshop series off the floor with as well. I almost forgot the visual poetry project that I'm working on – it's so complicated I now wish that I didn't mention it.