This week sees a lot of books flying in my letterbox. I've been reading Mainstream Love Hotel, Todd Swift's latest offering, and bought copies of Elizabeth Bishop's Collected, Robert Lowell's Life Studies, Wallace Steven's Collected - and The New York Poets anthology from Carcanet, while I was at it, because I wanted Frank O'Hara's work all in the one place - in fact that was why I bought the others, so that I can more easily refer to them as I want, instead of rooting about at the various Nortons stashed away (besides, I had a book clear-out, enabling me to buy some... oh, you know how it is with a book-sickness!).
Anyhow, back to MLH from tall-lighthouse - all week I've been reading this, as well as catching up on new episodes of Mad Men (we're a few weeks ahead of the UK - bless RTE). One seems to compliment the other in a weird connected way: smart, sophisticated, sexy, psyco-analytical, egotistical, and old-school with a new-twist this book plays with you, toys with you, right from the opener, 'Mirror', with its cryptic ending, 'The sister of knowing is making.'
In fact, there's a wonderful playfulness about the whole book, a lightness that carries each poem's deeper layered sense, as in 'The talking cure,' which is also one of my favourite poems in the collection: yes, 'Bold. / Bad Baby' indeed. There's also a wonderful facility with language, again playful and fizzing, as in 'French poem,' where the sonics gleefully bounce down the lines from 'Elle' to 'Eiffel' and on to 'Zola' and then 'novel.' Stylish, sexy and smart? Yes. But there's great grist in there too, and a wonderful joie-de-vivre, no doubt because of Swift's Canadian background, and varied European living experiences.
And there's a waryness too in his work: 'These days,' again another well-wrought sonic and rhythmically cadenced poem balances each of its phrases carefully carrying the poem's motion softly down the page:
These are the days
not other days
these are the days I was
as other further weeks,
working for days
that now I see have come in,
fish from the street
sold fresh, the man
in his whites, ringing to bring
fish just off the boats,
days that were in the sea
I'd thought to have my work
done by now, to have reached
the goals set out long ago,
I won't get there now
But you must read the book to reach the poem's shimmering conclusion!
Known as a tireless promoter of poetry wherever he has travelled in the past, Swift now lives in London where he continues finding and pushing new (and established) poetic talent in his Oxfam Marylebone reading series. I think Mainstream Love Hotel sees a sure move forward from the previous Seaway: New & Selected from Salmon Poetry, which spanned a twenty year writing career. It's great to see his work becoming available to a broader audience and it will be interesting to watch the trajectory of his next twenty poetic years.