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Higgins On Swift

Kevin Higgins, the Galway-based poet and satirist, has written a review of my 2009 collection, Mainstream Love Hotel, from Tall-lighthouse (No. 23), for The Wolf, James Byrne's uniquely important little magazine - perhaps the most adventurous and critically febrile of all the British poetry magazines - skirting as it does the main and marginal streams, and bridging the Atlantic effortlessly.  This issue features poems by Evan P. Jones, Richard Parker, Anne Carson, James Brookes, and an interview with Alfred Corn, among other highlights.  Higgins knows me well enough to note the curious way my work explores both theology and sexology: "One sometimes gets the impression that his [Swift's] politer lyrics are a kind of trick on the reader which gives him the element of surprise when he decides to unveil the spoiled priest in a brothel (or some other such enemy of politeness and hope) he has waiting around the corner from us."  This is true, I think, and is exactly why cack-handed attacks on my supposedly po-faced religious position, from certain poets, smack of the poorly-researched - anyone who knows me or my work or both will know that I write knowing that Graham Greene was a Catholic when he used opium in a bordello.  My poetry is alert to the tensions between desire and devotion.  Higgins continues: "Swift is a poet unafraid to give both darkness and light a fair, fighting chance." Amen, brother.  It isn't good if it hasn't gone a few rounds with evil.  He ends: "Todd Swift is a big poet and a dramatic character".  My forthcoming ebook, Experimental Sex Hospital, is the sequel to MLH, and will also deal with the priest, and the brothel, aspect of my poetic imagination.


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With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.