“Robert Sward’s poems are the result of a plunge into a never fully ironized, often hilarious sense of mysticism: they are the product of a restless, spiritually adventuresome sensibility masking itself as a stand-up comedian. This poet learned early that the comic, the ‘zany,’ was a mask by which one could assert oneself—through which one would be listened to. In his poems, the mask remains, but it is at the service of an essentially visionary impulse: ‘the vision, the life that it requires.’ Wonderful work.” —Jack Foley“These are such funny, sad, generous poems—peopled with characters it's impossible not to love, especially Robert's podiatrist-Jewish-Rosicrucian father with his wisdom that bridges all dualities expounding on the feet and the soul, sex and death, the broken and the whole. In one poem, Robert asserts, 'In a world of No, dogs are a Yes'. And in the world of poetry, this book is a resounding Yes. Read it when you’re happy, but especially read it when you’re depressed. You'll find yourself joining in with the many dogs in these poems, saying, 'Woof, woof f—in’ woof!'” —Ellen Bass Product Details: Paperback: 208 pages Publisher: Red Hen Press; 1st Edition edition (October 1, 2011) ISBN-10: 1597092614 ISBN-13: 978-1597092616 Purchase on Amazon
HANNAHHer third eye is strawberry jam has a little iris in it her eyelids are red she’s sleepy and the milk has gone down the wrong way. I’ve just had breakfast with the smallest person in the world.
From Publishers WeeklyIntroducing these poems, Sward writes that in 1966 he was "hit by a speeding MG" and lost his memory for 24 hours. Curiously though, Sward's poems, even prior to his accident, manifest a kind of amnesiac's perspective on the world. Many poems in Kissing the Dancer discover an alarming novelty in experience using a child's syntax.
In "The Kite," a woman who has just hung herself is described as, simply, "skypaper, way up / too high to pull down." In "At Jim McConkey's Farm," Sward's unusual takes on reality evoke a Zen-like calm. "Overwhelmed by the complexities of skunk cabbage," the poem's speaker suddenly realizes that "at this moment / for this day even, we have belonged here."
At times Sward's technique gives his poems a disorienting and diffuse quality: "children screaming and feeling slighted / The next minute we're walking along canals on the planet Mars." In two inventive new poems, however, Sward's style is at its best. "Basketball's the American Game Because It's Hysterical" uses the sport to discuss poetic prosody, and "On My Way to the Korean War . . ." depicts the levitation of "2,000 battle-ready troops." - Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.The New York Times Book Review Sward can handle not only a Lardner-Hemingway back room kind of American speech, but the attitudes that betray it. He can also describe odd-ball birds not found in Audubon with the mosaic deftness of Marianne Moore. Carolyn Kizer Here is Robert Sward, now in his fifties, still fresh, ingenuous, and funnier than ever. His life--and what a life--is an open book. You can read all about it here. What's more, you will want to call your friends and read poems to them over the phone. I know. I've done it. William Meredith Like other good works of art, these poems have the air of having been made for people rather than for other artists. Harvard Review Humorous...satiric... The best poems are exuberant, often surreal, jammed with ideas and images; they exude energy. Purchase on Amazon
Heavenly Sex is a book of poems about varieties of love, sacred and profane.It is, at the same time, as noted by Robert Bly, a celebration of one of the more unusual father and son relationships. A self taught Russian immigrant, drawing on a variety of ancient mystical teachings, the father emerges as the books central figure.
ODE TO TORPORGlory be to God for the tiresome and tedious, Glory be to God for tedium, for no news about anything, for newspaper strikes and power outages, lethargy and downtime. Postpone and delay. And again, postpone and delay. No place to go. No way to get there. No reason not to stay. Glory be to God for inaction, for not getting things done, for not getting anything done, No huffin’, no puffin’, just some of that slow and easy, the woman lackadaisically on top, the man lackadaisically on top. Yummy, yummy, take your time, yummy, yummy, I'll take mine. Slow and easy, slow and easy. Glory be to God, O glory. O glory be to God. (Read by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac) From the Publisher As critic William Minor observed, Sward presents abstruse or complex concerns in a manner that is refreshingly straightforward, even simple, at the same time he manages to tell a story, providing a continuous narrative thread, yet remaining totally lyrical at the same time. The New York Times Book Review ...fierce, new minted and convincing... he [Sward] has a voice and a range. - John Malcom Brinnin on Kissing the Dancer Len Anderson, Poetry Santa Cruz Newsletter, November, 2002 Robert Sward's new book, Heavenly Sex continues his dialogue with his eccentric, lovable, browbeating, mystical, downright hilarious podiatrist father... From the Author As poet Len Anderson writes, the new book, Heavenly Sex, continues the dialogue with an eccentric, browbeating, mystical podiatrist father, the same character who powered Rosicrucian In The Basement. This time the father brings us good news: "Writer, schmyter,/you're unemployed./Unemployed people must make love/at least once a day." As Len notes, Such prescriptions from the Talmud and surprising metaphysical revelations seamlessly woven with advice on care of the feet and disappointment with his son make this character unforgettable. The book also folds in a section of animal poems including the classic "Uncle Dog: the Poet at 9" and a third section which includes another classic, "Hello Poem," and the wonderful "Report from the Front" and "Ode to Torpor." -Len Anderson is co-founder of Poetry Santa Cruz and Hummingbird Press From the Inside Flap Speaking of Robert Swards earlier selection, American Book Award winner Dana Gioia says, The CD is terrific. Rosicrucian in the Basement unfolds perfectly at its own pace and never loses the listener. Purchase on Amazon
GLOBE & MAIL (review) Toronto, Canada
Sward cuts deeplyBy ROBYN SARAH Saturday, December 4, 2004 - Page D34 What I would really like to say about The Collected Poems of Robert Sward would not be a book review. I would like to say: Listen to this! and quote a whole poem, then another and another, just letting the poems speak for themselves. As poetry goes, and especially poetry published in Canada, this is an unexpected book and a breath of fresh air. How, except by quoting, can one convey the effect of lines like these from Kite , a poem of bereavement from a child's perspective -- no, from adult recall of that child's perspective -- no, from adult recall of the feel of that child's perspective: I still heard Auntie Blue after she did not want to come down again. She was skypaper, way up too high to pull down. The wind liked her a lot, and she was lots of noise and sky on the end of the string. And the string jumped hard all of a sudden, and the sky never even breathed, but was like it always was, slow and close far-away blue, like poor dead Uncle Blue. Auntie Blue was gone, and I could not think of her face. And the string fell down slowly for a long time. I was afraid to pull it down. Auntie Blue was in the sky, just like God. . . Sward, now 70 and a dual citizen, lives in Santa Cruz, Calif. Resident in Canada from 1969 to 1985, he taught at the University of Victoria and ran Soft Press for 10 years. His poetry appears now to be better known in the United States than in Canada. This is a shame, and one hopes this Collected Poems will remedy it. But it's anybody's guess, because Sward's poetry runs counter to so much of what we have come to expect and accept as poetry here. What is this book not ? It is not intellectually precious, trumped-up or sanctimonious. It does not take itself too seriously. It is not "confessional," even at its most autobiographical. It does not tax us to understand what it is talking about. It is not prose, even when it most resembles prose. And it is not numbingly uniform in effect: Sward can write a dramatic monologue that is part stand-up comedy routine, part Talmudic discourse; he can give us child's-eye whimsy, satirical prophecy or surrealist nightmare; he can write a classical sonnet that is metrically perfect and allusive, yet modern and hilarious ( Socrates at the Symposium ) or a found poem that takes the pulse of the times with sly irony ( Personal Stress Assessment ). Not every poem is substantial -- the book has its share of pieces I would call lightweight -- but this is a collected works, so their inclusion can be forgiven. The heart and core of this book is a series of dramatic monologues and dialogues between father and son (beginning in Sward's 2001 collection, Rosicrucian in the Basement , and ongoing in the subsequent Heavenly Sex ) the irrepressible aliveness and weird wisdom of which should win it a lasting place in the literature of our day. Sward's Talmud-conversant father, of Russian-Jewish extraction -- a Chicago-based podiatrist by profession -- came unhinged after losing his wife and became (in the l950s) a Rosicrucian who practised his rites secretly in the basement. Under the eye of his bemused "dreamer" son, he evolved his own blend of kabbalistic, Christian hermetic and prescient New Age mysticism, which lent its colours to his medical practice as well as to his view of that son's eventual career choice and several marriages. Other remembered voices weave in and out of this remarkable sequence (grandfather, mother, step-mother, aunt, even a dog), but it is the father's that dominates. A fully believable new American, steeped in old-world Yiddish culture even as he accedes to the professional class, he's also a complex archetypal figure, or more than one: Jewish father, holy madman, Shakespearean fool -- a sort of Touchstone meets Tevye the Dairyman. "Just a tiny crack separates this world/ from the next, and you step over it/ every day,/ God is in the cracks," he tells his son, as he fits him for arch supports. "You have two fathers,/ one you can see,/ one who looks like me;/ and one you can't,/ the father you'll never see," he tells him from his hospital bed in After the Bypass . "There is no place empty of God," he says, and "Darkness is a candle, too./ So open the window in your chest./ Let the invisible fly in and out." The cumulative effect of these crackpot mini-sermons, shot through with visionary insight, is more than humorous: It is to waken unexpected emotions and nudge the seeker in us all. Sward's voice might best be described as wonderstruck. By turns humorous and serious, ecstatic and perplexed, he is always fanciful, lively and life-affirming. His Collected Poems is that most unusual thing in contemporary Canadian poetry: a good-humored, gregarious and heartfelt book, abundantly human and unfeigned. Montreal writer Robyn Sarah's most recent poetry collection is A Day's Grace. Purchase on Amazon
I like the wide sweep of it. There are many mysteries between father and son that people don't talk about… There's much leaping, but each line, so to speak, steps on something solid.”-- Robert Bly on Rosicrucian in the Basement
GOD IS IN THE CRACKS “Just a tiny crack separates this world from the next, and you step over it every day, God is in the cracks.” Foot propped up, nurse hovering, phone ringing. “Relax and breathe from your heels. Now, that's breathing. So, tell me, have you enrolled yet?” “Enrolled?” “In the Illinois College of Podiatry.” “Dad, I have a job. I teach.” “Ha! Well, I'm a man of the lower extremities.” “Dad, I'm forty-three.” “So what? I'm eighty. I knew you before you began wearing shoes. Too good for feet?” he asks. “I. Me. Mind: That's all I get from your poetry. Your words lack feet. Forget the mind. Mind is all over the place. There's no support. You want me to be proud of you? Be a foot man. Here, son,” he says, handing me back my shoes, “try walking in these. Arch supports. Now there's a subject. Some day you'll write about arch supports.”
…Sward's Talmud-conversant father, of Russian-Jewish extraction -- a Chicago-based podiatrist by profession -- came unhinged after losing his wife and became (in the 1950s) a Rosicrucian who practised his rites secretly in the basement. Under the eye of his bemused "dreamer" son, he evolved his own blend of kabbalistic, Christian hermetic and prescient New Age mysticism, which lent its colours to his medical practice as well as to his view of that son's eventual career choice and several marriages. Other remembered voices weave in and out of this remarkable sequence (grandfather, mother, step-mother, aunt, even a dog), but it is the father's that dominates. A fully believable new American, steeped in old-world Yiddish culture even as he accedes to the professional class, he's also a complex archetypal figure, or more than one: Jewish father, holy madman, Shakespearean fool -- a sort of Touchstone meets Tevye the Dairyman. "Just a tiny crack separates this world/ from the next, and you step over it/ every day,/ God is in the cracks," he tells his son, as he fits him for arch supports. "You have two fathers,/ one you can see,/ one who looks like me;/ and one you can't,/ the father you'll never see," he tells him from his hospital bed in After the Bypass . "There is no place empty of God," he says, and "Darkness is a candle, too./ So open the window in your chest./ Let the invisible fly in and out." The cumulative effect of these crackpot mini-sermons, shot through with visionary insight, is more than humorous: It is to waken unexpected emotions and nudge the seeker in us all. --Robyn Sarah, The Globe & Mail Her most recent poetry collection is A Day's Grace. Black Moss Press $17.00 ISBN: 0-88753-422-8 Purchase on Amazon