Today is the anniversary of Paul Swenson’s birth. If my calculations are correct, he was born in 1935 and would have turned 78 this year. I’ve thought about him off and on since he passed, mostly because I know that at the time of his death he was working with Dream Garden Press to publish his second poetry collection. According to the bio note he passed along for inclusion in Fire in the Pasture the book was to be titled In Sleep and he was planning for its release in late 2011. I’m sure, among other things, his poor health pushed back the release, but his passing delayed it indefinitely. I’m not sure what’s happening with his literary estate now. But if anyone within the sound of this post does know what’s in store for the work Paul left behind (both published and unpublished), let me know. I’m interested in doing what I can to help archive, to sustain, and to promote his literary legacy. (You can contact me here.)
With that in mind, I wanted to commemorate Paul on his birthday by posting a couple clips of him reading his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any online, but I did have some stored away on a jump drive in a collection of recordings I downloaded a few years ago from Sunstone’s Symposium archive when it still contained audio from past events. The two clips I’m sharing today were snipped from a session recording made during the 1997 Sunstone Symposium held 6-9 August at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. The session was titled “Too Much Stuff Gone Down, Baby: Performance Poets at Play” and included readings by Paul, Alex Caldiero, Lin Ostler, Stefene Russell, and Laraine Wilkins. Paul read both of the following poems near the end of his set. The first is “Strange Gods,” which was originally published in Sunstone and later appeared in Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake; and the second, “Nothing Has Changed Since You Left,” is, as far as I can tell, unpublished.
But without further ado: as if from the dust, Paul reading two poems on his birthday (with brief liner notes about each poem from me):
“Strange Gods” speaks to Paul’s view of deity. It’s notable for its portrayal of a female, Blues-loving god “who blesses the black sheep” (with whom Paul may have associated himself) and whose infinite compassion won’t allow her to “go to war with her children.”
“Nothing Has Changed Since You Left” dwells in the absence left behind when a loved one departs (for whatever reason). We seek to fill that space with their things, with memories, with language, but their loss permeates everything, including the lives of our animals and our relationships with others, which will never be quite the same again.