We asked Dane Swan five questions about his journey as a poet and his collection of poems dedicated to musician Charles Mingus. You can find him at IFOA 2017.
IFOA: What made you decide to examine Charles Mingus in your book?
Dane Swan: I had a very rough manuscript that I knew was missing something to tie it all together. One day, I decided to submit a poem for, I believe, a mental health anthology. I wrote it the day of the deadline. That poem was Lullaby which made the collection. I knew that a first draft of such an intense poem would likely be rejected, but the poem made me think of numerous jazz greats.
I quickly realized that the life of Charles Mingus was the ideal subject for the poems that I had. He has an intense story. His successes while facing physical health and mental health turmoil inspire me. So much so, that when people ask me why Charles Mingus? I usually respond, “Why not Mingus?”
Swan: Not much to say. I wanted to be a poet when I was a kid in primary school. In high school, I fell in love with writing and performing dancehall reggae. Moving to Canada, I wrote and performed hip-hop until rap turned into a genre obsessed with materialism. Around that time, I was introduced to Slam poetry. That introduction lit a fuse that would eventually lead to me falling back in love with poetry.
IFOA: Tell us a little bit about your creative process.
Swan: Honestly, it’s not terribly exciting. I wake up and stare at a computer screen for hours. I don’t believe in anything like writer’s block. As my friend Dan D’Onorio says, “You wouldn’t put pasta in the water if it wasn’t boiling.” Sometimes you have to be patient. Let the work tell you where it wants to go, when it’s ready to be written.
I’m also a big fan of working within a structured process. Whether I write everything down, or do it in my head, I mind map my work, research both online and offline, create a plan, and then begin.
IFOA: What are you working on next?
Swan: My first collection of short stories, He Doesn’t Hurt People Anymore, is being launched by Dumagrad Books this Fall. Grey Borders is publishing my first novella, Tuesday, launching next Spring. Currently, I’m shopping a poetry collection and a YA novel to various publishers.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Swan: I’m reading three or four books currently. The most significant is Surviving Canada which is an anthology of non-fiction work from indigenous writers, and intellectuals. It’s a lot to think about. A lot to take in.
The other book worth mentioning is a translation of Notes from Underground. The other two books are an excellent plot (but of questionable writing quality), and an urban novella that I bought at Toronto Urban Book Festival. The book is great junk food! (Sorry, the title escapes me.)
I’m also reading A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man which I’m finding disappointing. Joyce’s Dubliners is genius. The rhythm, the images created; maybe I was expecting too much based on reading that first. Sometimes, our expectations of an author are warped if we are introduced to them through their best work.
With a publishing history that spans four nations, the writings of Dane Swan include: poetry, prose, and editorials on literature and popular culture. Bermuda born, with Jamaican heritage, Dane is based in Toronto, Canada. A former Writer In Residence for Open Book Toronto, he has also been shortlisted for the Monica Ladell Award. Swan’s work has been taught in schools and featured in print, online, on vinyl and CD. His first collection of poetry, Bending The Continuum, was published by Guernica Editions, followed by his second collection, A Mingus Lullaby.