Smallwood: You’ve had over 400 poems published in journals such as English Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, Rhino and have been interviewed in The Poet’s Market. Tell us about some recent awards:
Swanberg: The Woman Spirit award is granted annually to a woman who embodies the values of Womanspace, a center for the development of women. It includes commitment to the community, artistic and spiritual development, and empowerment. The YWCA awards are given each year at the gala YWCA Leader Luncheon. There have been many categories, which have changed over the years. The award which I received is the Blanche Ellis Starr Award for the Arts given to a community artist and arts activist for achievement. Recently, I also received the Mayor’s Art Award, under the category of Lawrence Gloyd award for Community Impact, as an educator and artist. The award is co-sponsored by the Rockford Arts Council and is given yearly at the State of the Arts Luncheon.
Smallwood: You have appeared in many anthologies including several editions of the Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry. What is one of your poetry collections?
Swanberg: The Alleluia Tree was published by David Gecic, Puddin’head Press, that has been around the Chicago area for nearly three decades. David had a somewhat different vision of the book than I did. To my surprise he had known my very early work and had a couple of my books from the early 1980’s. He suggested reprinting some of them in juxtaposition with the newer work. So this collection is quirky in that it has the musings of a 30-year old along with the musings of a 60-year-old, and nothing in between. The title changed many times, but David was taken with one of the new poems, “The Alleluia Tree,” which is about the “resurrection” of winter birds that I thought had perished. He thought it was a catchy title, in that the word “alleluia” is not being used in a fundamentalist way.
Smallwood: What about your book for Plainview Press?
Swanberg: The Tenderness of Memory, from Plainview Press in Austin, TX, actually isn’t my first book. It was published in 1995. I had several books published before that. The late Susan and John Bright are the publishers and claim to be “the oldest feminist press in the Southwest.” We worked collaboratively. Susan and John visited and were taken with my husband’s photography and asked if they could choose several to include in the book. So that project morphed creatively into something more. I’m sad to say they are no longer with us, but if you google Plainview Press, you will see many beautiful books that they have brought into the world. The title was a “found poem,” in that I heard a rabbi say that phrase at a funeral. It was an “aha” moment for me because it pulled together the collection.
Smallwood: I see you have served as judge, on panels, workshops and have been a columnist and speaker on very many occasions across the United States. Did you write when you were a teacher?
Swanberg: My writing and teaching have been in tandem for most of my career. When I first started to take my writing seriously, I got up in the wee hours to write before teaching. Eventually I couldn’t maintain that pace, and left full time public teaching to college teaching, which in terms of time and stress, was easier to handle. I still write and teach in tandem, though the teaching is an in house salon and workshops at retreat and community centers.
Smallwood: What is one of your recent anthologies?
Swanberg: Writing After Retirement (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) is a collection of 27 chapters for those wishing to begin writing after they have retired—whether poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. My contribution is, “In Pursuit of Simultaneous Passions: Writing and Volunteering.”
Smallwood: You have several publishing credits, readings , interviews for 2014 and more forthcoming for 2015. Has retirement changed your writing in any way?
Swanberg: The best thing about writing in retirement is the freedom to pursue certain opportunities that would be difficult when in the work place. For example, I am going to the Illinois Librarians Conference for two days in Springfield, as part of 32 writers chosen to showcase their work. In the past, I would have to have gotten a substitute or taken a vacation day—not always a given. Or if an opportunity for collaboration comes up, there’s just more open space to pursue it without having to squeeze everything in “after hours.” A few years ago I was invited to be poet in residence at a college. Since it wasn’t local, had I still been working, I couldn’t have done it. Another example is that for a several years I was a week-long workshop leader at the Clearing in Door County, WI, which I couldn’t have done while working elsewhere. As for the process itself, I find that I am more discerning in retirement. I don’t feel the need to keep proving myself, so the projects I take on have more to do with personal fulfillment and alignment with values.