Todd Swift was born in Montreal in 1966 and grew up by the St Lawrence Seaway, a landscape that shaped the development of his imagination. He studied Creative Writing at Concordia University, tutored by Gary Geddes and Robert Allen. After winning national and international accolades for his debating skills, he graduated into a career writing for television, gaining credits with Fox, HBO, Paramount, Hanna-Barbera and the CBC. In his thirties he began travelling, moving firstly to Hungary in 1997, then Paris in 2001, before settling in the UK in 2003.
He has published eight collections of poetry in the UK, Ireland and Canada, and edited many anthologies, representing poets new and established, in the English-speaking world, including 100 Poets Against the War (Salt, 2003), Modern Canadian Poets: An Anthology with Evan Jones (Carcanet, 2010) and most recently, with Kim Lockwood, Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam (Cinammon, 2012). He runs one of the UK's most widely-read poetry blogs, Eyewear. Launched in 2005 as both literary magazine and a space for personal commentary, the site is now archived by the British Library, and in 2012 began publishing its first poetry collections as Eyewear Publishing.
Swift has been described in Poetry London as a “fusion poet”, with his writing encompassing a cross-over aesthetic of experimental and traditional forms, and low and high culture. His experiences of living as “a perpetual outsider” (Kate Rogers, reviewing Seaway: New and Selected Poems) have developed into a globally-accommodating approach to genre, identity and style. His PhD in Creative and Critical Writing from UEA, co-supervised by Denise Riley, focused on style in modern British poets of the 1940s. His ambition, he claims, is “to combine the confessionalism of the Alvarez era with the modernist panache of the Forties poets he admires”, such as FT Prince and Joan Murray. He also cites Ezra Pound and Orson Welles as key influences.
His Poetry Archive selection places playful list poems, such as 'Taking Tea with Charles Bernstein', a tribute to the US experimental poet and critic, beside traditional forms such as 'Sonnet'. This pluralism is further reflected in his participation in performance group Swifty Lazarus, a spoken word collaboration between Swift and experimental composer Tom Walsh, The Envelope Please (Wired on Words, 2002). This was critically received in the same “irreverent spirit” as John Oswald's Plunderphonics. Yet alongside this improvised, cult lyricism, Swift has reviewed for established journals including Poetry Review, Poetry London, as well as Canada's Globe & Mail. In all directions of his writing, Swift's poetry works against expectation, testing the limits of tradition and experimentation, above all keeping in mind the need to illuminate aspects of the human condition.
His most recent collection, When All My Disappointments Came At Once (Tightrope, 2012) presents an emotional journey through a series of crises leading to a breakdown, but importantly followed by redemption and recovery. Fiona Sinclair notes the influence of TS Eliot on the book, both “stylistically and intellectually”, though Eliot also offers a moral paradigm. Swift's own moral motivations and optimism are visible not only in his poetry, but in his actions: for years after his 2004 role as Poet in Residence for Oxfam GB he hosted a popular reading series at the Marylebone Oxfam store and edited several poetry CDs, a DVD and the recent anthology Lung Jazz, raising funds for the charity. This spirit of 'good work' took a natural turn in 2010, when Swift converted to Catholicism, a non-dogmatic position which speaks to his self-professed “wary idealism”.
His work as a whole is held together by an intense dedication to personal experience, treating family connections, illness and health and, above all, love, as the engine of each poem. Around this driving fuel the poems range wildly, searching for the mode of best expression by which to communicate their particular sorrows, loves and triumphs.
Todd Swift's Favourite Poetry Sayings:
"A style is much more likely to be formed by slipshod sampling."
- Philip Larkin
"Only mediocrities develop."
- Oscar Wilde
"He is on a staircase which rises out of darkness and climbs into another darkness. He stands on a step, which is the manner, the technique and vision of the poetry he has just produced. Out of this step the next step must rise, before he can go further. It has to grow or solidify, and may keep him waiting, meditating, despairing, praying or muttering spells, before it offers itself. Then, as (if he is lucky) he moves up to the new step, the step he has left melts or falls away into the darkness. He cannot go back, and if he has not been able to go on, he must freeze into immobility and silence."
- FT Prince
"I am not suggesting switching from an uptight business suit into sincere jeans, as if to re-enact the fallacy of Romantic authenticity; but rather acting out, in dialectical play, the insincerity of form as well as content. Such poetic play does not open into a neat opposition of dry high irony and wet lyric expressiveness but, in contrast, collapses into a more ambivalent, destabilizing field of pathos, the ludicrous, schtick, sarcasm; a multidimensional textual field that is congenitally unable to maintain an evenness of surface tension or a flatness of affect, where linguistic shards of histrionic inappropriateness pierce the momentary calm of an obscure twist of phrase, before cantering into the next available trope; less a shield than a probe."
- Charles Bernstein