Writing is a Path—Keep Walking! An Interview with Christine Swanberg

April 27, 2017

“The way I would describe [taking a writing class] is sort of like taking a bath with Lava soap: you get really, really clean, but it’s not exactly altogether pleasant.” ~ Christine Swanberg, on Northern Public Radio.

Christine Swanberg, who began her career as a teacher of creative writing, always wanted to write but found herself in a time, the 1970s, where there were not as many avenues open for women who wanted to do so. But when the dream persisted, she began writing short stories and plays, and then, after she started taking classes at Northern Illinois University, she found a passion for poetry.

UntitledTown blogger Ami Irmen interviewed Swanberg about her writing.

UntitledTown (UT): You have been publishing fairly consistently for over thirty years – how do you keep the motivation going? Do you ever have moments where you think – maybe I’m done?

Christine Swanberg (CS): I keep writing because it is a major part of my identity and purpose. There are from time to time lulls in my enthusiasm but not in my perseverance.

UT: In a previous interview, you mention that “the downside [of writing] is that you have to establish your own audience, which is very challenging.” What advice would you have for someone who is just starting that challenging work?

CS: That question is really about the process of understanding over time that the writing is not about you per se, but a shared experience. When I started sending out my work, blogs and social media did not exist, so there wasn’t an instant way to share work with a large number of people. I always like to think of an ever-widening readership through literary journals, readings, and the like.

UT: In an interview with Northern Public Radio, you state that it took several years for you to “figure out the things [you] would write about, what [you] would NOT write about.” For someone that may be new to your work, how would you describe to them what it is you DO write about? Are you willing to share what things you decided you would NOT write about?

CS: I write about ordinary experiences and extraordinary experiences. Poetry writing is a kind of walk through life, observing keenly, discerning meanings and metaphors. Since I have written several hundred poems, I’d say subjects run the gamut: love, marriage, travel epiphanies, gardening, animals, love of the earth, ecology, friendship, loss, body issues, personal response to political situations – not much is off base. One type of poem that I have let go of and no longer write (at least for public consumption) are angry polemics or what I might call “groupspeak”.

UT: You mention on your Facebook page that you are a “world traveler and adventurer.” What has been your favorite adventure thus far? How much do your travels inform your work? What one place/adventure have you not had yet but would be #1 on your travel bucket list?

CS: When I was in college, I had a burning desire to see the world. Fortunately, teaching allowed summers off, and I was blessed to have a spouse who was also an adventurer. We would hit the road every summer: Europe on $5 day, Central America, Turkey, Canada, most of the USA. I treasure magical places, such as the Cinque Terra, the Ticino, the Greek Islands, the Yucatan Peninsula, the Canadian Rockies, Russia…well, the list goes on. These places show up in the work. Some of my current favorite places include the Oregon Coast and St. Augustine Florida, which lately have been speaking to my old soul. My bucket list now is not so much traveling to a place as perhaps being able to live in a beach cottage during the winter.

UT: As you know, this is a conference for both readers and writers. What advice do you have for writers? What advice do you have for readers?

CS: For writers, I would say: Know that writing is a path, not a destination. Keep walking! For readers, I would say: When you read poetry, read it differently than prose. Pay attention to phrasing, line sculpting, and inherent music.

UT: If there were one book/collection that you think everyone should read, what would it be? Who/what are you reading right now?

CS: Read Stanley Kunitz, especially any book that contains “The Layers.”

UT: Are you willing to share what your next project/collection will be?

CS: A new book, Wild Fruition: Sonnets, Spells, and Other Incantations, is due out this year from Puddin’head Press. It is a full collection that incorporates formal poetry with free verse.

UT: Have you been to Green Bay before? If not, what are you most looking forward to experiencing? What are you most curious about? If you have, what are you most looking forward to experiencing again?

CS: I have in fact been to Green Bay several times. I have read at the Neville Museum in the past. As an instructor at the Clearing in Door County, I have always loved the area and look forward to returning to it. Big water, friendly folks, love it!

In anticipation of Christine Swanberg’s reading at the Brown County Library (Basement Auditorium) on Sunday, April 30, 9:30 – 10:15 a.m., please check out her poems Paradigm Shift in the Pacific Northwest (video) and Queen of the Night.