Award-winning poet David Swerdlow returns with a collection highlighting the struggle to shelter family in violent times
David Swerdlow opens his poetry collection NIGHTSTAND with fear for his Latina wife, for the possibility that someone “will do her some unspeakable / harm because we live in the renewed world / of hatred” – a “hard / world we never wanted to imagine.” But that is the world, and Swerdlow does not flinch from describing it. From such a beginning this could have been a grim undertaking, but instead this is a book of love, and of hope. His title poem describes the contents of his bedside table, “all the things I cannot part with,” which is also an apt description of this collection, a eclectic mix of memories (including the remarkable story of a relative who was Lenin’s “right hand man in the revolution,” adding to his complicated family legacy). In the end, for all the crushing weight of history, he takes heart from the “beautiful ghosts” of his daughters, through whom he is “planning to outlive / myself.” Appropriately he closes with a love poem, in a garden “already gone / to weeds,” awaiting the coming of night: “I should love to know / how a day finally ends.”
Poetry. Family & Relationships.
”In NIGHTSTAND, David Swerdlow’s lyrical, evocative poems juxtapose a desire to protect small-town family life with the ‘renewed world / of hatred’ that presses in from seemingly everywhere. Mass shootings, sexual violence, ‘bodies that suffered the bomb,’ antisemitism, caged immigrants—all bump up against committed marriage, parenting, and friendships, ‘this country slipping once more/into the grim divisions / we thought we’d outlive.’ But these poems also search out the familiar stranger in distant homelands and rugged landscapes: a father’s attempted suicide, a mother’s decline, Obama’s final public address, a Texas family detention center, the Stutthof concentration camp, as well as experiences in Russia, Croatia, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Morocco. Master of both brief form and extended meditation, Swerdlow invites us to move in closer, ‘working/on what’s holy, pinning it/to the ceiling that holds on // to nothing but the dark…’ These poems give enough light and courage to do just that.” —Marjorie Maddox, author of In the Museum of My Daughter’s Mind
”Like a great jazz musician, Swerdlow knows how to vary his set to the audience’s delight. And each song is its own world, its own perfect accordion-book of memories or discourse or love as its own singularity—of beauty expressed as a universally human experience of it. These are not poems of a single kind or tenor. Rather, they journey through a poem’s music, though history—through Barack Obama’s voice, for Christ’s sake. Not many of us could do that. If I could have chosen with foreknowledge one book of poems to read this year, it would be this one. It is enough and more than enough. The poet references Vallejo and James Wright. Both are here somehow in particular moments we instantly recognize. But in the end this is David Swerdlow’s art, his best book by far. He has been a long time coming to this. Don’t miss it!” —Scott Minar, Author of Arctic Accordion, Selected Poems
David Swerdlow is the author of three full-length collections of poetry and a novel. His work has appeared in many distinguished publications, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, Iowa Review, Laurel Review, and Poetry Northwest. The recipient of several awards, Swerdlow has served as a Fulbright Professor of American Literature in Peru, as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, and as visiting faculty on two Semester at Sea voyages. He now co-directs The James Wright Poetry Festival. Since 1990, he has taught literature and creative writing at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.