Awakening and Visitation
poems by Wally Swist
This remarkable collection is the clearest manifestation yet of the spiritual posture that has influenced Wally Swist's work for decades. Both visionary and mystical, the book centers around a sonnet sequence regarding a shared awakening with his partner and their consequent experience with angelic visitation. There are also individual poems, such as “Angels” and “Inner Prayer,” that offer examples of the meditative quality of the work and from which his political poems provide a taut counterpoint, providing a tensile strength and balance to the book as a whole. Swist’s adaptation of Li Chu’s Wen Fu, or The Art of Writing, which is permanently archived on the Buddhist Poetry Review’s website, and the co-translation of “The Postcards of Aneyakoji Street” are projects that took some years to complete and are laudable additions to the recent work included in this collection. Overall, this is a book of lyrical poetry that reveals a maturation of discipline and vision through the matrix of active spirituality and aesthetic practice.
POETRY / General
ISBN: 978-1-951651-46-6 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
Wally Swist is the author of some three dozen books and chapbooks of poetry and prose. Among his books are The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with co-authors David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Beaumont, TX: Lamar University Press, 2015). Also, his book Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love was selected as the co-winner of the 2011 Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Contest, which was chosen by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who served as judge, and the book was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2012. The book was nominated for a National Book Award.
Swist is the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize for A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems and Haiku Regarding Birds & Nature. The book was published in late 2019 by master printer and book designer Gabriel Rummonds, of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Swist has also published four previous books of poetry with Shanti Arts of Brunswick, Maine, including Candling the Eggs (2016), The Map of Eternity (2018), The Bees of the Invisible (2019), and Evanescence: Selected Poems (2020). His books of nonfiction include Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (Brooklyn, NY: The Operating System, 2018) and On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (New York & Lisbon: Adelaide Books, 2018).
Some of his work has been set to music. This includes his poem “The Rush of the Brook Stills the Mind,” which inspired a composition by the electroacoustic composer Dr. Elainie Lillios. The composition was performed by percussionist Scott Deal in Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 20, 2013. It is only one of several venues across the country where the composition has been performed. Dr. Elainie Lillios is Professor of Composition at Bowling Green State University. Swist’s poem “After Long Drought” was also composed to an electroacoustical score written by Professor Lillios, and the composition also premiered at Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory of Music in June 2016 by percussionist Scott Deal.
A recipient of Artist Fellowships in poetry from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts (1977 and 2003), Swist was also awarded a one-year writing residency (1998) and two back-to-back one-year writing residencies (2003–2005) in Fort Juniper at the Robert Francis Homestead in Cushman, Massachusetts, the home of his former mentor.
Swist’s work has appeared in such national periodicals such as The American Book Review, Commonweal, The Galway Review (Ireland), The North American Review, Rattle, Rolling Stone, Transference: A Literary Journal Featuring the Art & Process of Translation, Your Impossible Voice, and Yankee Magazine.
He currently makes his home in western Massachusetts, where he is semi-retired and works as a freelance editor, writer, and researcher.
“Wally Swist’s Awakening and Visitation is a book that inspires belief—belief in the visitation of angels who make their presence known in a palpable coursing of energy through the human body; belief in the Oneness of creation felt in the vehement bark of a Rottweiler, the radiant face of one’s beloved, the rhapsodic performance of a piano solo, the refreshing enjoyment of a tomato/brie sandwich, the surprising discovery of a clearing in a wood; and ultimately, belief in the power of poetry to bear out this Oneness. This book rings with ‘call’ and ‘response’—‘calls’ by numerous American writers in many epigraphs and Swist’s ‘responses’ to them; as well as ‘calls’ by writers from many other cultural traditions to which Swist ‘responds’ in his adaptations of and translations from these writers. Swist is truly responding to a ‘call’ to awaken in us belief that we are all united in the divine.
“This remarkable collection of poems, reflections, translations, and imitations is a tour de force, a kaleidoscope of natural and mystical visions, poignant and insightful commentaries on human aspirations and disappointments, affirmations of the intellectual and spiritual synchronicity made possible, as he writes, through the sensuality of light. This is poetry that is both universal and intimate, subtle and intense, and Wally Swist here is at his finest and most brave, as a man and as an artist, revealing at every turn the essence of what it is to be fully and lovingly alive.”
“In the prose of a haibun on locating the poetic moment in time included in this collection, Wally Swist speaks of ‘the lyricism of the line, the movement, and the stillness, of eternity itself.’ These are poems that move through those successive stages to arrive at a vision of the eternal present, one in which the small moments of daily life are returned to their proper radiance. As we follow Swist in discerning the ‘numinous in the commonplace,’ we feel his work achieve that mission set forth in his poem ‘After Li Chi’s Wen Fu’: ‘What is composed here / is meant to be in harmony / with the heart and the ear, the mind and the soul.’”
“Having enjoyed Wally Swist’s poetry for twenty-five years, I always have sensed a strong inherent spiritual urge in his work. Awakening and Visitation makes those urges manifest. Focused largely on our environmental tragedy, the poetry accuses those responsible for the crisis and then prescribes spiritual attention within and without as the path to any salvation we may find.
“A collection of longer poems that includes a small section of haiku and haiku-related work. Of the longer poems, nearly fifty of them were published in a variety of places: from the Baseball Bard to Buddhist Poetry Review, the Galway Review to Tuck: Online Political, Human Rights, and Arts Magazine; yet all the poems are genuine Swist and contain a deeply spiritual reverence for both humankind and the environment—including the angelic. Of interest were a couple of longer poems that reference haiku, one especially is a poetic email to poet Allan Burns on a haiku of his in Where the River Goes. A final section of the book includes a quarter of Swist's haibun "Finding the Numinous in the Commonplace," and his translations of the "Haiku Postcards of Aneyakouji Street," the last of which appeared in Modern Haiku 51.2 . . . Yet Swist consistently makes connections in his poems in a very haiku-like manner—whether in free verse, sonnet, or haiku.”
Steve Pfarrer, Book Bag: ‘The Paris Affair’ by Susanne Dunlap; ‘Awakening and Visitation’ by Wally Swist, Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 17,2020.
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