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In Memoriam: May Swenson

December 24, 1989| The poet May Swenson died on Dec. 4, 1989, at age 70. One of her last published works will appear in WEST/WORD 2, January, 1990, her response to a set of four questions on poetry put to her, as to a large number of other American poets, by editor Austin Straus. In lieu of other memorial, we publish her response below to the last of those questions: "Does the act of writing a poem ever feel forced?" and

Force can't make a poem for me.

I am an old poet now. My first book was published over thirty years ago, and recognition came late. This makes no difference to the quality of the work, or to how long it will last. But, for me quantity diminishes with age, with increasing complexities of daily life, decreasing energies both physical and mental. Yes, one becomes wiser, but that's not good for making poetry. Knowing, seeing through everything, produces the cynic, the intellectualizer. The best poetry has its roots in the subconscious to a great degree. Youth, naivete, reliance on instinct more than learning and method, a sense of freedom and play, even trust in randomness is necessary to the making of a poem, and if this ceases to happen often in the poet, s/he either produces less often or tries to force. Still I visualize a break-through in these, my late years, a lucky (and magical) period of peace, simplicity, ideal inner and outer weather, a clean slate away from petty obligations and complications, a surge of power and self-belief, a sudden ability to make use of my hoard of experiences in the creation of a great poem. I visualize this ecstasy.

MAY SWENSON, Seacliff, N.Y., Aug. 4, 1989

WEST/WORD 2, dedicated to May Swenson, is available from UCLA Extension Writers Program, 10995 LeConte, Los Angeles 90024.

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