WITH GEORGE SWEDE
recent interview via email with George Swede was very helpful
in understanding more about who he really is.
Where/when were you born?
Riga, Latvia, November 20, 1940
At what age did you start writing haiku?
In 1976, when I was 36. But . . . I first became serious
about writing poetry in 1967, when I took a 13-week poetry
writing workshop at the Three Schools of Art in Toronto and
started publishing my free-verse poems in 1968. Toronto's
Missing Link Press published a collection of mine in 1974
and Fredericton's Fiddle head Poetry Books in 1978 (which
included three haiku among about 65 poems). Fiddlehead (Canada's
foremost poetry press at the time) then published a collection
of haiku in 1979.
What was it that began your interest in haiku?
I was asked to review an anthology, The Modern Japanese
Haiku by Makoto Ueda (University of Toronto Press, 1976).
Its brilliant haiku motivated me to try to write similar work.
Have you written any haiku about specific memories of your
If so, can you tell me in depth of a memory of yours?
When I was about ten, I lived with my grandparents on their
farm in the Okanagan Valley (in south-central British Columbia).
I used to go for long walks with Laddie, my large black dog
(half retriever, half Newfoundlander). One day, a wild dog
(half Great Dane and some other large breed) tried to attack
me in the woods nearby. Laddie counter-attacked the wild dog
and they had a long and vicious fight. Eventually, Laddie
won and the wild dog ran away. Laddie had several wounds that
took a week to heal. When he was well enough we went for a
walk along the same path that led us to the wild dog. We
eventually ran into it againit was lying dead beside
the trail. When I poked at the carcass. I discovered that
it was hollow, except for thousands of maggots that were still
It sounds like your childhood memory of your dog protecting
you from the wild dog was from a movie! I never thought that
happened in real life! How did you feel when you saw the dead
dog full of maggots?
Scared, shocked and fascinated.
Also, Can you tell me what haiku that was?
No haiku came directly from this experience, but I believe
a number might have their origin there. One that comes to
mind is a haiku in Almost Unseen about the dead roadside
deer (p. 105).
a snowflake melts
on its open eye
And, here's a fairly recent one (which might still need polishing):
snowflakes start to cover
the teeming maggots
Are all your haiku personal, or do you project yourself into
other people's minds and write haiku pretending to be them?
I try to see poetry in the everyday things around me. This
attitude often leads to haiku and haiku-like poems. I
have written the occasional poem (not haiku) by pretending
to be another person, but, of course, have done so frequently
when writing fiction.Staci:
you write wishful thinking haiku (about something that hasn't
happened to you?)
Yes, I have written haiku about imagined events. But most
are based on real experiences. My other poetry is almost entirely
based on imagined events.
What is your technique to overcome writer's block?
I write prose (fiction and non-fiction) and all kinds of poetry
(free verse, experimental, visual). When I become non-productive
in one kind of writing, I switch to another and this change
prevents me from getting writer's block.