Global Haiku Tradition
Millikin University, Spring 2002

Jane Millikin

An Interview with George Swede


by Jane Millikin

Jane's Haiku

 

 

 
INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE SWEDE
 
My recent interview via email with George Swede was very helpful in understanding more about who he really is.
 
Staci:
Where/when were you born?

George:
Riga, Latvia, November 20, 1940

Staci:
At what age did you start writing haiku?

George:
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.

Staci:
What was it that began your interest in haiku?

George:
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.

Staci:
Have you written any haiku about specific memories of your childhood?

George:
Definitely.

Staci:
If so, can you tell me in depth of a memory of yours?

George:
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 again—it 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 inside.

Staci:
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?

George:
Scared, shocked and fascinated.

Staci:
Also, Can you tell me what haiku that was?

George:
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).

dead roadside deer
  a snowflake melts
on its open eye

George:
And, here's a fairly recent one (which might still need polishing):

roadkill raccoon
snowflakes start to cover
the teeming maggots

Staci:
Are all your haiku personal, or do you project yourself into other people's minds and write haiku pretending to be them?

George:
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:
Do you write wishful thinking haiku (about something that hasn't happened to you?)

George:
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.

Staci:
What is your technique to overcome writer's block?
 
George:

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.

—Jane Millikin


©2002 Randy Brooks, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois || all rights reserved for original authors