Meet Dan Schwerin
A very warm welcome from the whiptail team. Tell us a little about yourself - your family, your hobbies, your dreams, or anything else you want the readers to know about you, apart from being a haiku poet.
Thank you, Ms. Parashar.
My wife Julie and I live in Sun Prairie, WI, where we enjoy long walks and visits from family. I have been a United Methodist minister for over 30 years and those experiences form a backdrop for much of my poetry.
What is something that people don’t know about your poetry or poetry practice, process, or inspiration that you'd like to share?
In the morning, I start my practice by doing some devotional reading called Lectio Divina with a psalm, and then I put a one-Tweet-length devotional on Twitter. Then I read some theology or family systems theory. Then I read poets to find the golden thread of an image that takes me to a memory or a line and I will write it down and work from there. I will write a haiku or two or three and put them in my shirt pocket for my walk to work. During my walk to work and my walk home, I work them over for sound and disjunction or juxtaposition. That piece of paper will be filled with poems for the week and have a chance to face editing before I put them in the notebook on Friday. Sometimes when I arrive at work, I will write a sijo to extend my response to one of the images or lines. I edit those for a few minutes on the lunch hour.
What made you decide to try out haiku and/or tanka in one line versus their more popular enjambed formats? How does it feel different to you?
I think the poem decides its form. If I find a line that suggests some wrinkle or a phrase that ends with an open-ended word, I will try it in one line, usually several efforts, and sometimes, just leave them for months until something sparks and the right edit suggests itself. I read midwestern poets such as Raymond Roseliep and Bill Pauly for years, so the one-line format has many teachers for me. Jim Kacian had a nice little book about ten years ago, where I leave off, that broke the one-line form into the effects it can offer. I highly recommend it.
Many poets still struggle with the dilemma of whether a particular poem will work better as a one-line poem than the enjambed form and vice-versa. What is the deciding factor in your practice?
For me, if the poem needs more ma, or space, or needs to be slowed down for perception, and if it strikes at the heart—that may be a three-line poem (or whatever form best serves the poem). If the poem strikes at the head, has a sharpness, and feels more language-based, then I think it grows into a one-line poem. Usually, I know I have a one-line poem when I find a wrinkle in language that suggests a sharper flash of insight.
It would be a great help to our readers if you could walk us through your writing process from the conception to the eventual birth of a one-line poem. Do you have any tips for aspiring poets of one-line forms?
After one of the recent mass-shootings that involved school children, I saw a little white casket in a news magazine. Being a minister, I have seen little white caskets over the years, and led many hundreds of funerals. In my last church, I led funeral processions in from the back of the sanctuary. So I played with “little white casket” and set it beside “‘enters from the back.” I played with words that would portray the reality of grief until I came to: “little white casket reality enters from the back.” Then it was time to check the poem for the right articles and the poetry and I added an indefinite article to come to: “a little white casket reality enters from the back.” I think it suggests the awful reality of the shootings themselves, and the grief a family experiences. I hope my poems of advocacy can challenge the violent norms in our country.
My only advice is to read voraciously and write daily, if you can. It trains the mind to know this is your time to be creative.
I want to thank you for looking at the question of craft and maintaining whiptail as a forum for experimental poetics.
Rev. Dan Schwerin (he, him, his) lives in Sun Prairie, WI with his wife Julie and serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church. His poetry comes from life on a farm or making his rounds across thirty years as a minister in Wisconsin. His debut haiku collection, ORS, from Red Moon Press, won the Haiku Foundation’s Touchstone Award in 2016. Dan is passionate about the short poem. You can find him on Twitter @dan_schwerin.