Skip to main content


Todd Swift is the Orson Welles of contemporary poetry - pioneering, charismatic, mischievous, irrepressible. This Selected displays the full range of his manifold gifts; it is sure to win for him a host of fresh admirers. - Mark Ford


If you are new, as I was, to the poems of Todd Swift you will find a feast of moods and modes in his fantastic batch of selected poems. This collection displays an amazing poetic breadth bounding from popular culture to religion to family. Elegiac, whimsical, meditative—The Ministry of Emergency Situations is a cornucopia of resonant songs and insights. Todd Swift is a revelation. - Terrance Hayes


Todd Swift writes about humans underneath their skins. On the surface these poems engage with Goethe, The Fantastic Four, Charlotte Rampling and the detritus of contemporary life; but these things are portals through which the poetic lines access the ethereal connections between beings. These poems are the magic tendrils that emerge when one person reaches for another: they grip hard, and then dissipate into a magician’s puff of smoke. - James Franco


Todd Swift’s energetic and seemingly inexhaustible imagery drives his poems to the exquisite edge of distraction.  The disconcertingly ingenious seascape of this variegated collection is shot through with startling and quotable insights like empathetic islands, like koans. Donne and Ashbery, Marvell and O'Hara all preside at the feast of this generous poetic imagination. —Annie Finch


There's a completion, a dire prophecy seemingly come true, in Todd Swift's The Ministry of Emergency Situations: Selected Poems 1983-2013. The brief, incisive first poem, "Shape", sees how the body forms and limits: "Our shape shapes us // entrails / ...the curse." Poems at the end, from Swift's powerful recent volume When All My Disappointments Came at Once, grapple with the discovery of a devastating bodily shaping: infertility. Between are riches in manifold registers--lyrics, narratives, eruptions of wit, tributes to ideas and writers and moments, narratives--all full of restless rhythms, creative diction, and a mastery of technique, especially impressive in the many poems which bring new sounds to the tradition of rhyme and meter. The book finally is an account of the unfinished overcoming of the limits it finds all around and within us. Music may have lied in promising the eternal, as Swift remarks in "Mix Tapes". But he creates a music of language in which nature can perhaps be what we say it is, because the seeming permanence of a tree watched throughout a day "suggests to me a kind of love" ("Natural Curve"). - A.F. Moritz

Todd Swift wears his erudition lightly, even playfully, particularly in his deft use of form and rhyme, and in the sly, insightful way he combines allusions to popular culture and classical tales. But of equal importance to the considerable technique deployed here is the poet’s tenderhearted, searchingly ethical voice. Swift displays an acute, sometimes painful sensitivity to the world — as in the marvelous “The Influence of Anxiety at the Seaside with Tea” — as he records the precise details that reveal our virtues and our flaws, or in other words, make us human. This collection, spanning three decades, should solidify this fine poet’s international reputation.   - Rose Solari


What a real pleasure to read a book containing 30 years of work by a poet I thought I knew well, and to discover something entirely new, a different sensuality, a different tonal shift, a different musical texture, on every other page or so. Yes, I knew already that Todd Swift is a master of many poetic dimensions: he can be lyrical and meditative, playful and ironic, he can stand up to the inevitable and also cast a spell on it, woo it into language which is his secret, his private music, his unashamed public tenderness, his joy, his moment of grief.  And, yet, again, how can one not be incited by Swift’s political passions, his hilarities, his many portraits of others– from famous public figures, both real and imaginary, to poet’s parents (both real and imaginary?). How can one not fall in love with these echoes of Larkin in the 21st century Canada and these very British forays into Canadian fiction?  But most of all you will love his dualities, his uncertainties, that very moment when you realize that “‘God has left us like a girl’ / She has gone, out of the house / And down the stairs, her scent / Evident and sweet as lilacs, / Shaping her descent in the air, / Leaving us alone to pray.”’ Go ahead, open this book on the poem called “Michael Kohlhaas” and you will want to buy straight away. Because the poem is brilliant. Because Todd Swift is the real thing. - Ilya Kaminsky 


Readers will delight in reading The Ministry of Emergency Situations, Todd Swift’s Selected Poems. Here is a poet growing every year more surely into his own: his poems are becoming more lyrical, more sure-footed, and more wry in their insights and descriptions. These are learned, interesting poems in a breathtaking variety of forms and modes. - Patricia Clark


From Goethe and Walter Benjamin to Penthouse and the Fantastic Four, from tender family memory to the realization that he doesn’t carry a gun because “it fits perfectly/into a mouth,” from the kinky world of Charlotte Rampling to a quest for God as sincere as Eliot’s or Robert Lowell’s—Todd Swift is a poet with range.  He’s an expat who knows loneliness, a big city man who knows crowds, enough of a formalist to know how to work a rhyme, enough of a modernist to know when not to.  As Johnny Mathis said in life, and says in one of Todd Swift’s poems: wonderful, wonderful… - Robert Archambeau


Todd Swift's The Ministry of Emergency Situations: Selected Poems 1983-2013 is a monumental collection.  Swift's touch is light, but there's a formidable tension between his elegant lines and the world of utter contingency they disclose.  The breadth of the palette is compelling; the playful, or not so playful, contagion of identity in "Julian," the visceral dispossession of "Sonnet." "Somewhere the mimetic is having more fun than I am, " Swift writes, and his poems can share the sheen and hypnotic silence of oblique mirrors; a disingenous gaze, a flash of undoing.The Ministry of Emergency Situations: Selected Poems 1983-2013 is a disquieting delight, an excellent introduction to an important poet.- D. Nurkse


Thank goodness for Todd Swift. He is one of a handful of contemporary poets who dive into the uncharted and risky regions: loss, pain, recovery with no pretense of disguise but with undeniable astuteness and vigor. These are risky endeavors. As we look to poetry for these thing, it is diametrically replenishing to read a poet who confronts the abyss and returns with a language that suggests something worth our eyes, our ears, our hearts. “Her ring slipped off her finger...” It is a gift that we can accompany these poems to the challenging but beautiful places they go. - James Grinwis


 The Canadian-English poet Todd Swift notes, eating a lobster, "armistice beneath / the armour"; he sees and deftly alliterates: "cold champagne cascading / over wide glasses at a wedding"; and he brings a North American casual stylishness to meet a courteous London precision with rhyme and meter. As his interests are broad and his eye sharp and his ear clever, his quotidian poems are rich and strange. His sense of humour is a dry as a perfect martini -- he puts Goethe in a hot-air balloon, for example -- and he is not afraid to drown in words. His lists are like novels, and his dreams seem like reality, only more so. Lose yourself in his poetry, now.  - John Tranter 


To travel through the seasons and topographies of Todd Swift’s poetry is to share in his celebration of the union of insistent music and enigmatic image. We may read The Ministry of Emergency Situations as the unfolding memoir of a poetic self crafted from a rich diversity of encounter with other selves and their migratory histories, whether in the street, the library, the museum, the cinema hall, or across the rusted boundary markers of vanished countries. Swift’s poems combine a taste for daring conceptual experiment with a passion for the sight, smell, heft and texture, the ‘lustrous ephemera’ of everyday experience. These poems claim our fullest attention as beautifully crafted objects on the page; at the same time, they are quickened by the compelling vibrancy of the spoken voice. - Ranjit Hoskote

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…