Once in the remedial English group, Dane Swan is now a writer
When Dane Swan was a student at Warwick Academy, he would have laughed if someone told him that he was going to be a writer one day.
He was always placed in the remedial English group, and the foundation for him and his twin brother Dean and older brother Bryan was music.
He went on to do a bachelor’s degree but the writing bug bit him nine years ago at a slam poetry event.
“Slam poetry is performance poetry, or spoken word poetry,” said Mr Swan. “I have been inspired by poets such as Anthony Bansfield and Oni the Haitian Sensation. Both of them are based in Ottawa. I was doing my degree at Carleton University, when I saw Anthony Bansfield performing at a festival in Ottawa. He was reading with Oni the Haitian Sensation, Eddy Da Original One and Anthony Lewis.
Now he spends much of his time touring North America appearing at slam poetry and spoken word events.
The 33-year-old recently released his first book of poetry, ‘Bending the Continuum’. Publisher Guernica describes Mr Swan’s work as “equal parts Can-lit, Harlem Renaissance, the Caribbean oral tradition known as Griotism, Roddenberry, hip-hop and dark humour”. The poems are an unusual and refreshing blend of urban life, autobiography and science fiction.
For example his poem ‘Trying to Count Electric Sheep’ begins:
Failed concrete poetry written in binary code
disguised as poorly constructed software
haunts my dreams.
“There is always a thin line of urban life in the stuff I am writing right now, but I suspect I will eventually start doing science fiction stuff as well,” said Mr Swan. “There are certain science fiction and science facts in my poetry throughout the first book. I am fascinated with the ideas behind science fiction. Science fiction can be a way to look at something without directly looking at it.”
He said he doesn’t have a particular favourite in ‘Bending the Continuum’; he is proud of all the poems in the book.
“It is one of those books you can appreciate the whole thing,” he said. “There are no ‘thrown in’ pieces. Every piece has its reasons for being in there. There are poems that didn’t make the book [that] I think are amazing, but if it doesn’t fit the theme I won’t sacrifice the book so that something will get into it.”
Mr Swan is currently living in Toronto, Canada, and says he misses Bermuda “once in a while”. He is preparing to enter the master’s of fine arts (MFA) creative writing programme at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, Vermont.
He said one of the reasons he hasn’t moved back to Bermuda is the lack of opportunities for writers and poets on the Island. Mr Swan actually gets paid to perform poetry something that might come as a wee shock to Bermuda where the arts are often seen as noble but impoverishing.
“I don’t work for free,” he said. “I have been touring. I have gone all the way down [to] Los Angeles, California. I have been featured in Chicago, and all over North America. There are spoken word venues in every part of North America whether it is a poetry slam or some other type of poetry event. In Toronto alone there are three or four major annual poetry slams. Even small Canadian towns hold poetry slams.
“My business partner and I ran a poetry slam for four years in Toronto, called The $100 Slam. It was a competition and at the end of the night the winner would take home whatever we made at the door.”
There are also government grants available so writers can write without being sidetracked by the small matter of finding money to eat and pay the rent.
But perhaps he misses Bermuda more than “once in a while” as one of the reasons he wants to get his MFA is so that he can come back to Bermuda to work.
“It would give me the opportunity to go back home,” he said. “Without some formal paper in Bermuda you are wasting your time. I would like to return to Bermuda to teach, even if it is just teaching workshops for a short time.”
He has even considered going back to his old high school to teach. He feels that one of the reasons he did poorly in English as a student was that he couldn’t relate to the literature that was taught.
“In English I was consistently in the lowest group,” he said. “One thing I would love to do is go back to Bermuda and straighten out the text books. Most people in Bermuda are either people of colour or people of Portuguese descent and you look at the books and there are no people of colour or Portuguese descent and it is garbage. I was in my mid-20s when I discovered there is a huge history of black literature and literature of immigrants out there. That is what we should be teaching. This is something that would inspire people to get into writing.
“There are writers out there that tell the same story that Bermudians experience daily but that is not what is being shown to Bermudians. We live in a time of on-demand publishing and yet we have people reading books that they can’t relate to and then expect them to do well in school and blame them for not doing well in school, and for acting foolish. We are an equal part of the problem.”
His book is being published as part of Guernica’s First Poets Series which has published the work of several award-winning authors.
“For a small press they are very highly regarded in Canada and the United States,” said Mr Swan. “They are building quite a reputation in Europe as well. They are big on doing English translations. They started out with Quebec writers. Now they are also translating European writers into English. So they are building quite a reputation on that side. They are internationally distributed in Europe, the United States and Canada.”
He said he was pleased to publish his first book, but he was actually more excited to be accepted into the MFA programme in Vermont.
“That confirmed that I was a good writer even at the academic level, even though I had no academic training,” he said. “I just taught myself by reading lots of books.”
For more information about poetry slams, he recommends the documentary ‘Slam Nation’. Directed by Paul Devlin, it follows the national poetry slam in Oregon. He also recommends reading ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Slam Poetry’ by Marc Kelly Smith, the founder of slam poetry.
For more information e-mail danejahras[AT]yahoo.com or see Guernica’s website, www.guernicaeditions.com, and type ‘Dane Swan’ into the author search engine.