Q&A with Daniel Swain

A headshot of poet Daniel Swain against a collaged background of tiled construction, a yellow emoji with its thumbs up and an image of the cover of #24: UGLY. Daniel is smiling at the camera, with short dark hair and a brown and white patterned shirt. 'AHH!' and 'NEW ISSUE OUT NOW!' is hand scrawled in white pen across the entire image.

Daniel Swain’s poetry has been published online and in print by Cordite, Southerly, Rabbit, Griffith Review, and Archer. His chapbook You Deserve Every Happiness, But I Deserve More was published by Slow Loris. He is currently completing a PhD in English Literature and Gender Studies at Yale University. He wrote these poems during the pandemic while living in Wollongong, NSW, and New Haven, Connecticut.

Our Associate Editor, Sam Stevens talks to Daniel Swain about his poetry suite published in #24: UGLY

Your poetry suite opens The Suburban Review’s latest issue, #24: Ugly. The suite finds and presses on a whole host of relatable uglinesses. For example, ‘You Know All My Weaknesses, But That Isn’t One of Them’ admits and unfolds the questionable feelings and motivations that underlie our daily performances. As their author, how do you understand your poems to reveal, and enhance, ugliness?

Someone says ‘I like your shoes’ but they mean that they’re ugly. 

This compulsion, to laterally re-describe something valued as beautiful, is maybe 15 per cent of bourgeois conversation right now. ‘Negging’ is this behaviour’s most vulgar and immediate form. Sometimes I’m attracted to it. You can appreciate the artfulness of the move, even if it hurts. It brings me closer to the person. They’re admitting their ugliness, too. Now, at least, you share something. We can stop taking ugliness personally. 

You wrote these poems during the pandemic, while living in Wollongong, NSW, and New Haven, Connecticut. Did you find that these different spaces affected the tone of your writing?

I flew home to Australia at the start of the pandemic, and moved back to Wollongong for the first time since high school. My best friend and I managed to get an apartment by the ocean at an absurdly discounted rent. I never thought I’d live by the beach. I hate the beach. I walked on the sand maybe half a dozen times during my time there. But being able to stare at the ocean everyday was a privilege. It made me feel more pagan, and more Communist. This is not an experience that should be rationed by wealth or circumstance. 

I returned to New Haven in August. I was struck for the first time by its similarities with Wollongong: two small post-industrial cities about ninety minutes from financial centres. They both have histories of class struggle; they are both shaped, in different ways, by racism and migration. I spent this year of crisis in two remarkably similar places separated by ten thousand miles. There are differences between the places, but these interest me less at the moment, I suppose. 

Are you working on anything we should watch out for? Where can we find more of your work?

In the meantime! People can purchase my chapbook You Deserve Every Happiness But I Deserve More from Puncher & Wattman. I see this suite as a kind of bridge between that project and my next one. 

I’m just starting a dissertation on queer love poems, and naturally that has meant I’ve started writing a few of my own. I’m at the very early stages of conceiving of a collection called Love is the Last and Secret Name. (I always start with titles. Titles are the only part of writing that gives me unmitigated joy).