Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cole Swensen

Cole Swensen is an author, poet and has maintained a career in academia. Along with a permanent professorship at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she held the title of director of the creative writing department at the University of Denver. She has published numerous volumes of poetry, most notably Oh and Goest and her publishers include the University of Iowa Press as well as the University of California at Berkeley Press. During a successful career, Swensen has been nominated for copious awards and won (among others), the Pushcart Award, the New American Writing Award and the San Francisco State University Poetry Center Book Award; she has also been given a Guggenheim Fellowship. Swenson is active and has been awarded for the translation of French poetry into English. Her translation works include Physis by Nicolas Pisque, Past Travels by Olivier Caliot, Bayart by Pascalle Monnier and Lle des Morts by Jean Fremon. In order to raise American awareness of French Literature and poetry, Swensen founded La Presse with the mission of translating contemporary and post-modern French poetry into English.
A Bay Area baby-boomer, Swensen was born just north of San Francisco in the town of Kentfield, CA in 1955. She attended San Francisco State University where she received Bachelors of the Arts and Masters of the arts degrees. Swensen completed her tenure as a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz where she received her P.H.D.
It is evident that Swensen interest in poetry has taken across continents and language barriers. An interest in French literature, culture and history is paralleled only to her fluency with the French language. In her series on French gardens entitled, Ours, Swensen delves into the fabled French 17th century; a time period marked by the Reign of King Louis XIV (also the title of a poem in said text) and his extravagances. The work not only includes poetry about Louis XIV but French architects of the gardens Charles Le Brun and Andre Le Notre. Analysis of her most recent works shows that her interest into history extends beyond French kings and architects but to Italian nobility as well. The imagery described in Ours is a reflection of Swensen’s personal observation of King Louis XIV’s private gardens as well as those in Versailles. One can deduce that she sat in these gardens (now public parks) and was able to see the lives of the aristocracy of 17th century unfold directly in front of her. Her examination of the fabled aristocracy includes the social and political thoughts of kings and nobility. One can see how the gardens’ transition from private use to public parks could seem to Swensen, a metaphor for the oligarchic and monarchal control over France’s under-classes. Her work seems to offer vignettes as well as commentary on the lives of prominent historical figures. Her diction is fairly simple, never reaching for multi-syllabic words simply for the sake of doing so, while her word choice and careful spacing are innovative to say the least.

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