INTERVIEW and REVIEW
Constructed of Magic and Other Poems on the Immortality of the Human Spirit
by Louis Alan Swartz
Poet Louis Alan Swartz joins us today for an interview about his book, Constructed of Magic, and to share a couple of poems with us. You can also read my review.
What would life be like if you knew you were an immortal spiritual being?
"It is my viewpoint that each man has his own unique magnificence regardless of race, religion, nation, tribe, station in life, customs and beliefs...," so writes poet, Louis Alan Swartz.
Constructed of Magic and Other Poems on the Immortality of the Human Spirit is a refreshing collection of poems that explore the beauty of who we are as spiritual beings. Our ability to love, dream, create futures, even die with dignity are all part of who we are and why we are here. These poems don't pretend to give final answers to any of the big questions about life, but they do help us to look and come to our own understanding.
We invite you to discover the magic in these poems that are infused throughout with a terrific appreciation of humankind. As Swartz concludes in his introduction, "If by reading them, one individual is able to get an inkling of the actual length and breadth of his ability to do good, my purpose in writing them will be achieved."
Constructed of Magic recently won first place in two categories (Poetry and Spirituality) in the CIPA EVVY Awards.
On the Day I Gained Certainty That I was a Spirit
On the day I gained certainty that I was
A spirit, the subway went up
Lexington Avenue as it had always done.
Down on Seventh Avenue the
Men still pushed their carts
With bolts of cotton and silk.
The cross town bus still did its
Route on 42nd Street.
In Macy’s window nearby still stood
Stiffly still as they had always done.
The train to Boston pulled out
Of Grand Central Station. Several
Couples fell in love that day in Central Park.
A twelve year old boy found out
About Walt Whitman in the main
Public library at Fifth Avenue
And 42nd Street.
Big ocean liners were docked
In the harbor on the West Side
A young man sweetly played
His violin on the corner
Of 42nd and 8th Avenue.
The Staten Island Ferry moved
Away from the dock. The diamond
Dealer intently eyed a gem
Through his glass on 47th Street
As he had done for generations.
Uptown on West 86th Street
Near Broadway a sweet old
Woman sighed deeply
And smiled and breathed
Her last breath. A boy child
Was born in Brooklyn.
The taxi drivers weaved
Between the lanes.
Somebody ordered a large
Coffee regular, hold the sugar.
Three teenage boys sang
A cappella* at the corner
Of Willis Avenue and
143rd Street in the South
Bronx .A crowd gathered,
They were magnificent.
In my world all
Was still. Everything
Around me was pervaded
With a calm I do not
Remember ever having experienced.
I felt a love for everyone I
Saw no matter who they were.
I was astounded by
Beauty all around me
Though it was the same
32nd Street, the same
Broadway on which I had
I felt a kindness,
A tolerance, an openness,
A hope, a confidence unlike
Anything I had ever known.
And I knew that everything
Was going to be alright, that
All would be well, that
I was ok and that I
Would continue to be ok.
On the day that I gained
Certainty that I was
*A cappella - Without instrumental accompaniment
(Webster's New World College Dictionary)
The actual spirit is neither gossamer*
nor ethereal* by nature,
though could be as it wished.
A spirit can be thunderous
as solid and muscular as a Sumo Wrestler
or as sweet and soft as baby skin,
the wash of dew upon an autumnal meadow
A spirit can be utterly robust and
in your face.
Belly laughter and drunken
passion, brawling, boisterous
and strong of lung
in one minute
and deer silent, delicately quiet
and alert in the next.
Give me an actual spirit
and I’ll give you the world.
He is all that is thrilling on this earth or anywhere
in this universe. He is protest and dissonance
as well as celestial choir harmony and the
songs of angels.
Mule stubborn, gymnast supple, an acrobat, an
He is first blush.
He is love’s rush.
He’s caring about someone so very much.
He is fresh orchid above young breast
On her lovely prom dress.
He is puppy love and first love
and eternal love.
He is fisherman in a terrible storm
strapped to the mast and hanging on.
He is making steel
with calloused hands.
He is out in the fields
working and sweating and singing song.
He is sudden summer storm,
and sun coming through
and rainbow too.
He is grace of form
and time worn courtesy.
An old, wooden dining table
laden with breakfast’s creation,
early dawn before a hard working day.
He is justice and admiration and keeping
He is passion and patience and the first
day of school.
He is piano and cymbal and violin
and marvelously always gets
to come back again.
He is believing what he believes.
He is rainbow colors of autumn leaves.
He is New England winter
with frost on your breath.
He knows only forever,
he doesn’t know death.
*Gossamer - light, thin and filmy. Ethereal very light, airy.
(Webster's New World College Dictionary)
Praise for the Book
"This book is a testament to the poet's vision-an understanding and appreciation for the spiritual and aesthetic nature of mankind....There is a peaceful calmness that cascades over me when I read the joy that Louis Swartz communicates in these poems. I invite you to share that experience with me." ~ Bernard Percy Educator, Speaker, Author
"I have read many, many books and a great deal of poetry in my life but none affected me in the way that this book did. There is a depth of sincerity to it and a love for humankind that left me emotionally moved to the point that I couldn't speak. I wasn't intending to but I ended up reading it, cover to cover, in one sitting. Constructed of Magic will touch you to the very depths of your soul and bring you peace, understanding and a love of life. It's about the very best in each of us. I highly recommend it." - T.S.
"This is a very strong, uplifting selection of poems that have you thinking about absolutely everything. The topics may be complex, but they are easily relatable to, wherever you are in your life. I admittedly did have my favorites, but there wasn't any that I didn't like!" ~ Samie Sands
"This book is a life changer! I lost my mom a year ago and even though I am spiritual, I had a hard time. Reading these poems reminded me that she and I are very much so connected and always will be. It's easy to get caught up in the worries of life. This book helped me take a step back, refresh and see again that the world is beautiful." ~ Lisa Lindman
"I normally don't seek out books of poetry but my wife would read me excerpts in the car and I really liked what she read. It's the kind of book you read and then leave on a shelf by your desk so you can open it when you need a boost. Very heart warming, beautiful and on point." ~ David
By Lynda Dickson
Constructed of Magic and Other Poems is a collection of 91 poems divided into eleven sections or themes: death, grandmothers, spirits, love and marriage, children, America, sanctity, angels and monsters, aesthetics, immortality, and hope. However, all have the common theme of living life to it fullest. Because they are arranged into these themes, the poems can become a bit repetitive if read in order. Therefore, they are best savored by dipping into random pages, as the mood takes you.
The poems are a mixture of free verse and rhyming verse; I much prefer the free verse. Some of my favorite poems: "Some Things I Want to Show You", "Meeting Grandmother Near the River", "On the Day I Gained Certainty That I was a Spirit", "Making Dinner", "Rocking Horse", "Remembrance", "Oriental Poppies and Irises".
The author provides definitions for some words in the poems; this is an unnecessary distraction. However, the black-and-white line drawings, also by the author and interspersed between the poems, are a nice touch.
This is an uplifting collection of poetry with something sure to appeal to everyone. In his introduction, the author states, "If by reading them, one individual is able to get an inkling of the actual length and breadth of his ability to do good, my purpose in writing them will be achieved." Louis, your purpose has been achieved.
Interview With the Author
Hi Louis, thanks for joining me today to discuss your book, Constructed of Magic and Other Poems on the Immortality of the Human Spirit.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
Sixteen years and up. Maybe earlier.
What sparked the idea for this book?
It is my firm belief that there is a terrific beauty inherent in each individual person. The motivating force behind everything I write is the intention to draw this beauty out, to help him to see his personal magnificence. It is my viewpoint that when a man is able to fully recognize himself as an immortal spiritual being, there are two other things with which he will gain touch.
One is the depth of his own personal aesthetic. This is his ability to create, perceive, and appreciate beauty. It is the special beauty unique to him. This is his own aesthetic. It is available with him and him only. The communication of this aesthetic to others so that they understand it, is probably the senior elation of life.
The other is gaining touch with his own personal divinity. In my viewpoint, his ability to recognize The Divine begins with him gaining touch with the divinity within him. In my experience, gaining touch with these three aspects elicits an enormous well being, confidence and joy in being alive.
So when you write a poem, which comes first: the idea or the words?
First there is a thought usually caused by something I have heard, seen or read, but sometimes it is an image or a line of poetry that comes right out of the blue. An example of this is how the poem, "That They Walk this Earth" (page 123 Constructed of Magic) came into being. These specific lines came to mind somehow:
That they walk this earth
Is reason enough to love them,
That they have been given birth.
The rest of the poem developed from those three lines.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The initial writing of the book occurred rapidly in a concentrated period. The manuscript I submitted to the publisher had 400 pages of poetry. Working with my marvelous editor, Patricia Ross, over a period of seven months we worked out the structure of the book, which poems to keep, the names of the chapters, the epigraphs for each chapter, the sequence of the poems within each chapter, and dozens of other details.
Then there was the process of "cleaning the poems". This consisted of eliminating redundancies, unnecessary repetition, making the stanzas fall in the right places, grammar, punctuation and a myriad of fine but crucial points. Last, but enormously critical, was my work with my very able book designer, Rhonda Taylor. This included the book cover, the design of the book, the different fonts used and again a whole bunch of other fine, but vital points.
This whole process was a learning experience, and I am very grateful to the editor and designer who took me through it.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope it touches them as spiritual beings. If it, to any degree increases their awareness of their own personal magnificence, I have done my job.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Four or five years when I could grab a few minutes, usually in the middle of the night.
What is your writing routine?
I have tended to write in the middle of the night. I keep pen and notebook by my side. When I have a thought or a line, I immediately write it down, often it will expand into a poem right then, so I stick with it on the spot and take it as far as it goes.
How did you get your book published?
I sent a friend of mine, Bernard Percy, who had several published books, an 800 character text begging him to tell me how to get these 400 pages of poetry out into the world. He answered me with two words. These words were, "Patricia Ross". Patricia Ross is a partner in an independent publishing company. Long story short, I sent her the 400 pages of poetry and we agreed to publish the book with her company.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
First and foremost, write! Write a terrific amount. Tens of thousands of words. Don't worry if it is "good" or not, just write a huge volume; exercise your ability to communicate ideas, images and thought through the medium of writing. If you do this, you will evolve your own personal voice and what you write will be "good".
Regarding getting published, the book publishing world has gone through massive changes in the last few years. Emily Dickinson published eleven poems in her entire life Now she has hundreds of poems in print and is considered one of the great American poets. In her day, and until relatively recently, there were a few big publishing houses that dominated the industry and served as gatekeepers to the literary world. This is not the case anymore. There are hundreds of very able independent publishing companies all over the US and the world. They can produce very high quality book products. I recommend using them. You can get their names online. It is a whole different and wide open scene in publishing nowadays.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I like to talk to my wife. Take walks. Communicate with my friends. Help people. I absolutely love music. Some of my favorites are: Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Gershwin, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Ravi Shankar, Lady Smith Black Mombassa, Eric Clapton, Vivaldi, Sweet Honey and the Rock, Buddy Holly, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Beatles, to name a few.
I like to listen to people and the sounds of the city and the countryside, the forests and fields. I like seeing the people, married couples and children and elders, lovers and workers, people of all races and ethnicities and I love to see the streets of the city, the shops and the churches and restaurants and taverns and all the people there.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family loves my writing. They are very proud of me. They are extremely supportive.
That's fantastic! Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was somewhat sickly as a child. I had asthma from around 5 or 6 years of age. As I went through grade school and into high school, I was having a rough time. I was growing at an alarming rate. By the time I was in the 6th grade I was 6 feet tall. I was very skinny. I was physically awkward. It was not easy for me to play sports. I was having a rough time figuring out what my role was. I wasn't an athlete, a scholar, wasn't one of the popular kids. Frankly, I was a freakishly tall, skinny misfit.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It was at that moment in 10th grade English class with Helen Hilliard.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
My father had his own rough times with life which I will not go into here. There is one thing I observed with my father that had a profound influence on me. He dearly loved art. He loved painting and sculpture. He loved to see paintings and sculptures. He made a few drawings. They were good. He made a carving of a man with as long robe out of wood. It showed promise. He made a sculpture out of wires and a plastic substance. It was a start. The tragedy in my view is that he never pursued his art further. He did not speak of this, but it was profoundly visible to me. I vowed not to stifle in any way the aesthetic urges and purposes that I and others had. I haven't. I have always encouraged these purposes in myself and others.
Good for you! Which writers have influenced you the most?
Rainer Maria Rilke (German Poet beginning of the 20th Century), Luigi Pirandello (Italian Playwright), James Agee, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Anton Chekhov, Albert Camus, John Hersey, and Herman Hesse.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I receive a lot of communication from my readers and try to keep my lines as wide open as possible to receive and respond to their communication. They are saying that they have been emotionally moved by the poems, often to tears. One woman who was going through a painful marriage breakup said the poems were making her "ridiculously happy". Other readers have mentioned that they became aware of, in touch with, and proud of the divine within them, and thereby wanted to live a more positive, helpful, and constructive life, and not waste the time they have here on earth.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have a second volume of Constructed of Magic well along the way. The next book will be a lovely illustrated version of one of my poems that I am doing with a superb artist.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Louis. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
Louis Alan Swartz has dedicated his life to helping others find their ability as immortal spiritual beings. He has traveled extensively in Africa, India, Europe, and the Middle East. He lives in Los Angeles with Connie, his wife of twenty-eight years.