Category: Book Buzz
Published: 23 September 2013
Port Desire by Elizabeth Swann
"These are rich and rewarding poems, summoning us to acknowledge our own courage and the value to our lives of both port and desire. Elizabeth Swann is a poet whose work deserves a wide audience."
—Marjorie Stelmach, author of Bent Upon Light
"'A being between two worlds / conjures terror and bliss,' Elizabeth Swann writes about the archaeopteryx, part reptile, part bird. This unwieldy condition between safety and flight, loss and discovery, life and death, infuses the imagination of this stunning new poet. Whether it’s the wily Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame or a six-thousand-year-old Peruvian mummy now 'on display under glass,' or the child, moccasins torn from her feet, pulled 'shrieking, / into a cotton dress,' Swann tacks between these two worlds, allowing us to feel anew the agony and ecstasy of being alive. This is a remarkable collection. I love it."
—Dannye Romine Powell, author of A Necklace of Bees
"What I love most in these tight, finely crafted poems by Elizabeth Swann is how beautifully they embody our human need for something more. It may take the form of a four-leaf clover, or the larger half of the wishbone, or beating the boys at their own game in 'Learning the Ropes at Sixteen.' Or Darwin’s hunt for the flightless Lesser Rhea in the splendid title poem. 'How easy/it would have been to quit,' the poet writes. But this poet is no quitter. She hangs on through all the vicissitudes of life and keeps wanting more, and in the process gives us this moving, compassionate book of poems."
—Anthony S. Abbott, author of If Words Could Save Us
In Elizabeth Swann’s aptly titled Port Desire, she examines the forces that draw us equally to the safety of harbor and to the hazards of the open ocean, open road, open heart. She tests and braids these contending pulls in circumstances ranging from her own personal and family histories to the voyage of a despairing Charles Darwin and the crime spree of a Bonnie Parker "beyond redemption." She enters into the eyes of artists to compare their conceptions of Mary Magdalene, contemplates the flight of swallows, and studies the bones of the archaeopteryx.
In addition to a wide-ranging intelligence, there is wisdom in these poems. Swann knows that often our strongest desire is for a simple bit of luck, a wishbone’s break or “one perfect aberration / four fast-wilting leaves” of a four-leaf clover. And sometimes we give in to despair, only to be struck with a flash of insight that sends us back to the trash to rescue those bits we’ve already discarded.
In all of these poems, too, there is the skillful music of Swann’s lines. Even in the least likely of scenes, her sounds convince us that there is much to love: "Behind the dilapidated barn," she writes in "Swallows," "shadows alone grow, / a dim shroud / pulled across drought-hard ground."
Elizabeth Swann teaches English and Creative Writing at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, South Carolina. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she lives with her family. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including the Atlanta Review, Chicago Tribune, Southern Poetry Review, Ruminate Magazine, Kakalak, Pinesong, and storySouth.