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Articles & Reviews

Candling the Eggs

by Wally Swist

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Acclaimed poet Wally Swist remarks on events of everyday living in this brilliant collection. "The Female Cardinal," "Ray's Sandwich Shop," "Ode to My New Shoes," and, of course, "Candling the Eggs" show us how to notice the value in commonplace events. Yet, there is more, as we see in "What is Essential" and "Abhorrence;" living calls for action. Of over thirty books and chapbooks, this is perhaps his finest.

POETRY / General

ISBN: 978-1-947067-07-3 (print; softcover; perfect bound)
ISBN: 978-1-947067-08-0 (digital)

LCCN: 2017948173

Released 2017

126 pages

Author Biography

Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012); The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015); and Invocation (Lamar University Literary Press, 2015). His poems have appeared in many publications, including Appalachia, Commonweal, Miramar, North American Review, Rattle, Sunken Garden Poetry, 1992-2011 (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), and upstreet. Garrison Keillor has read his work on the national radio program The Writer’s Almanac. Swist makes his home in South Amherst, Massachusetts.



This multi-faceted panoply reminds us again why we read Swist. Poems written in “Dream Time” . . . “between snowmelt and first bloom,” the pre-election “predator with the blowsy hairdo, who is Donald Trump,” a Klan Grand Wizard from a boyhood parade, and the “pressureunder the skull” of the poet’s lurking “Migraines.” But ultimately we’re rewarded with “The Kiss” " . . . a shiver, a shock of static —/ which just begins to open the door of mystery/ that leads to the grand suite of the soul."
Art Beck, poet, essayist, and winner of the 2013 Northern California Book Award for poetry in translation for Luxorius Opera Omnia

It is hard to read any of Swist’s poems without learning something new: the origin of a word, the folk name of a snake, the demise of composer Henry Purcell, a candid glimpse of a famous writer or actress. And always the birds flare throughout the lines of Swist’s poems, and the deer stamp their feet, and the hawks crash out of the sky, and the snakes appear and disappear magically. Swist holds the translucent eggshell of the world up to the illumination of his visions in a dark age; he looks for signs of life and sees them before the rest of us even know what will be born.
— Parkman Howe, Poetry Editor, Appalachia

In these meticulous and profound poems, Wally Swist creates for us a realm that is both recognizable and transformed. His passion for and intimacy with nature are ever-present, but he is far from being a “nature poet” in the usual sense, though his imagery is often indelible. On the contrary, the flora and fauna, landscapes and weather of his world are part of a complex mix that subtly includes human life in all its socio-political complexity. He’s not afraid to think in these poems, and the intelligence that drives them runs through them like a quiet underground fire. In fact, much of the work of these explorations happens below ground, so that what at first seem commonplace details can suddenly take us off guard, revealing surprising depths. Swist is a poet intent on investigating the human spirit and its potential for opening into deeper and deeper engagement with the world. This is tough moral work, and one of its fruits is gratitude: " . . . How fortunate we are / to live in the world that offers us / its constant reminders of who / we are and what our true being is." This book continues to haunt me.
Chase Twichell, award-winning poet, editor, professor, founder of Ausable Press

Articles and Reviews

Steve Pfarrer, "Candling the Eggs," Daily Hampshire Gazette. (September 29, 2017).


Wally’s Swist again spins his magic in Candling the Eggs. This brilliant collection intertwines man and nature in ways that make the reader question where the line is drawn and which side he/she is on. Throughout, Swist’s golden voice weaves a tapestry of introspection, of questions whose answers can be found only within ourselves.

No matter the subject of his poems, the music of his words present a divine symphony, one that haunts the reader beyond the pages. Wally Swist’s voice is like a lute. Indeed, Shakespeare was only one of many writers of his day who attributed to the lute the power to transport the listener into a kind of ecstasy. "Now divine aire, now is his soule ravisht, is it not strange that sheepes guts should hale soules out of mens bodies?"
—William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing.

Swist finds true ecstasy in nature, where the quiet enhances his beautiful spirit sung in words plucked from the strings of his heart.

Love and longing, man and nature, the mundane and the divine, all converge to let the reader know that being alive is more than breathing, that one must inhale the minute in order to realize the magnificent. Swist’s insight into the world is one that teaches that the ordinary is to be cherished.

He begins his collection with “Sacred Day:”

an epitome of an irrepressible animation found in living life.
La Folia—
a celebratory music to honor what is dizzying happiness,
if we are open to living it—
a sweetness
that fills your life and fosters an exuberant heart.

In “Silhouette,” the reader is engaged with the imagery and the wisdom of birds who tell the truth as they know that man is destroying nature. Swist’s introspection into nature swallows him, or him it. He wants to free the earth:

I take one too many slow steps forward, and the red-
tail can bear no further intrusion, since it is her tree and her
meadow, her sky and her own world, rising up on the broad
span of her wings, and disappearing into a seam of the snow
storm, with apparent exclamation, as if she might be saying:
I have watched you closely, for some time, but you are one
of them, and it is your kind, as I have observed, from my aerie,
that have ruined the earth.

Swist’s title poem, “Candling the Eggs,” is a beautiful, spiritual awakening, a father’s abuse contrasted against a serene moment:

Always feel safe here, she said to me,
and I always did, with her by my side,
her aproned warmth distinguished by
the cookies she might have stuffed into
one of the pockets, her momentary
musing uttered in sotto voce, which
deepened the privacy of our candling
the eggs, the condensation on the cellar
walls evoking what my mother told me
in a story about what the catacombs
looked like, so that the time I spent in
Mrs. Dornisch’s cellar with her became
what was one of my first spiritual
experiences, the quiet there so superb
that I recall whenever I had a thought,
no matter how small it was, that
Mrs. Dornisch could hear it. The quiet
and the candlelight amid the darkness

The reader is left with hope. Swist is fiercely gifted. Again, Swist’s skill in connecting light and dark leads to reliving moments whose chemical reaction explodes to shatter the reader’s psyche is evident in “Dark Bozo”:

all blown up.
All blown up is the closest approximation
to what Bozo was best at — 
being inflated, full of air, bombast written
all over the clown’s face.
The toy was actually a punching bag;
so, if you were to strike the clown’s nose,
it would squeak, making the body
The comedic face
concealed its sinister sibling and evil twin:
whose name is tragedy: how many
children running with scissors maimed
themselves for life while running away
from Dark Bozo, as the clown
was soothed by the endorphin release of
its rocking, tipped by the slightest wind,
and the very essence
of evil you recognized in yourself
was evident in the clown’s comic features,
Dark Bozo,
whose thoughts paralyzed you — 
whose messages you tried not to hear,

Swist’s imagery throughout is brilliant. “Ode to the Iris” is an ode to life, to the thankfulness for whatever brief moment we are allowed.

in the daybook of our lives
the vivid shades of their blossoming—
a memory indicating refreshment
at the end of each May that is not
to be taken for granted but to be
revered, not so much to mark time’s
passing but to remind us of presence.
The noble iris always ready for each
storm and its sheets of driving rain—
never any complaint apparent in them
that they may have only opened
for just an hour, or an afternoon,
or a single day . . . swaying
in sunlight and storm, as steadfast as
their color, whose hues flower within us.

“Interstices” continues the grateful nature of Swist’s writing and the realization that

We mourn for many things, but perhaps what we
grieve the most for is what expires before it begins;
the nascent but malformed; what is insufficiently
finished and on the threshold of realizing its own
becoming. In apparently insignificant
ways and enormous ones, all through our lives,
we touch the interstices between

living and dying; amid solar light and lunar
emanation; among the rippling signature the wind
writes and its cursives that appear in the blowing
summer grasses

A man who knows life, who has lived life in all its pain and glory, Swist writes in “Offering Guidance”:

No artist
or writer, nor human being ever born into this
world, ever had a clear path to the mountaintop.

Aesthetic ascension is no
different from athletic achievement,
the metaphors being apt for one another. Where
lies the actual nascence of the spiritual realm
therein, since in the very ascent up this
precipitous mountain we always risk everything,
since there is nothing gained if we don't.
The perils of moving forward are far less than
not embarking on the trek at all.

Perhaps it is Swist’s “Deer, in Three Movements” that most impresses the reader, with true lessons of life given through the metaphorical prowess that is so forceful in Swist’s poems:

Whatever it might be
that just happens to go crashing
through thick woods always
sounds as if it is larger than
it is as it emerges into the open.

I was shocked
that it wasn’t me, the human,
who moved first, and that,
actually, not only moved, but
regally strolled away with
a distinct toss of its head, as if
to indicate it had not the time
for these humans who stand
around, doing their own best
imitation of a placard, even
having the hubris to think they
know anything about deer,
since, let’s get this straight
right now, it is deer that know
something about them, and
not the other way around.

One cannot be satisfied with one reading of Candling the Eggs. The reader goes back again and again and in doing so connects the dots and reconnects life’s small moments to the meaning of being alive. How fitting that in “The Kiss,” Swist completes his collection, with beauty and love, leaving the reader in a gentle quietude that is Swist’s signature:

No wonder Gustav Klimt
represented the couple in his painting,
The Kiss, in what appears to be gold leaf — 
to approximate that sensual sweetness,
with the thrill of Eros, and the touch that sends
sends a shiver, a shock of static — 
which just begins to open the door of mystery
that leads to the grand suite of the soul.

Pat Mottola, author of Under the Red Dress, editor of Connecticut River Review


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