Impact anthology on CBC list of best Canadian 2021 non-fiction

So delighted to see an anthology I have been a part of (Impact: Women Writing After Concussion, University of Alberta Press, 2021) on this list! It is impressive company indeed–so many great books on there.

The essay I wrote for the anthology is called “In Which Skinny Dipping Temporarily Fixes a Life.” It talks about how my concussion affected my life and my mental health and my writing, and how my writing process for the Garbage Poems project came out of that.

The editors worked with filmmaker Junyeong Kim to create a series of book trailers for the anthology, each focused on a different theme. My essay, not surprisingly, is in the “I Dream of Swimming” section. Here’s the trailer for the essays in that section:

Check out the whole reel of trailers here:

And more about the book here:

It’s really quite a book – devastating, moving, and relatable even thought the experiences range so widely. I was honoured to see my essay keeping such amazing company in the pages of this book.

The Canthius Pleasures Project

Illness and joy have had a strange and often fraught relationship in my life. My sickest years in my twenties, when I had to stop working and attending classes for several years, were also the time I came out and discovered writing. When I was on medical leave a couple of years ago, swimming outdoors was a balm when I could work myself up to leaving the house. But I lived in constant worry that someone would see me doing something fun and think I should be back at work already.

It has been hard for me to hold the simultaneity of illness and joy without making it an either/or, and even harder to trust that other people will do the same. It has been hard for me to remember that I deserve rest and pleasure outside of the frame of ‘earning’ them—either by being so sick I have to be in bed, or by being productive enough that I can see them as rewards.

I’m so happy two poems from the Garbage Poems have found a home in the Canthius Pleasures Project, especially Blessing for the swim selfie which is the most directly I’ve written about illness and joy. This eclectic online project explores pleasure from a feminist and intersectional perspective, and I am LOVING it so far – I adore reading about the why and how of artists’ processes when writing and creating about pleasure. I can’t wait to make my way through the rest of it.

With thanks to April White for their illustration work for the ongoing project, and for the underwater swimming selfie research (which I used to call “research” with scare quotes because how could research be fun?) which profoundly altered my ability to look at images of my own body with pleasure or interest instead of fear.

[Image ID: Photograph of a laptop and keyboard on a wooden desk, surrounded by carefully arranged rows of garbage including cans, bottles, chip bags, cigarette boxes, cups, and bottle caps.]

I am writing a spell for your nervous system

This year’s Sparks Literary Festival was cancelled once during our Snowmageddon State of Emergency this January, and rescheduled for late March. We all know how that turned out. The festival is wonderful, and it’s one of many recent cultural losses. I’d entirely forgotten about the associated poetry contest until I got the email saying I’d won first place. I was more moved than I probably should have been. I think I’d forgotten that unadulterated good news existed. Congratulations also to Grant Loveys and Maggie Burton. Sparks asked for a video of the poem to post, so my artist friend/collaborator April White and I worked together to create this video. Which is to say, I had an idea, and then she jumped in and actually made this beautiful thing. Thank you April. The poem was written during an entirely different time, but it feel eerily relevant right now. ❤

Or view video on Vimeo here. Text in the video is the poem below.

I am writing a spell for your nervous system

and hiding it in a poem.
I know you’re trying to stitch

the world back together
while it breathes and keeps

breaking. Like you. Another
heatwave, hurricane. Grief

gurgles like a sump pump.
The arctic on fire. Thirsty birds

of industry, mouthing
dry wells. Bulldozers

in the olive grove. Prehensile
suits in a sealed building,

deciding who deserves
to be a person. Baby monitors

tuned to the evening news.
Geologic time is breathing

hard. Your nerves: clenched
shut like barnacles and still

flinching. I am casting a road
out of the city. Stop waiting

for CNN to self-soothe.
Stop memorizing formulas

for herbal abortion, just
in case, even though

some futures are no longer
unimaginable. Here

is a highway that vanishes
behind you like wet footprints.

Gravel pullout, the rule
of three boulders across

an unmarked road. The car door
closing with a reverse bang,

retracting into itself
the existence of cars.

Because you are in a poem,
rusted mile-markers appear

only for as long as you walk
the dirt road towards them.

Now a marshy spot, now
lily pads, now wooden pallets

thrown down for you to cross.
Labrador tea and pitcher plants

flanking a narrow trail, and
wasn’t it ever only this?

An opening in the trees.
Worn stones sloping down

to the flickering mirror of a pond.
Step out of the idea of clothes,

into a shallow dive.

with your reflection—and
gone. A beat later, slick

and blinking, as if from a dark
room: somersault, scissor kick,

glide. Your body diamond-tipped,
a stylus polishing a groove.

Practice this skin. A dark map
back here, sparking, neural.

When it is time, walk up out
of the pond, dripping with

what made you. The world
leans down over cupped palms

to blow you dry. When you are
ready for clothes to exist,

clothes. The path winks
into existence before you.

Eventually you think,
I had a car. Onward,

the messy heartbeat
of the world. And whatever

work you have to do,
you begin again.

A sweet little poem about napping

I don’t nap easily, but I am of the mind that a good nap is an almost spiritual experience. I recently ran across this poem that was published earlier in Maisonneuve. It’s one of the few poems I’ve ever written about happiness, and I can tell you I had recurring doubts about whether a basically contented poem was a viable thing. Thanks to Maisonneuve for publishing it back in 2018, and making it available online for National Poetry Month the year after (and for Facebook’s terrible search engine that served me a post about poetry instead of the super very important feel-good swing dance dance video I was looking for).

Check out the poem here, and check out the general awesomeness of Maisonneuve while you’re at it.

Writers at Woody Point

I’m pretty thrilled to be reading at this Riddle Fence launch on August 15th in Woody Point. Why? So. Many. Reasons.

First of all, I’ve always secretly wanted to read at Writers at Woody Point even though it seemed highly unlikely (I am not a famous novelist or Jeremy freaking Dutcher). This is as close as I’m going to get, and it’s pretty swell. Also, what a festival. Seriously.

Also, Lorna Crozier was one of my first poetry profs—a big influence and support when I was first writing poetry over 20 years ago. She was a phenomenal teacher. I was lucky to learn from her, and am thrilled to be reading with her (and see her again).

I’ve been trying to get poems in Riddle Fence for a while now, and it’s one of those small things that makes me feel like this place finally wants to claim me a little bit as a writer. This province can be a complicated place to make your home when you’re not from here, and it means a lot to be recognized by rad local institutions like Riddle Fence.

And, not only do I have poems in this issue (from the Garbage Poems project), but they’re being published alongside three of April White‘s colour illustrations. They’ve been painting the pieces of garbage I used to create the poems, and I cannot wait to see these in print for the first time.


Halls Island Residency

Is it an embarrassment of riches to be accepted for two residencies, almost back to back? It’s been an amazing summer, and I’m grateful. April White and I got to spend two hot and mosquito-filled amazing weeks at the Halls Island Residency, working on the Garbage Poems project.

Where Anna's poetry happenedMy room and writing desk at the Halls Island Residency.

I’m writing the poems, built out of words taken garbage I’ve found at local swimming holes, and April is doing watercolour illustrations of the garbage. It was a quiet thrill to come into the dining room in the evening and see the paintings that had appeared while I was writing.

Here’s one of my recent favourites, painted on Halls Island:

“Math Notebook Inside Page,” watercolour, 2019, by April White. For more recent paintings from The Garbage Poems you can check out April’s instagram: @aprilmarylynn or search #thegarbagepoems on Instagram.“Math Notebook Inside Page,” watercolour, 2019, by April White.

(April is amazing. If they weren’t my collaborator, they’d be my art crush. Okay, maybe they’re both. You can see some sneak peaks of the garbage poem illustrations on Instagram by following April or by searching #thegarbagepoems. Check out April’s website for their other projects.)

But not only is the process about creating found(ish) poems from the garbage words, it’s also about the particular experience of swimming. The reliability with which swimming seems to reset my nervous system, especially while I deal with the daily realities of chronic illness and a concussion. The way I relate to my body when I’m in the water—how it’s become one of the only times I enjoy my body and experience being in it as an unambiguous pleasure. The joy I feel swimming in wild places, which I sometimes call my survival joy.

April and I spent several afternoons playing with a GoPro in the lake, taking slow-motion video and underwater pictures. It took a while, but I can now call this research without using scare quotes. Like many people, I don’t have an easy relationship with my body. I can struggle with how it looks on camera. But there was something about filming bodies in joy, and watching those images play back while we clung to the ladder on the dock, still immersed in the water. With practice, I learned to stay with the embodied feeling, the felt-sense of the physical joy, while looking at the pictures of my body underwater.



It’s been a rough day on social media. I cried watching so many friends disclose or pointedly refuse to disclose sexual violence of all kinds. Either way, you’re all amazing and brave. I believe you. And I support your right to not share anything you don’t want to. I cried trying to figure if I wanted to say anything, and what, and whether I wanted to be doing that on facebook, and whether my experiences counted, and how it’s not okay that people should feel pressured to talk about their trauma for other people’s education, and how for so many people this is compounded by racialized violence (and other intersections of oppression) in ways I’ll never experience.

In an interesting collision of worlds, I came across the poem below while working on an application. It’s one of a series about swimming, written using words transcribed from garbage pulled out of a swimming hole. I was writing fancy grant-lingo things about how my poems about swimming aren’t entirely unconnected to the other more difficult themes in my manuscript (head injury, chronic illness, abuse, etc.), partly because they’re a record of something I do to stay okay when I’m going through or writing about difficult topics. But sometimes the two threads meet explicitly.

It had been a long time since I’d read this poem, and I was surprised to find it comforted me. Which shouldn’t be surprising. But it was.

This one is for the part of me that still needed to know it wasn’t my fault (and sometimes still does). Maybe it’s for you, too, if you want it to be. Take good care of yourselves, dear people.

[Note: A Mikvah is a Jewish ritual bath.]


Middle Pool, Where We Submerge Three Times Like the Mikvah

Let’s go to the water and get clean.
That slow cold current,
just before it all falls into the sea.
There. Let’s tip forward
and go under.

First time for the body: that chill,
that simple sport of returning
to the skin.

Again for the mind.
You who decided to let yourself
be curious—let’s bypass thinking.
Let’s quit the facts for a while.
Let’s risk our leading brand sunlight,
our pasteurized chances of having it all,
to tip, to turn, to twist open
under water.

One more time
for that which is wild in each of us,
the simple particles of being,
removed from the packaging
of thirst and hope.

After, you are clean as dishes.
Your skin sparkling cold.

Inside, what could be
a small window opening. No,
less than that. Light comes in
as if through a straw.

And what is this?
This small I’m sorry
in one palm and it
was not you
in the other.

Say it to yourself. Say it
to your face, your throat—
I’m sorry—say it where it hurts.
Say it for your gentle hands
when you did not know
to be a fighter. For all the things
you could not say. Or,
calculating costs, did not.

Allez go! Get it in your eyes,
in your hair, on your all-possible skin.
Know this, breathe it, if only for these wet seconds.

Go under and under and under, return
again and again and again. Break the seal
on the brilliant verb of your body.

Room’s 40th Anniversary Anthology

This is fun. One of my poems originally published in Room Magazine made it into their 40th anniversary anthology, alongside many other writers I admire a great deal. The magazine is raising money to cover printing costs by pre-selling the anthology (plus other perks) on IndiGoGo.

Updated to add: The link above is no longer describes the project, because the campaign is closed (and successful), so here’s more about the project on the Room website.Cover for Making Room Anthology

Here’s how they describe the project: “A collection of our favourite writing from Room magazine (formerly Room of One’s Own magazine), Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal. Room’s 40th Anniversary Anthology will explore the evolution of Canadian feminism over the past forty years, as told through fiction, poetry, and essays by some of Canada’s best writers (all who identify as women, genderqueer, trans, or non-binary).”

Writers announced so far are: Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Marie Annharte Baker, Juliane Okot Bitek, Kate Braid, Nicole Brossard, Cyndia Cole, Ivan Coyote, Lucas Crawford, Su Croll, Lorna Crozier, Danielle Daniel, Amber Dawn, Junie Désil, Sandy Frances Duncan, Dorothy Elias, Christine Estima, Tanya Evanson, barbara findlay, Cynthia Flood, Chantal Gibson, Leona Gom, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Nancy Holmes, Anna Humphrey, Mindy Hung, Carole Itter, Helen Kuk, Matea Kulić, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Doretta Lau, Evelyn Lau, Jen Sookfong Lee, Annabel Lyon, Vera Manuel, Daphne Marlatt, Cara-Lyn Morgan, Erín Moure, Susan Musgrave, Alessandra Naccarato, Kellee Ngan, Monica Pacheco, M NourbeSe Philip, Eden Robinson, Devyani Saltzman, Sigal Samuel, Nilofar Shidmehr, Carolyn Smart, Anna Swanson, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Audrey Thomas, Ayelet Tsabari, Chimwemwe Undi, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang.

CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

1SHORT-Anna-Swanson-BBA poetry thing happened to me! Several of my poems have been shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. I always follow this prize closely, so it was a thrill even to be included in the longlist. When I found out about the shortlist, I was so giddy I couldn’t stop dancing around the kitchen while talking on the phone to the very nice person from the CBC.

Check out the five shortlisted poets here, including Emily Nilsen who, as it happens, went to the same very small high school as me in Vancouver.

CBC is one of my heroes, so it feels like big news to me. Also, this is as close as I’ll ever come to being on a baseball card. So, wow.

Stay tuned for the final announcement next Tuesday.

UPDATE: I didn’t win, but it was still thrilling to be shortlisted. A big congratulations to Mark Wagenaar on his winning poem.

Arc Poem of the Year shortlist

Little blue house in Flatrock, NLI was thrilled recently to find out that one of my poems was shortlisted for the Arc Poem of the Year contest. It’s an odd little poem that I wrote in Flatrock, NL, this past summer, when I was just visiting Newfoundland on a writing grant and hadn’t yet upended my entire life and moved here.

I stayed a small blue house right on the ocean. Nearby was a swimming hole at the river which was populated at night by teenagers who drank beer and energy drinks and jumped off cliffs and poured entire containers of Sunlight dish soap into the waterfall to make bubbles. In the mornings I went there to swim, naked if it was early enough. Then I collected some of the trash that had gathered, and brought it home. At some point I decided to transcribe the text from the beer bottles and chip bags and soggy cigarette containers, and to use this as source text to write about the river. It wasn’t found poetry, or erasure poetry, exactly; I refused count how many Blue Star beer cans I’d collected. But I limited myself to the scope of the words found on those cans and labels.

It was fun. And addictive. And strangely informative. I learned that beer is about choice and vitamin water is strangely verbose — hello trigonometry. Bubble bath was the source of wonderful. I learned that pronouns shape so much of what I could write, and how. That it was good to learn to do without me or I for a while. That cigarette packages knew a lot about health conditions. That everything was trademarked and licensed and imported for somebody, and not a significant source of a lot of things. And that potato chips were the only ones who mentioned love.

IMG_2047The poem that was shortlisted, Middle Pool, was one in a series that came out of that accidental daily writing prompt.

In conclusion, I blame the beautiful chaos of my recent life on a little blue house by the ocean in Flatrock and that early morning swimming hole. And I’m not at all sorry.

UPDATE: While it didn’t win, my poem was chosen as an Editor’s Pick and appears in the ARC Summer 2015 issue.