Skip to main content

Swerdlow releases third poetry collection

Share on:

Posted on Monday, July 24, 2023

Dr. David Swerdlow, award-winning poet and professor of English at Westminster College, released his third book of poetry, “Nightstand,” this summer.

Published through Broadstone Books, Swerdlow’s latest collection highlights the struggle to shelter family in violent times. His book opens with fear for his Latina wife, for the possibility that someone “will do her some unspeakable / harm because we live in the renewed world / of hatred” — a “hard / world we never wanted to imagine.”

“While ‘Nightstand’ includes poems that contend with mass shootings, political brutality, terrorism, genocide and a growing list of other horrors that threaten us more and more directly every day, I believe these poems also partake in love, in the spirit of dignity that can be our way forward,” said Swerdlow.

The book’s title poem describes the contents of Swerdlow’s bedside table—“the books I read over and over, tape recordings of my late father telling stories in Yiddish, his eyeglasses, the eulogy I gave at his funeral, gifts from my daughters, stones I collected from places I've loved—the kinds of things that none of us can throw away without feeling wrenching loss.”

“They’re near to me when I lie awake at night, trying to find balance in a world that far too often threatens the peace we seek both as individuals and as citizens in the communities to which we belong,” said Swerdlow. “In these dark times, these nights, I find it necessary to take a stand, no matter how tenuous or vulnerable or seemingly insignificant that stand may be. Each poem is a place for me to gather courage. Each poem in the book is a kind of marker, be it a marker of love or anger, of hope or fear, that claims a place in the world for me.”

In “As a Citizen,” the collection’s longest poem, Swerdlow imagines former president Barak Obama in his years after his presidency.

“He's a hero of mine for many reasons,” Swerdlow said. “It seems clear to me that he always took his daughters into account when he made a decision. It wasn't that he was looking out for their personal or immediate benefit, but for their world, the dignity of this world that is stumbling and in need. With these poems, I hope to improve the world in whatever small way I can by being truthful and loving, by owning my mistakes, by singing in the dark. “

Swerdlow’s book cover features a multimedia image from the late Peggy Cox, professor of art at Westminster until her passing in 2018. The image, "Off the Road,” is featured in her textile related collection "Icelandic Journals.”

“Peggy and I were close friends, and we taught together on multiple occasions. I learned much from her about how to see the world with greater perception. She taught me to see what I was missing,” said Swerdlow. “Every day, I think of Peggy as I look at her work hanging on the walls of my home. Now, I see her work on the cover of my book. I see her handwriting, and it feels good and right. She’s still helping me to see.”

In her review of “Nighstand,” author Marjorie Maddox writes, “In ‘Nightstand,’ David Swerdlow’s lyrical, evocative poems juxtapose a desire to protect small-town family life with the “renewed world / of hatred” that presses in from seemingly everywhere. Mass shootings, sexual violence, “bodies that suffered the bomb,” antisemitism, caged immigrants—all bump up against committed marriage, parenting, and friendships, “this country slipping once more/into the grim divisions / we thought we’d outlive.” But these poems also search out the familiar stranger in distant homelands and rugged landscapes: a mother’s decline, Obama’s final public address, a Texas family detention center, the Stutthof concentration camp, as well as experiences in Russia, Croatia, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Morocco. Master of both brief form and extended meditation, Swerdlow invites us to move in closer, “working/on what’s holy, pinning it/to the ceiling that holds on // to nothing but the dark...” These poems give enough light and courage to do just that."

Swerdlow, who joined the Westminster College faculty in 1990, specializes in creative writing, modern and contemporary American literature and postcolonial literature. His works have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, West Branch, The Denver Quarterly and others. He has authored two other books of poetry—“Bodies on Earth” (2010) and “Small Holes in the Universe” (2003)—and a novel, “Television Man,” which was released in 2019. The recipient of several awards, Swerdlow has served as a Fulbright Professor of American Literature in Peru, as a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and as visiting faculty on two Semester at Sea voyages. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and his master’s and Ph.D. from Ohio University.

To read more reviews of “Nightstand” or to purchase the book, please visit Broadstone Books.

For more information about Westminster’s English program, visit