Discovering 'Bomber County': Professor Daniel Swift?s first book combines poetry and history

Posted by Sarah Barry

Professor Daniel Swift has accomplished a feat that many strive for: his first book was recently published.

The book, "Bomber County: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War," is a work partially inspired by Swift's own history.

"The book arises from the meeting of two curiosities, on a personal level, the fate of my grandfather, and in terms of literary history, the poetry of the Second World War," Swift said.

Swift's grandfather was a bomber pilot in World War II and the book began as a journey with Swift's father to recover some of the family's past.

Swift started writing the book in 2007 in the summer before he started teaching at Skidmore. He does not feel that the book is solely his own.

"The book is dedicated to my father. It is very much about my journey with him. I do feel that this is something he and I did together rather than something I did alone," Swift said.

During his book reading on Sept. 29, Swift explained that he and his father traveled together to the air base where his grandfather was stationed.

Swift conducted interviews with several veterans and civilians affected by the war.

He focused on one woman in his lecture who viewed the war as a love story about how she met her husband.

Her account was vastly different from those who were directly fighting.

"If you write a war story only about soldiers, you're getting something so deeply wrong," Swift said.

The book responds to the claim that there is little poetry of merit from the second World War when compared to the first World War.

Swift explains that poetry functions as an outlet for mourning in war times.

"Poetry as a type of writing does formal things differently than other types of writing, and that's why poems are so often read at funerals. Poem's are often an atheist's replacement for scripture, and are therefore deeply connected to all the work of mourning, and remembering the past" Swift said.

Swift incorporates and analyzes poetry from both veterans and poets about World War II.

"I think the poetry of World War II has much to teach us about strategic bombing, and that military strategy has surprisingly much in common with creative writing, both are imaginative projects."

Swift expressed a deep gratitude towards the many interviewees who contributed to his knowledge of the war.

"I've tried to repay the enormous debt I owe them in writing all of these things," Swift said. He explained that writing the book seemed to make people more willing to talk to him.

Professor Swift is on leave from Skidmore for the year, but he is currently working on several projects.

"I'll be writing a book about Shakespeare, as he is the writer I usually teach and worked on for years. I'm also exploring a currently undefined project: it will perhaps be about poets in mental institutions," Swift said.

"Bomber County" also sparked interest and contributions about current war conflicts.

"I'm at work now on a long magazine article about the use of unmanned drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the moral and legal debates about this new technology. It seems to me that history has much to teach us about current wars."

Despite the emotionally charged subject, Swift has attempted to remain unbiased in his views and representation of bombing.

"I've tried to present as fairly as I can both sides of the debate over the ethics of bombing, so I've tried to resist strong convictions of my own, except my strong conviction that it's important to consider, respectfully and carefully, the past as a way to understand the present," he said.

Upon request, Professor Swift offered some advice to both his own students in the English department and aspiring writers in general at Skidmore.

"There's an old joke about writing: change one letter in the word, and you get ‘waiting.' Writing involves a lot of waiting, an unimaginable amount of time and patience."

He continued, "I'm interested in the types of writing that are by definition rushed – journalism, written on deadline, is a useful discipline for all writers – but I'm more interested in the kind of writing that cannot be rushed, that refuses to be hurried. A good piece of writing, like a good painting, rewards a lot of slow looking; it absorbs time and patience, and pays back tenfold all the attention you can give it. So, in terms of advice for writers, you have to be patient, I'm afraid."

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