Robert Sward

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Robert Sward is an American and Canadian poet and novelist. Jack Foley (poet), in his Introduction to Sward's "Collected Poems, 1957-2004" (Black Moss Press, 2004) calls him, "in truth, a citizen, at heart, of both countries. At once a Canadian and American poet, one with a foot in both worlds, Sward also inhabits an enormous in-between."

Born in 1933 and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Sward began writing poetry at the age of 15 when he became involved with a street gang and used rhyming couplets in his notes to the other gang members. He graduated from Von Steuben high school at 17 and quit his job as a soda jerk in a pharmacy to join the United States Navy. In 1952 he was stationed in Korea on an amphibious ship, LST 914. A Yeoman 3rd Class, Sward soon became the head of the ship's library, while serving in the combat zone during the Korean War.

He has taught at Cornell University, 1964-65, where he first experimented with computer-generated poetry and served on the editorial board of "Epoch (magazine)". He went on to teach at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of Victoria, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. In the 1980s he worked for the CBC, where he interviewed and produced 60-minute radio features on Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Earle Birney, John Robert Colombo and other leading Canadian figures. His Quill & Quire interview with Saul Bellow was widely read. Sward also worked as journalist, book reviewer and feature writer for The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and The Financial Times in Toronto, Ontario while living on the Toronto Islands. He received a Canada Council grant to research and write The Toronto Islands (1983), a best-selling illustrated history of a unique community, from prehistoric times to the present.

A Fulbright scholar and Guggenheim Fellow, he was chosen by Lucille Clifton to receive a $500.00 Villa Montalvo Literary Arts Award and is the author of 30 books of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. He has been published widely in numerous anthologies and traditional literary magazines, such as The New Yorker, Poetry Chicago, and The Hudson Review. Sward later worked as technical writer and editor for Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), and served as “bridge person” between traditional hard copy academic periodicals and literary eZines. He began publishing on the Internet in the late 1980s and early 90s with appearances in Alsop Review, Blue Moon Review, Web de Sol, X-Connect, eSCENE, Fiction Online, Hawk, Realpoetik, and Zero City. His essay, "Why I Publish in e-Zines", appeared online in 1995 and has been widely reprinted.

Sward's first book, Uncle Dog & Other Poems (1962), was published by Putnam & Co. in England. 'Uncle Dog' was followed by "Kissing the Dancer" (Cornell University Press, 1964), with an Introduction by Pulitzer Prize poet William Meredith. "The Carleton Miscellany" reviewed the book saying, "In the animal poems there is a bravery in the face of our limitations, a warmth for our absurdities, a way of life to be gleaned from our failings and ineptitudes... a self-critique that turns our freakishness into an ironic source of fulfillment and transcendence." The poem, "Uncle Dog: The Poet At 9," has been frequently anthologized and Sward continues to write about exotic animals and dogs in particular. Animated videos of these works (mini-movies with poetry) employ avatars, digital representations of the poet and his subjects, and appear in DVD format and online at, Blue's Cruzio Cafe.

A key theme in his most recent books, Rosicrucian in the Basement (2001), Heavenly Sex (2002), The Collected Poems, 1957-2004 (2004), and God is in the Cracks (2006), is fathers and sons. Sward's father, Dr. Irving M. Sward, was a podiatrist and something of a mystic, combining his practice of Rosicrucianism with a study of the Kabbalah. Of Rosicrucian in the Basement, Robert Bly writes, 'There are many mysteries between father and son that people don't talk about... There's much leaping [in Sward's poetry], but each line, so to speak, steps on something solid.' Dana Gioia adds, "The CD is terrific... "Rosicrucian in the Basement" unfolds perfectly at its own pace and never loses the listener."

Sward and his life-partner, visual artist Gloria K. Alford, live in Santa Cruz, California, where he took up residence in 1985, after fourteen years living and working in Canada, primarily in Victoria, B.C. (1969-1979) and on The Toronto Islands (1979-1985). A member of the League of Canadian Poets since 1975, Sward has toured Canada with each of his new books, reviewed and helped bring noted Canadian writers to the U.S.

Sward's five children include Cheryl Cox Macpherson, a Professor of Bioethics; Kamala Joy, an environmental scientist; Michael Sward, a contractor and builder; Hannah Sward, administrative staff, Southwestern Law School; and Nicholas Sward, Hyatt Hotel chef in Toronto.

Selected bibliography

  • Advertisements - 1958
  • Uncle Dog and Other Poems - 1962
  • Kissing the Dancer and Other Poems - 1964 (Introduction by William Meredith)
  • Thousand-Year-Old Fiancée and Other Poems - 1965
  • Horgbortom Stringbottom I Am Yours You are History - 1970
  • Hannah's Cartoon - 1970
  • Quorum/Noah - 1970 (with Mike Doyle)
  • Gift - 1971
  • Innocence - 1950 - 1971
  • Vancouver Island Poems - 1973 (editor / anthology)
  • The Jurassic Shales - 1975
  • Five Iowa Poems - 1975
  • Honey Bear on Lasqueti Island, B.C. - 1978
  • 12 Poems - 1982
  • The Toronto Islands - 1983
  • Half a Life's History - 1983
  • Movies: Left to Right - 1983
  • The Three Roberts - 1984 (with Robert Priest and Robert Zend)
  • "Poet Santa Cruz" - 1985
  • Four Incarnations: New and Selected Poems, 1957-1991 - 1991
  • A Much-Married Man - 1996
  • Rosicrucian in the Basement - 2001 (Introduction by William Minor)
  • Heavenly Sex: New & Selected Poems - 2003
  • The Collected Poems of Robert Sward 1957-2004 - 2004 (Introduction by Jack Foley (poet))
  • God is in the Cracks, A Narrative in Voices - 2006
  •, Blue's Cruzio Cafe


  • Contemporary Authors (CAAS), Gale/Thomson, Volume 206, 2003.
  • Robert Sward. The Collected Poems of Robert Sward 1957-2004. Windsor, Ontario: Black Moss, 2004.
  • Robert Sward. Four Incarnations: New and Selected Poems, 1957-1991. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1991.
  • University Libraries, Washington University in St. Louis, Department of Special Collections, Olin Library, St. Louis, MO 63130. Robert Sward Papers, 1957-- (WTU00110).
  • POETRY FLASH, No. 298, pp. 1, 8-10, 12-13, Fall 2006, "Life Is Its Own Afterlife: A Conversation With Robert Sward."
  •, Blue's Cruzio Cafe
  • "The Muse DVD Magazine," Boss Productions,, 2007.

Correction: Recently, under Categories, I was incorrectly identified as a Tax Resister. I do pay taxes.

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