Poet Kim Swendson is a collector of sorts, a gatherer of experiences with people she interacts with during the day. Asking the gas station attendant about his children, chatting with the barista about her weekend plans… these daily interactions serve as inspiration for the stories and poetry Swendson writes.
Swendson is a senior majoring in English with a focus on creative writing and a minor in Italian at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her interest in connecting with the strangers she meets led to a realization that they aren’t just random passers-by, but rather individuals leading complex lives.
“Talking to people is such a wonderful sensation, because you can learn as much as you want about another person just by taking the time,” said Swendson. “It’s like a constant gift. With my poetry, I go out and have experiences and the writing just comes. The writing always just comes, so I go with it.”
Her work toward earning a degree in English was validated when she received three scholarship awards from the Department of English: the Alex McGuiggan Scholarship, the Curtis Michael Gimeno Memorial Scholarship and the Jovanovich Imaginative Writing Award. Receiving these scholarships was a lifeline for Swendson, who comes from what she describes as a “quietly poor” family situation.
Born in Boulder and raised in Golden and Nederland, Swendson was one of six children. Outwardly, the family looked presentable in their thrift-store clothes and tidy house, according to Swendson. School was a welcome distraction from worrying about her family’s lack of money, not to mention the stress of wondering how she could ever pay for college.
“We weren’t noticeable,” she said about her family’s financial situation.
“We weren’t on food stamps, we weren’t living on the street, but I’d come home from school and worry if there would be enough food. One time I took $14 in change I had been saving and bought food for us at a local convenience store. So getting these scholarships meant a lot. It’s a validation that my words mean something.”
Getting these scholarships meant a lot. It’s a validation that my words mean something.”
In addition to the scholarships, Swendson has stitched together a patchwork of jobs, one of which is breeding award winning Bernese mountain dogs at her kennel, Mesa Top Berners. Her dog, Aureole just gave birth to six puppies—all boys. During the summer, Swendson works on a farm near Santa Fe, N.M., cultivating heritage vegetables and working with a local Community Supported Agriculture group.
Swendson is working on a manuscript of poetry titled Baby. The collection of poems explores the interaction between a father with a history of sexual abuse and his daughter, and how that manifests in the daughter as she moves on to other adult relationships.
Swendson chose the title because words like baby, babe and sweetie have connotations of making a woman feel immature or naïve. The work deals with the daughter’s old memories bubbling up of the sexual abuse by the father as well as more recent abusive relationships, followed by coming to terms with the trauma.
In addition to her busy schedule, Swendson finds time to work with CU-Boulder’s Academic Success and Achievement Program (ASAP) program as a tutor in Italian and serve on the Student Advisory Council. Last year, she was editor for the Honors Journal in creative nonfiction, and this year she is the poetry editor. She is also the poetry editor for Walkabout journal this year.
After graduating next May, she wants to get a master’s degree in creative writing and possibly a doctorate in comparative literature with an emphasis in Russian literature. Her goal is to teach graduate seminars, focusing on workshops.
“My degree from CU will provide me with the confidence necessary to pursue a career in such a competitive field,” said Swendson, “but more important to my success have been the professional relationships that I’ve made here within the English and Italian departments.”
Kenna Bruner is a writer with Strategic Marketing Communications at CU-Boulder.