Literary Interviews: The Best of Mad Swirl v2017


Sanjeev Sethi interviews Johnny Olson, Chief Editor & Designer and MH Clay, Poetry Editor



Mad Swirl a creative outlet is a crackerjack Dallas-based literary venue which showcases poetry, paintings, and short stories. Helming the enterprise is Johnny Olson an energetic bundle of talent. Helping him in the endeavor is the brilliant MH Clay as Poetry Editor and the gifted Tyler Malone and Madelyn Olson as Short Fiction Editor and Visual Editor.


This accomplished team recently released, The Best of Mad Swirl: v2017. Johnny created the design and layout of the anthology. Each of the editors chose the content from their respective departments. All took part in copy editing. While the celebrations are on and everyone is raving about the anthology, Sanjeev Sethi through an exchange of emails coordinated literary interviews. Even as Johnny Olson answers questions about the anthology, we took this opportunity to toss a few questions to MH Clay about all things poetry and its pleasures.


But first thing first. Over to Johnny Olson



Sanjeev Sethi: The anthology is published? How does it feel?


Johnny Olson: Like giving birth to yet another creative love child! The labor being the gathering of content, designing it in a way that would honor the contributors, prepping it for print. The delivery being the day that Amazon said our 92-page baby was published.

Mad Swirl’s origin in 1999 was print. Throughout the first 10 years, we ended up doing six print issues. But slowly, the time and resources dwindled as the website started growing and our focus was primarily on the electronic outlet. However, the passion for print never died in me and I am happy that we are finally back to our roots. It feels quite fantastic to have a tangible product that I can hold in my hands.



SS: How did the idea evolve?


JO: A few years back we had a Mad Confab with all the editors. We created a mad mind-map to illustrate where we were and where we wanted to go. We accomplished almost all that we set-out to do (Mad Swirl merch, an updated website, hosting intimate-set events) with an annual “Best of Mad Swirl” anthology being the final checkbox we had left to check. Now that we’ve got this anthology under our belts, we’ll continue the trend.



SS: What does it cover?


JO: The best of what was swirling in our Mad Swirl world in 2017: 52 poems (best of the week), 12 short stories (best of the month) and four artists (best of the quarter). We’d be remiss to not do a shout-out to our monthly open mic, so that too has a spread giving a shout-out to our local loco mad ones.



SS: What was the criterion employed in selecting the pieces?


JO: Each editor was given free-reign to choose the best of their sections. I didn’t question their choices, knowing full well their passion for the craft and their mission to select the cream of the crop that would best represent Mad Swirl.



Thank you, Johnny. This is the perfect time to bring in MH Clay: Poetry Editor, Mad Swirl.



SS: In a multicultural ethos how do you handle a poem where the subject isn’t familiar?


MH Clay: To a certain degree, any poem presents unfamiliar subject matter to the reader; much like human interaction in general. Our appreciation for the unfamiliar is broadened in proportion to how much of our personal bias we can set aside. So, I try to be “everyman” when I read a poem; attempting to let the poem speak to me on its own.

I’m not completely objective; as stated, I have my biases, too. But, I have had the good fortune to travel around the world and interact with people from many different cultures. In the beginning, I frequently missed opportunities to fully appreciate different points of view. Over time, I learned to recognize and put aside my Ameri-centricity to be more of a world citizen. With this learned perspective, my approach to all poetry is open.



SS: Without seeing the byline can you gauge if it isn’t an American poet?


MC: Sometimes; especially when the poet is approaching English as a second (or third? fourth?) language. I have an ingrained bias toward American Standard English (this is the language in which I speak and write). When I see poets use the language in ways unorthodox to American Standard use, it is immediately recognizable. They approach it with the ingrained bias of their “mother tongue,” translating from that to English. Some are quite inventive in how they do this, which I find refreshing (I see how I don’t “own” the language).

Examples of this by some of the Contributing Poets on our Poetry Forum are: Hem Raj Bastola, from Nepal; Hongri Yuan, from China; Milenko Zupanovic, an ethnic Croat from Montenegro; Volodymyr Bilyk, from Ukraine. Read some of these poets’ work to see what I mean.



SS: Where do you see the overall contemporary poetic graph moving?


MC: Poetry has become more accessible to all, widely available through the many forms of media around today. The ease by which poets can self-publish, through print and electronic media, has produced a large amount of content which can be consumed by anyone and everyone. Poetry has become a more common language for creative expression than it was in the last century; and by “common,” I mean “prevalent,” rather than “vulgar.” It is the earmark of community.

The downside of that is, with so much content so readily available, one poet’s voice can get lost in the white noise of modern media. Every writer seeks an audience and a community in which to converse. Mad Swirl’s mission is to foster the creative conversation and welcoming community which comes from that conversation.



SS: As an editor you do one thing differently. You enter the soul of the poem and illume it for the reader with your nuanced one-liners that are perused with much interest? How did the idea come about?


MC: During the Mad Confab, which Johnny referenced above, we talked about ways we could do more to engage our creative community; one of these was through posting feedback from the editors for our contributors. You’ll see comments by all three of us; for poetry, short stories and visuals, which express our creative responses to the works presented; fostering the creative conversation and community mentioned above.

For myself, I try to show the poet how I was moved by their work,while giving the reader supplementary perspective on the poem – making conversation, if you will.





Sanjeev Sethi

Sanjeev Sethi is the author of three books of poetry. His most recent collection is This Summer and That Summer (Bloomsbury, 2015). His poems are in venues around the world: The Broadkill Review, After the Pause, Former People, Unlikely Stories Mark V, Stickman Review, Ann Arbor Review, Neologism Poetry Journal, Home Planet News, Morphrog 16, Postcolonial Text, Communion Arts Journal, Bold Monkeyand elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.


Johnny Olson

Founder and Chief Editor of Mad Swirl. In 1999, Johnny, with a couple of other mad cohorts, started Mad Swirl. This project has now evolved into a being all its’ own. After wearing too many hats for too many years, he now only wears a few at Mad Swirl: chief editor, designer, and host at Mad Swirl’s monthly Open Mic night. 


MH Clay

MH Clay is a poem writin’, harp blowin’, corporate beast dodgin’, lover & husband & father & son, etc. Who can’t help but write “out loud” the things he knows that many of us are thinking. It’s a compulsion, a condition, a possession.

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