/ 13 March 2019

The Week of the Festival: Littfest, Sweden

The Sound of Poetry

Several poets from the spoken word scene in Sweden have poetry collections out by established publishing companies, and there’s also a record label for spoken word. Some publishers launch poetry as audio books, as well as ordinary books. It is often expected of poets to do readings or recordings of their work. The poets Ismael Ataria, Anders Teglund at Teg Publishing and the creative writing facilitator Sofie Jansson have shared their thoughts on the subject.

What are your  spontaneous thoughts about sound in poetry?

Sofie Jansson: I love sound in poetry, I've even written a paper about it! I think that sound is important in text, even for texts only written for the eye.

Ismael Ataria: First and foremost, your voice is a tool. The way you can shape and put emphasis on words, by whispering or shouting for instance. I enjoy using the whole palette of voice that lives in my body. What I’ve learnt over the years is that the one who shouts is not necessarily the one who will be heard. To be brave enough to lower the volume can sometimes be what really is heard. Some spoken word poets misunderstand this more than anything, thinking that you have to scream and shout to make the poem ‘rock’ and create ‘energy’. It’s often better to lower the volume, so people can take the poem in. The energy comes from my dedication to the topic and emotion of my poem, not from my ability to for example shout.

How do you work with the sound of poetry in your profession?

Anders Teglund: We primarily publish poetry on the page, and usually after that the question is raised as to whether it should be an audio book as well. When it comes to David Väyrynen’s book Marken (‘The Ground’), we wanted to make it into several types of media (there’s even an EP with music), so in that case it felt right with an audio book, even though it’s pretty long. With the musician and poet Mattias Alkberg it just happened, as he’s so vocal in his expression. So far, we’ve started off with poetry on the page, and the audio book has been a complement.

Ismael Ataria: Often I try to find a golden mean in my writing. To make my poems work both for the page and the stage. This is an art in itself, and it’s very hard to master. Spoken word lyrics that are amazing on stage can fall flat on the page. Sometimes my poems exist in two different versions. The one for the stage is often simpler and clearly communicative, whereas the one for the page is more poetic and filled with more layers. Sometimes I write only with the stage in mind and sometimes only the page.

Sofie Jansson: My poems transform into fewer words when moving from stage to page (and sometimes the other way around). I think it can be scary to put your poem on the page if it has lived on the stage.

What happens when poetry mainly written for the stage is published on the page or the other way around?

Sofie Jansson: Some sounds spill over into silence, and that can be more notable on the stage or on a recording than on a page. The one giving voice to the text is adding an interpretation, another layer between the text and the audience. Sometimes the extra layer adds volume to the text, sometimes one can be annoyed at how a poem is read and therefore stops listening to the words. On the other hand, if poets read their own work, they have the opportunity to use the rhythm and intonation they want, and don’t need to worry if a reader reads too fast or too slow or stumble.

Ismael Ataria: The sound of my voice changes a bit when I enter the stage. It often gets more focused and somehow clearer. But I’m careful not to put on too much of a persona; I want to be as close to my ordinary speaking voice as possible. I want the audience to hear me and not the image of how I think people want to hear me. That’s a big difference.

Anders Teglund: With poetry, the writing is often close to the sender, perhaps not biographically, but in language and style, and therefore I think voice is an interesting dimension. How does the poet use phrasing? Dialect and emphasis shine through. But the audio book is not always the best medium for the kind of writing you want to get back to, re-read and flick through freely. It ought to be poetry that has a structure that moves forward. Some poems are more about form, and then it might be harder to transfer to sound.

Ismael Ataria: To record poems is something in between the page and the stage. Some cool elements that the stage allows for don’t work on record, it often becomes theatrical and feels forced. My ‘writing voice’ is definitely filled with expression and dynamic but is often more neutral. I strive for writing and music that deliver a feeling of unity.

What’s the difference between listening to and reading poetry?

Sofie Jansson: For me, it’s both lazier and more invasive to listen to poetry from a stage or recording than reading it to myself from a page. Sound on page can be suggested, subtler, whereas on stage it is decided. Poetry on the stage is more malleable whereas poetry on the page is more cut in stone. A recording also freezes the poem, catches it in time and defines it. A poem read on different stages at different times have the possibility to change, to adapt to the moment and to the reader's impulses. The poem on the page sits there, unchanged, it has its final shape.

Ismael Ataria: I believe that all writing could work well on a stage if you work on it. It’s not enough to get up and just read from a book. It’s about creating a space where the writing can be communicated from the stage. That space is built with a lot of thought; every word has a purpose before it leaves the mouth.

Anders Teglund: One thing is that when you read, you can control the pace. That can be crucial when reading poetry. But on the contrary many poets are used to reading aloud and their poetry should be available as an audio book, I think. Some poets mainly read their work aloud and, in that case, it works well as a recording, but it’s hard to transfer to the page. Unfortunately, there’s no funding for audio poetry only, which leaves for example spoken word poetry without financial support.

By Louise Halvardsson

Ismael Ataria photograph taken by Andreas Bennin


Ismael Ataria is a Swedish poet well known within in the spoken word scene. He has published three books of poetry with Heidruns: Allt för dig, ingen annan (‘All for you, no one else’), Bokstavsängeln(‘The Alphabet Angel’), Längtan till whatever (‘The Longing for Whatever’).Bokstavsängelnis also available as a recording with music by the author and Verbal Alfa has released the record Blod, svett, kalorier och Korstecken(‘Blood, Sweat, Calories and the Sign of the Cross’) with music by David Engström.

Sofie Jansson is a Swedish writer who also works as a creative writing facilitator at Skrivarakademin among other places. She has written the paper ‘Jag formar ljud med tyst text’ (‘I shape sound with silent text’) as a part of her degree in creative writing.

Anders Teglund is one of the publishers/editors/producers at the publishing company Teg Publishing that is based in the north of Sweden. They publish books, music, film and pod radio.

Article commissioned and edited by Versopolis' guest editor Helena Fagertun.