/ 14 March 2019

The Week of the Festival: Littfest, Sweden

The Pulse of Poetry

‘Where do we find Swedish poetry today’, critic Ann Lingebrandt asked in her European Review essay a year ago. ‘In the middle of the world’, was her answer: ‘In the whirlwind of time, with the finger on the pulse of language’. When I now, for the third year in a row, have curated The European Review the week before Sweden’s largest literature festival, Littfest in Umeå, I have tried to take up Lingebrandt’s question, and locate the Swedish poetry of the beginning of 2019. 

This year started with a cultural debate about the status and publicity of poetry, the role of the critic, as well as the economics and working conditions for writing and publishing poetry. Some of the first poetry collections published in 2019 also thematised similar topics. When inviting the participants of this week I have tried to put my finger on some of the movements I see in Swedish poetry and literature today. Looking at the texts combined it becomes clear that they all, to different degrees, deal with this subject of the conditions for poetry today.

The week started with a piece about sound and poetry. Author Louise Halvardsson interviewed one spoken word poet, one publisher, and one teacher in creative writing. Poet Ismael Ataria notes that it is not, as opposed to what it commonly believed, always the one who shouts that is the one who will be heard: ‘To be brave enough to lower the volume can sometimes be what really is heard’. Anders Teglund at Teg Publishing argues that the printed book and e-book have other advantages compared to the audio book, with the major difference being the ability to control or not control the pace of the reading. Even if he sees that the poetry of some poets is very vocal and therefore fitting for the audio book form, the problem that there is not yet any funding system for audio poetry remains.

The Tuesday contribution regarded one of the most exciting projects about literature in the Nordic countries today. NolitchX, to be read ‘Knowledge X’, is a project and network claiming that Nordic literature is any literary text produced by a writer in the Nordic countries, regardless of language. Project managers Roxana Crisólogo and Petronella Zetterlund go through the conditions for immigrant writers in the Nordic countries today, as well as present the project’s mission and tasks ahead. ‘The multilingual Nordic literature is a concept in the making, and NolitchX thinks the best way to help shaping this awareness and vision is to make writers meet and their texts to meet new audiences’, they conclude. I hope that publishing this text at Versopolis could be a small step in making this project more known.

To every year invite one of the most prominent poetry critics to write a review on a poetry collection of their own choice from the past few years, has become my favorite part of this curating commission. This year Sebastian Lönnlöv, poetry critic in Svenska Dagbladet and librarian, returns to Sara Hallström’s most recent poetry collection Jag vill att mina barn ska tillhöra (‘I Want My Children to Belong’) from 2015, and digs deep into how it ‘investigates the spaces bodies occupy as they interact, work and play in a room’. Lönnlöv shows how the Swedish system of preschooling plays an important role in Hallström’s poetry, and places her within the literary field of work critique, but not as a collective rebel, but as someone investigating in ‘the working subject and its act of submission’.

And finally, I will wrap this week up tomorrow in the Friday’s essay, by trying to summarise and analyse what the first cultural debate of the year here in Sweden has been about. I tried to get at least three other persons to write this essay, but as writing articles for online blogs do not pay very much, and time anyway seems to be more valuable for writers than money, they all turned the inquiry down. And it actually only illustrates the topic, and a possible and not so optimistic future; you will not only write, but also be the editor of what you write. Let us just hope that there still will be other readers than yourself.

By Helena Fagertun