David Väyrynen

Sweden

David Väyrynen was born in 1982 and comes from Hakkas outside of Gällivare in the north of Sweden. His debut poetry collection Marken (“The Ground”) was published in 2017 by the small independent publisher Teg Publishing. Marken has also been released as an EP with interpretations by the artists Sara Parkman, Torbjörn Ömalm and Pernilla Fagerlönn. Väyrynen has been published in a number of Swedish magazines such as Provins and Glänta, has toured all over Sweden, and is the spokesperson for Norrländska litteratursällskapet/ Författarcentrum Norr, an association for writers and other people interested in literature from the north of Sweden. He is also a laborer and a politician.


Amen to that

 

I am reading David Väyrynen’s debut poetry collection Marken (“The Ground”) without taking off my jacket. I am reading it with dirty pants on and realizing that they keep me warm just the way that clean pants do. His language gets under my skin. I am looking out of my window; it’s November and it rains while I read the book.

 

The scene and place for Marken is Lapland in the very north of Norrland. Norrland comprises of 58% of the area of Sweden, but is still considered to be the backwoods, the periphery that’s consuming the center. But if one, as the journalist Po Tidholm does in his book Norrland (Teg Publishing 2012/2014), looks at where the country’s natural resources come from, the picture is quite the opposite: Norrland produces about 40% of Sweden’s electricity and stands for 80% of Europe’s production of ore.

 

The area is both stereotyped and exoticized. The young botanist Carl von Linné travelled from Uppsala to Lapland by foot and horse as early as 1732. Tourists of today take the night train to see snow, woods, aurora borealis, reindeers, and stay in a hotel made of ice. The dialects of the north are regarded as slow, sometimes in a positive and thoughtful sense, other times corresponding with the view of the Norrlander as languid, old-fashioned and stupid.

 

It’s not only a dichotomy between south and north that is put into play here; the colonialism is even more apparent in the history of the Sami people. The Sami people are an indigenous Finno-Ugric people living in Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. As in the case of many indigenous people around the world the Sami people has been discriminated and oppressed by the majority societies; their land has been confiscated, they have been forcibly moved, and their culture suppressed. Today the Sami language (which really is not one but a number of languages) is one of the official national minority languages of Sweden, besides for instance the Finnish language Meänkieli, spoken in Tornedalen in the upper north-east.

 

That the societies in the north are multilingual is an important aspect of Marken. In the poem “Den gamla byfinska bondepraktikan” (“The Old Gällivare-Finnish Old Farmer's Almanac”) we follow a year from January to December (with a break May–August) and learn about everything from trying to stop snuffing to shoveling snow, from dealing with being fired to pulling out an aching tooth. In the interview “Smaller Towns and Cheaper Lifestyle” that I conducted with David Väyrynen at Versopolis in the spring of 2017 he said that “I’ve tried to use the Finnish form of Swedish that we speak up here, partly because it’s a form that has never been used in literature before, and partly because I believe it’s a form that will appeal to the people I belong to. [...] I wanted to create fictional dialogues that could have been heard in the local store”.

 

That there is something both very colloquial and stalwart about Marken is obvious. The book consists of poems written in a number of different genres: psalms, an annual report from a fictive collective household, monologues, dialogues, songs, obituaries, proverbs and, enclosing it all, a list of 613 impositions and prohibitions about how one should and should not live one’s life. One “should not forget that one’s life is just one life among many others”, one of them goes, and another: “Prohibition against talking about spirituality unnecessarily” (my translations).

 

But the other of the two main themes of the book is actually faith, more precisely the conservative Lutheran revival movement laestadianism that started in Lapland in the middle of the 19th century. Many of the poems in Marken are based on religious works, for instance sermons, and anyone having listened to David Väyrynen doing a reading will recognize a familiar religious way of screaming/ preaching. The poem “Vår ropande röst (i obygden)” (“Our Voice Crying (in the Wilderness”) in this selection is one of them. It ends with a proclamation, in Robin Blanton’s translation:

 

and let us ever proclaim this truth

that we have always managed without them

that they have never managed without us

that ours is the land and the independence

forever and ever, amen to that

 

The “us” in this quote is to be understood as “the people of the north” and “them” is referring to the southeners. In an article in Norrbottens-Kuriren in August 2017 Väyrynen also stresses that “[f]irstly I write for us, and I want to do it in our way”.

 

The people of Marken should not let anything sound better than it is, and neither worse: “let it sound the way it sounds” (my translation). In an interview in the Swedish literature tv-show Babel David Väyrynen uses the word ‘jämnmod’ (‘equanimity’) to describe his aim with the book. Not only the explicit impositions and prohibitions scattered all around Marken try to maintain this; the awake reader will further learn not to use their cell phone for anything else than checking what time it is, that Christmas should be celebrated at Christmas and Christmas only, and that there is no need to travel to Spain as “[t]he community college offers Spanish classes” (translation by Robin Blanton).

 

In Marken we meet a lot of these people that chose, or did not have the possibility to choose, to live in the woods, villages and urban areas of Lapland, far away from the bigger cities. The solidarity with others, its origin in the workers’ movement, and the changing of society is crucial in the book. In a letter to the editor, probably of the local newspaper, the signature “It will only get worse” claims that workers of today do not seem to care about anything else than themselves and their own work, and wishes that this would change. A similar view is aired in “Ett monument på torget” (“A Monument in the Square”), here in Robin Blanton’s translation:

 

Beware of doing good deeds before others in order to garner their attention. When you give to the poor do not throw a party. You deserve no plaudits. No doubt you could have given more.

 

Another person we meet in Marken, Aunt Teresia, has another but similar saying: “Don’t talk about your own earnings, but let other people talk about them. That’s better.” Sometimes it is claimed that people from the north are of few words. The 94 pages of David Väyrynen’s Marken reassures us otherwise.

 

By Helena Fagertun