David Vikgren, born 1975, grew up in Övertorneå and Luleå in the northern part of Sweden. The author and playwright made his debut in the autumn of 2002 with the poetry collection För en framtida antropologisk forskning/For future anthropological research. Vikgrens second book, Ordningen/ Procedure, is often described as his literary breakthrough, for which he was awarded the lyricist award "The Golden Pin". Since then he has published a handful of books for which he has collected just as many prices.
Folkmun/Vernacular, perhaps Vikgrens most acclaimed work, deals with lyrically celebrated nature, hard bureaucratic official language and – social provincial experience. An experience that, alternately, toggles between cheerful parochialism and aggressively dissatisfaction.
In David Vikgren’s recent book Nåden/Mercy we’re forced to consider the role of language, our consumption society, the packaging hysteria and the shallowness that perhaps elbows poetry out of the way. Or not.
From Absence to Unlimited Presence
There are few contemporary poets about whom it can be said that they'll be read in fifty, ten or even five years. David Vikgren is an exception. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, few simple reviews succeed in pinpointing what his writing is about. Perhaps the difficulties are caused by his texts influence from postcolonial theories, perhaps because he is a sort of cartographer who's looked up from his desk and moved beyond the circumscribed? Either way, his very dedication and unfathomability make it necessary to return to him. Again and again.
It's easy to find yourself looking for patterns to help grasp David Vikgren as a person. Even while reading. At first glance, it can look like the collective experience stands at the centre of his poem, but then suddenly his own voice takes over. At one moment the author seems to be writing within a northern tradition, and in the next moment to challenge it.
In the collection Folkmun (an expression meaning 'said colloquially') moving pictures are painted of Norrbotten's inhabitants who through solemn procedures unite around the building of a new sports center, scenes from an overwhelming nature and the human destinies shaped by it. And it ends with thoughts about the new language of advertising, its treacherous retelling, and stereotypes of people from Northern Sweden (Norrland). The distance between goal and person is total.
One thing must be remembered: that in the entire Norrland project, through the region's almost 300-year history of colonialism, there is a utopian tendency. A white spot to project. A surface for learned men to measure. The thought of building a great city above the clouds. This is a power and vision that Vikgren holds on to, even if he probably thinks that everyone is themself a revelation. He is himself an unconditional part of the corrective force, at the same time as he is an author who pursues a project of freedom.
This distanced gaze, at himself and his surroundings, is unwavering and already largely visible in his early work, För en framtida antropologisk forskning (For future anthropological research). The collection is partly based on what other eyes saw while looking at the area where the poet grew up in Övertorneå. The last station. Sweden's easternmost outpost at the height of the Arctic Circle. The poet himself could be counted among the area's small group of apartment-block children, in an area where there were more churches and homesteads than apartment buildings. There somewhere, he suggests, his interest in not relating absolutely to place was born.
Just like in the villages of Norrland, you're rarely met with an extravagant fireworks display in Vikgren's poetry. Games with sound and words, naive slogans, and conceptual grasp rapidly succeed each other, leaving us not especially the wiser. But David Vikgren's poems also usually remind us of a hard to access, half-collapsed mine shaft. Those who have followed him know that it pays to climb down them.
There is a dedication on the fly leaf of his latest poetry collection, Nåden (Grace): "For S. in Tacet between Shin and Samekh", which appears to be a clue. The Latin term Tacet is used in music to mark silence, while the Hebrew letters Shin and Samekh represent two close S-sounds. Shin and Samekh are also two of the letters that each begin eight verses in Psalm 119, the Bible's most famous acrostic poem. Legend has it that King David used the piece to teach his son Solomon the alphabet. Not just the actual letters, but also the alphabet of a spiritual life.
Vikgren's work also yearns for a louder language. In one place it's called "Alfabetet är nio bokstäver långt" (the alphabet is nine letters long), and later "Nio bokstäver bildar ingenting" (nine letters make nothing). In addition to the author removing the quotation marks around "alphabet" and "nothing" – to play with meanings, he also expresses a kind of disappointment over the poverty of the alphabet.
It all results in three words from Vikgren's memory, which became the book's title: Närheten är nåden (presentness is grace). It's likely that the author took the quote from art historian Michael Fried, who in a canonical and critical essay on minimalism talked about mastering the gap between artwork and public – and this in almost biblical terms: "We are all literalists most or all of our lives. Presentness is grace."
In a carefully programmed cipher, literature is cleaned of everything that could point in another direction than towards literature, sounds and life. Simple and brilliant, with a personal poetic manifestation, the new map is drawn up. Letters as well as people are brought to life by the murmur around them. But above all, Vikgren's poem succeeds in turning absence to unlimited presence.
by Erik Jonsson
Road-signs with bullet holes sway in the wind over the high billowing
grass, the sun wedged in a cocky pose where the world ends
Suomi picks up. Fishes eyes stare through streams at
lumberyardindians hurling straight at the nameless heart:
sleeplessly vibrating along miles of dirt tracks, roadbed,
escape route. Nights move along the echo of the Curlew over
a border water. Same language, same names recurring, still
changed to the resonance, strange like photographs of relatives.
Morning is read with ornithology [by wingspan and
accelerating polemics]: an increasingly apparent light manifests over
blurred drowsy faces. They fumble in hollow tree trunks
dark like caves with pale arms forth a cloud of insects as a
self defence to follow out of the verdure darkness. The image shatters
like dry fabric. In the light of the stampeding shadow it’s back home at once
and where the hell have you been.© David Vikgren
To keep silent in two languages /
Straight through the window it suddenly hits me like a ruler over
the stretched out fingers. I’m in the lavatory at the courthouse.
Someone threw up on the floor. One of the older boys run like
a red thread through the protocols. My face swell up and
emerges among the accused like an archipelago of personal
information. I can see the sea from where I sit. It’s out there, evaporating
salt and decaying leaves. Most signs indicate a sudden autumn.
Born into a massive resistance I learned to keep silent in two languages.© David Vikgren
Begins and ends /
At night, awake, or dreaming, I sit
unrecognizable in the dim kitchen seeing heavy freighters rush through
rolling tunnels of snow. At times when I no longer find the peace to
listen to the night-radio, reading Woland, Josef K, or Pyret,
the obituaries, I imagine endless wastelands and
inhospitable passages that miles of power-line wires
run through. Humming with cold they sound into the past, like a
long-distance truck at the roadside arrested where the cargo makes a familiar
noise between terminals, living and dead. The highway split a
dark horizon. The ability of the gaze to embrace
is the limitation. The distance begins and ends in me.© David Vikgren
dreadfulli, dreadfulli difficult this living in society changes affects all who lives their legs their bodies. that the feeling is special one has a childhood firmly rooted human dignity, household goods carried away. all hard tough most beautiful grandest area, the setting of childhood torn down vanishes. Eivor Bertlin lost the brick front, Leif Rönnbäck put the cards on the table in dread of. that only keeps on and keeps on, from the north side they start to demolish the house onwards the families Hanun and Alghawi. who lives at a crossroad a great question mark. dispersing anxiety is the worst thing you can do, thrusts and strikes, people shall not be exposed to shaking, vibrations, it’s a certain feeling, and a charged meeting, brought down a round of applause and with drills, shovels, and ladders seized the house, the entire scenario of society that sat and it started to speak: here must be a rough kind of co-operation. something that is not required that only goes on and is vanishing completely, gradually extended, big black. soon there is nothing left, absolutely no thing. here where we who live on the edge of an abyss. think thoughts feel feelings a thoughtfully clear language we must live with bring out, we must disclose the pit,© David Vikgren
rendered in a letter, the snow soon melts. the entire area of distribution is developed during a completely different era than the small businessmen’s. they are presented with face, name, and address. not as individuals with personal responsibility, but as a group. it just grows larger and larger this ring. with all human refuse inside. just you go to the nearest bare spot, a piece of flat land that once lived up to its name. when the wind was cold the big forest shielded us
it all gets different. the first day I sat on the lawn mover, ran up and down the slope. this is reason enough to scrutinize this history. in spring we face a long muddy shore. over the years it is cultivated into a black legend. at the center it swells around a petrol station, a kiosk- and grocery store, and a small red house, a side track in the greater financial game. that is the problem. I was the oldest child and made a fire
after much toil I can start. a rope, although brand new, is easily cut against the rock. this is repeated once a week. one thing only filled my head, if we are not too tired maybe we can carry the things in our own hands. during summer we move back and forth. the government-supported colonization continues. years around. where the reindeer was left to graze next to the dam edge. none of this was said. last year is already gone
the luggage unloaded in the mud, great mires divided. I hope that the book can fill a gap in this sense. you never kick a lonely horse. or it’s wrong. water rises around the years, marks people, the resources of the region are so ingrained in us. that played such a central role in this story. a good period in the forest region. you get the feeling there is something standing between the lines. I would rather die, but I would rather live. or else its soon their turn
the snow had been melting for a while, pedlar mentality was not widely spread. they had been teasing, saying incomprehensible things. perhaps because animals will not harm me. this relationship is similar in many other areas. humans and animals grow tired, trained in the era of large scale capitalism. they have continued to exist. the bare spots by the lake, all over the world. and my home has never been so tidy. now I hope someone will blow up the house
soon we picked small, dry branches. they were forced to let go of the land. some carries from below, some from a few miles away, a third one takes what’s at hand. I don’t shake hands, then I have to wash a long time. there was this guy and a girl with three kids together and a house. and yelled that now let’s show the bastards. we would have been able to help them with that, so the lake didn’t wash them away. then I realized that hell is coming.
the lake was small and frozen, disunion and poor insight ought to be the probable reason. in a certain part of the garden, like a rat or a dog digging its burrow. pots, tree forks, firewood is carried down. a loudspeaker transmitted recorded obscenities about my deceased mother, mixed with threats and drunken talk in finish. down there all the muddy clothes and tools are also carried. I was a little girl of ten. the radical workers and small farmers was surprisingly calm so far. this was where they wanted us
either the one or the other it’s always something. I was a child in a mans body when I ran for the axe. we had to be humble, learn from the farmers to dig in the ground and from the illiterate to use their cunning tricks. the lifespan is shorter than around our home. when I cared for them no washing ritual was needed. before the snowstorm gets too rough and the days too short, we are pushed into a blind alley where we can only trust ourselves. the time of the intellectuals was truly gone
to never be belived, and a poor writer. I was of great help to my parents, sitting in beak boots looking suspiciously into the camera. wild and widely in the village. seems like it was no coincidence. now this naiveté we had then bothers me. a dam and reservoir contains a lot of water, there we could wash ourselves. I almost fell over when I heard the name. it is the modus operandi of the family. that point to a fairly well organized society
how the actions shall be formulated is not for me to say here, the sun was already high. but so easily could we go there and see that everything was in order. it is their way of life to seek fights. a sunny day is pleasant of course, but you don’t feel part of the society. for us there is nothing else than life, without it you are dead. and have to start over again. what is left but to throw stones
the cloudberry bogs, hay fields vanished. at times we cut to at least get a piece up, some you never find again. that which sat foot in their house turned out to be a planted story. a look into the implication of a raised water level. knotty birch trees remain, that offer no shelter from the wind or anything else that you get from dammed up rage. there is a reason why things get the way they do. I spent a peaceful night in this house
they drown great areas. to finally suffocate them. mother could keep calm and rest some more. an iron pipe, a cry for help. in the once living forest. humans crumble under inhuman environments. in summertime I walk the yard to erase the tracks of feet and hoofs. but there was not talk of a storm, not enough words, they should be straight and lean, not to damage the canvas. we didn’t seek they were just there© David Vikgren
In the fire /
Just a few words for the road
a throat fortified
We have moved without for so long
But there is purpose in the pattern
softly formed in the mouth the sayings add up
There on the wall
Text turns time into an object
Do I have to spell it out
cover the world in words my little mouth
It’s slow and gradual
A breeze at most is the voice
people on the floor
They stand wobbling a while
stretched out submerged in expiration air
around the core deploys
a shame linked together
Many names are still added to the line
it is as you say
Things are (not) in order
I said: The village Mezhador meaning The village on the edge
We spewed out
Into the darkness the voluble
an identity based populism
We just stood there crying without words
Hell is Here
Language has a backside
a made up past that unifies
The letter kills
I said: Riverrivers four flows meaning the Niger River delta
The signs pile up
promises of wholeness replace social justice
Just like this maybe it wasn’t here
but the first sign of war was an altered use of language
To speak was like lying on your back in the fire
Do I have to spell it out
the narrator makes it vivid
striving to regain the original form
Things are (not) what they ought to be
I said: Meänkieli meaning Auver laangwitjch
They speak think make signs completely different
The voices comes and goes
Vibrations torn up by tears
Happiness leads nowhere
Spell it out
the name is fictitious for we are many in that mouth
It is because now it vanishes
I said: Voice is crease meaning Consolation is lost
We must go here there to where we already are
the forest between the tree trunks
It’s spelled the way it sounds© David Vikgren
/ 3 March 2015