Linn Hansén

Sweden

Linn Hansén is a poet living in Gothenburg. Her latest book Gå till historien/Turn to history was published in 2013, and her first collection, Ta i trä/Touch wood, in 2008. It was nominated for the Katapultpriset, the Swedish Writers Union award for the best Swedish debut of the year.

She also writes together with other poets, in the collectives Sharks and G=T=B=R=G. Hansén has read her poems in numerous countries, including Ukraine, Iran, Romania, South Africa, Macedonia and Slovenia.

In addition to her own writing, Hansén cooperates with the Poetry Festival of Gothenburg, the Queer Literature Festival, and she works as an editor for the cultural magazine Glänta.  In 2009 she was involved in various art projects, such as the dance show I can’t believe it’s not sugar – how to create a modern dance group, which was set up for the Gothenburg Dance and Theatre festival.


History Is Taking Place Now

 

It's 22:30 and the pub's lighting has been turned down. The clientele have managed to sink a fair amount of beer even before the evening's sole poetry performer appears. Without further introduction, the author takes the stage. One hand rests safe in her pocket, the other grips a notebook firmly.

 

Linn Hansén, who's active as a poet, editor, and festival coordinator in Gothenburg, is preparing to read to a whole new group of readers, most of whom have as little experience of this kind of performance as they have of contemporary language poetry. The conditions could be better, of course. In spite of this, the crowd goes quiet when she fixes her gaze on it and – in a serious, monotone voice – begins to read: ”How did Tsar Nicholas justify the war against the Ottoman Empire? / What explains the constant increase of population? / What does the theory of the virulence of parasites imply? / How great did the Arabic Empire become? / How did Nigeria gain its independence? / Explain the term vaccination...”

 

The pub audience in this northern-European coastal town glance furtively at each other, questioningly. Someone attempts to raise a beer glass to mouth, but stops short as the examination questions continue: “What did Louis Pasteur prove? What does Thomas Robert Malthus’ theory imply? / What role did trading play? / What principles were followed?”. Most people are finding it difficult to deal with the situation, but they can't stop listening.

 

It's not entirely simple to grasp poet Linn Hansén's longstanding authorial projects. Her dry texts about culture, geography, and prejudice are easily recognizable and not least-enjoyable when she performs them live. The perspective seems to vary, from the hyper-realistic and mundane to the complex and historical; both mankind and existence in general are spoken of in the same breath. A particular tension arises between genre and content.

 

No matter where you start with Hansén's poems – the first published in the collection Ta i trä/Touch Wood (2008) or the above-quoted Gå till historien/Turn to history (2013) – they have the same absurdist but factual base tone. Statements, objections, and exam questions are stacked on each other. Policy documents, slogans, and excerpts from tourist brochures are cut together. The result is a bundle of laconic sentences which, better than anything else, describe the huge gap between the citizen and the prevailing, cynical bureaucracy. Or, as is the case at this particular poetry reading in this pub in this northern-European coastal town, describe the gap between our reverence for history and the increasing lack of history in society.

 

“History should be able to answer questions. / Finally the troops reached France is that history no it is geography”, continues Hansén.

 

Ten minutes later, laughter rolls around the venue. A kind of cheerful critique of ideology has come together. The tensions went once the audience committed to the bizarre, and really begun to process. But this doesn't affect the poet. Hansén continues to confront, with the same flat voice and from the same poem, our understanding of history, in sentences whose dull orality is highlighted by the lack of punctuation. She stacks anachronism on anachronism, and plays with reversed causality: “Here it comes. / History. / First came the flat-iron then came the shirts. / Already several hundred years ago people had too much to talk about.”

 

When the reading is over, the audience return to their drinks and conversations, aware that they've been a part of something new and living. In other words, precisely what history should be about. The feeling is that it's taking place now, and not before. History is in the eyes that look back at you. Or rather, in different collectives of eyes gazing back.

 

by Erik Jonsson