The Week Before The Festival: Littfest, Sweden

Poetry As (a) Void


/ by Helena Fagertun

I remember a reading at the Textival literary festival in Gothenburg a few years ago. The Swedish poet and climate activist, Jonas Gren, was on stage reading his then recently released poetry collection, Överallt ska jag vara i centrum (Everywhere I Will Be in the Centre, non förlag, 2015). The book is about which kind of future we are facing, regarding issues such as poverty, employment, welfare and space, and it uses formulations and imagery from the two largest political parties in Sweden, the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party. Apart from being a book, Överallt ska jag vara i centrum also manifested itself as a call centre where Gren was accepting calls and reading parts of the book, four days a year. The rest of the time, a recorded reading was offered to the caller. When I now, in March 2018, try to call the telephone number printed in the book, I only reach voicemail: ‘The person you’re searching for cannot be reached at the moment’.

At the Textival occasion, Gren read the whole book in a very strong and vivid way, where it felt like every word was in danger and needed to be spit out:


When I grow up

the world will be big

There will be lifts

There will be X-rays

There will be alike

People will not

have to go away

to places

that feel



(My translation)


Having the opportunity to, for a second year in a row, guest edit Versopolis’ blog the week before Littfest, the international literary festival of Umeå and one of the participating parts of the network, I have had the slogan of Versopolis ringing in my ears: ‘Versopolis – where poetry lives’. For tomorrow, when my guest editing week ends, and the festival in Umeå starts for real, I invited one of the most renowned poetry critics of Sweden, Ann Lingebrandt, to write an essay. In this essay, she asks where poetry lives in Sweden today: ‘In the middle of the world, is one answer. In the whirlwind of time, with the finger on the pulse of language’.

My approach this week has been similar: I have wanted to highlight some places where we find Swedish poetry today and explore some of these ‘pulse[s] of language’.

The week started with me interviewing Johan Sandberg McGuinne, one of the board members of the Saami non-profit association, Bágo Čálliid Siebrie. I asked him about the situation of the indigenous Saami writers in Sweden, which has been, and still is, extremely difficult. Together with the Swedish Writers’ Union, Bágo presented a Ten Point Action Plan in 2016, and some of the actions in the plan have already been implemented. Recently, the Centre for Saami Writers was established in Jokkmokk, in the north of Sweden, and this centre will, according to Sandberg McGuinne, ‘function as a focal point for public awareness, knowledge dissemination and skills development aimed at new and established Saami writers’.

Two of this year’s poetry debuts so far are Nino Mick’s Tiotusen kilometer nervtrådar (Twenty-five-thousand Kilometres of Nerve Fibres, Norstedts, 2018) and Yolanda Aurora Bohm Ramirez’ IKON (Brombergs, 2018). Although very different books, one thing Mick and Bohm Ramirez share is a background in poetry slams. This Tuesday, Mick wrote about the slam scene in Sweden, which ‘despite the long distances [...] manages to live even in smaller cities and rural areas. Poetry slams are not always urban’. One of the panels during Littfest that I am really looking forward to is today’s talk between Mick and Bohm Ramirez, on writing neither in a room of one’s own nor on the road, but on trains and in lounges.

I travel back one year in time and space, when I, in the role of then editor of the literary journal, Provins, was involved in a collaboration with the institution Art Inside Out. Six Nordic poets; Jun Feng/Jimbut (DK), Åsa Maria Kraft (SE), Morten Langeland (NO), Jonas Rolsted (DK), Heidi von Wright (FI) and Helena Österlund (SE), were chosen to spend a month in the small village of Femsjö, in Halland in the South of Sweden. The poets explored themes relating to place and periphery, and one of the results of the residence was an anthology distributed with Provins’ issue no. 3 2017, Ur varje gräns växer en annan (Out of Every Limit Another One Grows). The residency, as well as the anthology, did address questions such as: What relation does poetry have to time and place? Is there a possibility to think of a poetry that is fully place- and time-less? What does it mean for a poet and their writing to spend time at a specific place? Are some places more ‘poetry-friendly’ than others? And can poetry actually change a place?

The potentiality of poetry was addressed in the Wednesday’s review, written by Björn Kohlström, literary critic and teacher. The subject to the review is one of the last decade’s most interesting Swedish poets, Ida Börjel, and her most recent poetry collection, Ma (Albert Bonniers, 2015). Kohlström sees Ma as a warning and a stressing of the importance of relating the present to the past. He means that the poem ‘conducts the void that occurs when the world goes awry’, and I realise that even a void could be viewed as a place, only a much scarier one. I wish that it could stay in poetry forever, and in poetry only.

Helena Fagertun

is a Swedish writer, translator and former editor for the literary magazine Provins. In 2016 her translation of American writer Kate Zambreno’s Heroines (2012) was published and in 2017 Green Girl (2011/2014) by the same author was published, both at the publishing house Modernista.