Poetry Expo 24 / 29 February 2024

Versopolis Podcast #13: Literature of Confinement: From Quarantines to Prisons

Erik Jonsson & Matjaž Pikalo

Much renowned literature was written behind bars by illustrious writers from Marquis de Sade to Dostoyevsky, from Nazim Hikmet to Vitomil Zupan. How is literature, written in a confined environment, different from literature written in the free world? Why is tuberculosis closely related to the history of Swedish literature? Who was Helge Dahlstedt and what was so revolutionary about his idea to offer humanistic healing, alongside the medical? On the other hand, what is it like to mentor literary workshops inside Slovenia’s largest and most secure prison? How is it possible to separate an artistic soul from a criminal one? Is the feverish soul the only one that creates great works of art? These questions are addressed by Erik Jonsson and Matjaž Pikalo in their conversation with Mitja Drab.

Erik Jonsson was born in Vännäs and now lives in Umeå. He is a cultural writer, literary scholar and festival organizer for Littfest – Umeå International Literature Festival. He is writing a book about the history of tuberculosis from a literary and northern perspective.

Matjaž Pikalo is a Slovenian writer, actor and musician. He is the author of more than 30 works of poetry, prose, drama and children’s literature. In 2020 he co-wrote and performed in the documentary film The Valley of Tears about the lives of three inmates inside Slovenia’s largest prison Dob. He was a mentor of literary workshops inside the same prison in 2019.



Launched in 2014, Versopolis is a European poetry platform with a vision to create new opportunities for emerging European poets, build bridges between different languages and cultures, discover the Other and share the power of poetry, while connecting communities around the world. Versopolis wants to step out of narrow national and linguistic contexts and create new and unprecedented spaces of freedom, while making it possible for poets to meet and share with the world the truth of words, rhythm and sound.