Conversation / 9 March 2020

Friends of Poetry

Interview with the new editors of poetry journal Lyrikvännen

Week of the Festival: Littfest, Umeå, Sweden

Lyrikvännen is Sweden’s leading poetry journal, and was founded in 1954. The very name of the journal means “The Friend of Poetry,” and in Lyrikvännen current aesthetic topics are discussed, central authorships introduced, and Swedish and international poetry history kept alive. Lyrikvännen is also one of the main forums in Sweden for poetry criticism. The journal releases six issues each year. The editorial board has been situated within the poetry publishing house Ellerströms for twelve years, but from January 2020 onwards poet David Zimmerman and critic Anna Lundvik are new owners and editors of the journal.

Lyrikvännen has a long history and has, in different ways, been very important for the poetry scene in Sweden. What kind of journal is it that you are taking over and how long have you, yourselves, read Lyrikvännen?

Anna: Compared to most Swedish literary journals, Lyrikvännen is not specialised in any aesthetic school or pursuing any political ideologies, nor bound to a geographical area. However, it is specialised in poetry only. That makes it a very broad journal, open to all sorts of poetic expressions. Our readers are both academics and loyal poetry enthusiasts who have been reading Lyrikvännen for decades, as well as young students who have only recently developed an interest in poetry.

David: Around 2015, when I was a 22-year-old student, I was curious about poetry. My flatmate was a literary critic and had a subscription to Lyrikvännen. That’s when I started reading it. When I, myself, was published in it, in 2016, it meant so much to me because even my grandmother knew what it was. I hope both my grandmother and critics will keep finding joy in reading Lyrikvännen.

With you, Lyrikvännen moves a few miles away from the academic city Lund to Sweden’s third largest city Malmö. Although you are both quite young, born in the 90s, you have been active in the literary field for quite some time, respectively as a poet and organiser and as a critic. What will this locational and generational shift entail for the journal? What changes will you make to Lyrikvännen and what features of the journal are you planning to keep?

David: Despite the short distance between Lund and Malmö, they are two very different cities. Lund is a picturesque university town and Malmö is a working-class city with a very vibrant cultural life, a melting pot. We both moved to Malmö to partake in the literary community here. It’s an exciting place to be active in. We both hope to utilise this creative competence and energy in Lyrikvännen, but I also think the move will play a role in slightly shifting the “identity” of the journal. From academic and traditional, to something younger and vibrant, both bolder and inclusive. That being said, we feel very humbled by the journal’s past, and want to balance the new with the traditional — but in order to continue what Lyrikvännen has always been, development and change is required.

Anna: We still don’t publish anything online, but we have strengthened Lyrikvännen’s presence on social media, and will also start a podcast. We will give Lyrikvännen a new design, put less emphasis on themes and find new exciting voices. We want to focus on many of the things that make poetry urgent and important today, that is, its ability to articulate the most pressing questions of our time. But much will also remain the same. In terms of writers, as well as form and content. Just as before, there will be texts about the history of poetry. We will still make room for high-quality poetry criticism and publish the same number of issues (six) per year.

Where do you see Swedish poetry today? What are the most important movements and characteristics?

Anna: It’s an exciting time for young poetry in Sweden today. In 2016 and 2017, I don’t think the largest publishing house Bonniers published any poetry debutants at all. But over the last two years they’ve published about six, which is a radical increase. Moreover, Sweden’s most prestigious literary prize, Augustpriset, has for the past two years been awarded to books of poetry. In this year’s two debutant prizes, poetry dominated the selection. These factors suggest that a lot is happening, that the poetry being written is good, and that there is a large interest in it. The poetry itself is very diverse, but in part I think this has to do with a development in both form and themes, from something very theoretical towards something more personal and experienced.

David: This makes it a very interesting time to be editing a journal like Lyrikvännen, where the field of contemporary poetry will be discussed in a very broad sense.

A year ago, there was a cultural debate in Sweden regarding bad conditions, especially when it came to economics, within poetry. In your opinion, what are the main challenges for being able to be active as a poet or an editor or a critic within poetry?

David: The infrastructure of literature in Sweden has been strong in comparison with elsewhere, thanks to a number of culturally beneficient political decisions. But during the last decade, we have been constantly reminded of just how fragile the system is. Libraries are closing down. A huge number of local newspapers and local cultural institutions have disappeared, widening the gap between the elite in Stockholm and the rest of the country. This also makes it more difficult to survive as a freelance writer. As a poet, I depend completely on awards and scholarships since the total income of my book couldn’t be compared even to a month’s pay if I had a regular job. Small towns run by the far-right Sweden Democrats now experience how politicians radically interfere with the content of literature and art, a very worrisome and dramatic change. If they gain further power in the Swedish parliament or government in the next election, which seems likely, it will in all probability have a devastating impact on cultural expression on a national level. The financial scarcity and inequality, coupled with political interference, could be two big challenges ahead. 

Anna: The higher the economic pressure, the more restricted the artistic freedom. As an editor, it is difficult to conduct a qualified discussion about poetry, when we can barely pay our writers and critics. Still – today a large part of our funding comes from state support, a support which I believe is fundamental in a democratic society. We’re very grateful for it, and without it, Lyrikvännen would be very different.

The article was commissioned and edited by Helena Fagertun

Editor's note: The cover photo for the article was adapted to online publication.


Helena Fagertun

Helena Fagertun is a Swedish writer, translator and freelance editor. She has translated writers such as Kate Zambreno, Julie Otsuka and Shirley Jackson.


Photo by Pirjo Holmström