Aya Kanbar

- Sweden -

Aya Kanbar, born in 2004 in Örebro, is currently pursuing her studies at Lund University. In 2021, she made her literary debut with the poetry collection titled "Hyperverklighet," published by Nirstedt/Litteratur. This collection received significant critical acclaim and earned nominations for prestigious awards such as the Catapult Prize —awarded by the Swedish Writers' Union to recognize debut literary authors from the previous year —alongside the Borås Newspaper's Debutant Prize and the Swedish Radio's poetry prize. Moreover, Kanbar's literary works have been featured in notable anthologies such as "Ljusa Nätter" by Anti and "Lust och fägring stor" by Cycle Press.

Poems from «a blue-eyed century», «a decade of forgetting»


It may be because I’m writing this in the midst of a hot and sad summer — as all summers are getting hotter and sadder — that reading Aya Kanbar’s first collection of poetry Hyperreality gives me a sense of contemporary dread and resignation. Already on the first page the poem ends with this crawling question: «finnes det en morgondag?» («is there a day tomorrow?»)[1]. The question echoes in me throughout the book, like a pulse. Every morning when I get up to work the newspaper headlines are full of heat waves and forest fires. The sense of impending doom getting harder to ignore.


Aya Kanbar was born in 2004 and resides in Örebro, in the midst of southern Sweden. Her debut poetry collection Hyperverklighet («Hyperreality») was published by the publishing house Nirstedt in 2021, making her an exceptionally young poet. For the book she was nominated to a number of prizes, among them Swedish Radio’s Poetry Prize, Borås Tidning’s debut prize and that years Katapult debut prize by Swedens Writers’ Union. Kanbar’s second collection of poetry Aftongata («Evening street») will be published in August of 2023.


In her debut book the outro is placed at the beginning. As Kanbar herself points out in an interview with Kult Magazine her intention was to turn the chronology around, by starting off in the digital sphere and gradually moving towards a more mythological landscape. The outro poem draws the contours of a situation where the lyrical I is watching some sort of gruesome and violent video. Wether this video is porn, a recording of an assault, the news or something completely fourth, we don’t know. As with so much of what we encounter on the internet, categorization is made difficult by the lack of context. Yet, as is written in the poem titled «Information Age»: «(…) if you want the truth / you have to be online / the truth about the now (…)»


The poems in this first section — which bears the name «first act / futurism» — portray our modern world. The scenes take place on the metro, in the «dead» mall, on the hot asphalt outside the movie theater, in an air plane. There are references to nuclear power, sex work and «five year plans», and even though the book after this section more so moves onto unfolding a romantic relationship between an I and a you — or possibly multiple you’s, the digital sphere is never completely lost. Phenomena such as computers, pop-up-ads, news broadcasts, Twitter and Windows 95 permeate the poetic inventory of this book. 


The title of the book also signals a preoccupation with the digital and the barriers between the fictional and the real. Hyperreality — a term originally coined by the post-modernist Jean Baudrillard — refers to our perception of a simulated reality that no longer necessarily refers to a material reality. A central point of meditation in Kanbar’s poetry seems to be what happens to our human relationships if the reality we perceive is not a shared, or even real one. Towards the end of the book the I and her partner are characterized as «filmic». This sensation that most modern humans know, of feeling as if reality is referring to something fictional by mimicking a well-known script, is telling. The porous lines between reality and the fictions of the world, the fact that the virtual also shapes our material reality and not only the other way around, seems to be a given in these poems.


In the same time period that I’m translating Kanbar into Norwegian, I read in the newspaper that Tuvalu, the sinking island state in the middle of the Pacific, and the epitome of the climate crisis, is making a digital clone of itself. This first digitalized version of a nation state, this simulation of Tuvalu that will exist on a platform similar to the Metaverse, is the island state’s plan B in the face of climate change and rising sea levels (whereas plan A is to combat the climate crisis). The purpose of the digital clone is that newer generations will have the chance to partake in Tuvaluan culture. The case of Tuvalu may be extra absurd, but Kanbar’s poems are full of small registrations of this same absurdity that surround us. What does it mean to live in a hyper-digitalized world? Where anything can be archived? 


Both in sense of theme and form Kanbar’s poems show a great variety. In the second section of the book the state of being other-ed or being «a threat / to the Swedish psyche» unfolds. The hard reality of race profiling, but also the more tender and «lonely question, / am I a social debate?» occurs. In the third section an almost Sapphic, nonetheless heavily erotic, atmosphere grows as motives such as crickets, drops of water, honey cakes, hyacinths, lilacs, hibiscus and egg yolk arise in a pathos-filled tone. The fourth section circles around a destructive romantic relationship — a love where one «gets distorted // in each others hands» — characterized by power struggles, self-destruction and the sense of losing oneself. Or as it says in another poem: «that’s how we love, with animosity in our mouths». The fifth section ends off with a suite of poems called «Considerations (intro)» distinctly more sacral than the previous poems both in tone and motifs, as they portray Lazarus and Gregorian chants, preachings and the devil. It’s an understatement to say that Kanbar has a daring style.


I often pay attention to what kind of light moves through poetry, as the light often accentuates the vibe of the poetic landscape. It’s often what stays with me after having read someone. In Kanbar’s poems I notice that the light stems from the digital world, but also from the religious realm — a span also representative of the span of tone in the poems. Here the light can be «red as wine», but the light can also be contrasted: «traffic light vs sun light», efficiently pinning our notions of «natural» and «artificial» up against each other. Looking back at this book I most of all remember a lot of shimmering and sparkling objects, such as gems and crystal and silver. But the last light to appear in the book is red. Almost like a warning sign.


[1] All English translations are made by me.