David Vikgren

- Sweden -

David Vikgren, born 1975, grew up in Övertorneå and Luleå in the northern part of Sweden. The author and playwright made his debut in the autumn of 2002 with the poetry collection För en framtida antropologisk forskning/For future anthropological research. Vikgrens second book, Ordningen/ Procedure, is often described as his literary breakthrough, for which he was awarded the lyricist award "The Golden Pin". Since then he has published a handful of books for which he has collected just as many prices.

Folkmun/Vernacular, perhaps Vikgrens most acclaimed work, deals with lyrically celebrated nature, hard bureaucratic official language and – social provincial experience. An experience that, alternately, toggles between cheerful parochialism and aggressively dissatisfaction.

In David Vikgren’s recent book Nåden/Mercy we’re forced to consider the role of language, our consumption society, the packaging hysteria and the shallowness that perhaps elbows poetry out of the way. Or not.

From Absence to Unlimited Presence


There are few contemporary poets about whom it can be said that they'll be read in fifty, ten or even five years. David Vikgren is an exception. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, few simple reviews succeed in pinpointing what his writing is about. Perhaps the difficulties are caused by his texts influence from postcolonial theories, perhaps because he is a sort of cartographer who's looked up from his desk and moved beyond the circumscribed? Either way, his very dedication and unfathomability make it necessary to return to him. Again and again.


It's easy to find yourself looking for patterns to help grasp David Vikgren as a person. Even while reading. At first glance, it can look like the collective experience stands at the centre of his poem, but then suddenly his own voice takes over. At one moment the author seems to be writing within a northern tradition, and in the next moment to challenge it.


In the collection Folkmun (an expression meaning 'said colloquially') moving pictures are painted of Norrbotten's inhabitants who through solemn procedures unite around the building of a new sports center, scenes from an overwhelming nature and the human destinies shaped by it. And it ends with thoughts about the new language of advertising, its treacherous retelling, and stereotypes of people from Northern Sweden (Norrland). The distance between goal and person is total.


One thing must be remembered: that in the entire Norrland project, through the region's almost 300-year history of colonialism, there is a utopian tendency. A white spot to project. A surface for learned men to measure. The thought of building a great city above the clouds. This is a power and vision that Vikgren holds on to, even if he probably thinks that everyone is themself a revelation. He is himself an unconditional part of the corrective force, at the same time as he is an author who pursues a project of freedom.


This distanced gaze, at himself and his surroundings, is unwavering and already largely visible in his early work, För en framtida antropologisk forskning (For future anthropological research). The collection is partly based on what other eyes saw while looking at the area where the poet grew up in Övertorneå. The last station. Sweden's easternmost outpost at the height of the Arctic Circle. The poet himself could be counted among the area's small group of apartment-block children, in an area where there were more churches and homesteads than apartment buildings. There somewhere, he suggests, his interest in not relating absolutely to place was born.


Just like in the villages of Norrland, you're rarely met with an extravagant fireworks display in Vikgren's poetry. Games with sound and words, naive slogans, and conceptual grasp rapidly succeed each other, leaving us not especially the wiser. But David Vikgren's poems also usually remind us of a hard to access, half-collapsed mine shaft. Those who have followed him know that it pays to climb down them.


There is a dedication on the fly leaf of his latest poetry collection, Nåden (Grace): "For S. in Tacet between Shin and Samekh", which appears to be a clue. The Latin term Tacet is used in music to mark silence, while the Hebrew letters Shin and Samekh represent two close S-sounds. Shin and Samekh are also two of the letters that each begin eight verses in Psalm 119, the Bible's most famous acrostic poem. Legend has it that King David used the piece to teach his son Solomon the alphabet. Not just the actual letters, but also the alphabet of a spiritual life.


Vikgren's work also yearns for a louder language. In one place it's called "Alfabetet är nio bokstäver långt" (the alphabet is nine letters long), and later "Nio bokstäver bildar ingenting" (nine letters  make nothing). In addition to the author removing the quotation marks around "alphabet" and "nothing" – to play with meanings, he also expresses a kind of disappointment over the poverty of the alphabet.


It all results in three words from Vikgren's memory, which became the book's title: Närheten är nåden (presentness is grace). It's likely that the author took the quote from art historian Michael Fried, who in a canonical and critical essay on minimalism talked about mastering the gap between artwork and public – and this in almost biblical terms: "We are all literalists most or all of our lives. Presentness is grace."


In a carefully programmed cipher, literature is cleaned of everything that could point in another direction than towards literature, sounds and life. Simple and brilliant, with a personal poetic manifestation, the new map is drawn up. Letters as well as people are brought to life by the murmur around them. But above all, Vikgren's poem succeeds in turning absence to unlimited presence.


by Erik Jonsson