- Sweden -
Pär Hansson was born 1970 in Vännäs, Västerbotten County, in Northern Sweden.
He has published five collections of poetry at Norstedts Publishing House: Ruckel/Hovel, Familjekista/Family Chest, Lavinflaggor/Avalanche Flags, Motorsågsminne/Chainsaw Memory and Vi plockar bär i civilisationen/Berrypicking Poems. His works have been included in anthologies and published in literary magazines in Sweden and abroad, with translations to the English, Spanish, French, German, Slovakian, Bosnian and Estonian. The spoken word is essential for his writing. Reading the poems aloud in different rooms has been part of his poetic practice since his debut in 1998. He is a member of Sweden's Writers Association Board and one of the editors of the poetry fanzine Grass. He now lives in Hammarbyhöjden, Stockholm, where he organizes readings on his veranda and teaches creative writing at Folk university of Gotland.
If the Language Itself Feels Overwhelming
Today in Sweden culture is expected to be co-devised and marketable. Attractions should be labelled on maps and in tourist guides. It also seems important to distinguish tourist destinations from each other. A gallery is a gallery, and a place for sport fishing is a place for sport fishing. This allows people to declare their interest in fishing and / or indicate their genuine lack of interest in, for example, "culture". This despite the truth that culture is found at every hearth, follows on every journey, and hides itself in every family history.
The poet Pär Hansson has never recognised any dividing line between nature, leisure, history, and literature. His beginnings as an author are in the letters he wrote during his training for the Norrlandsjägare (an elite Swedish-army unit) in Lapland's Arvidsjaur, and the inspiration for his debut Ruckel (Hovel) was taken from stays in derelict Blåliden in Vindeln municipality. There is, as in all his later books, a gazing backwards as if through the rear window of a speeding car. What's depicted in the poems lies at the roadside, rarely in the areas dense with houses and people.
In an issue of Norrland literary journal Provins from 2001 is a short – very short – essay written by musician and poet-colleague Mattias Alkberg with the equally simple title of "Pär Hansson". Alkberg claimed that he was as scared as fascinated by this man, who had the appearance of a sinewy ex-con, but could at the same time create emotional jolts in his poetry readings – "because the language itself felt overwhelming."
When I read this essay, I realized that Hansson was on the way to becoming a minor classic of modern Swedish literature. Today he is one of the few poets whose books are stolen from the library. Ruckel is actually so popular that pirate editions are printed.
In his fifth collection, Vi plockar bär i civilisationen (2012) (Berrypicking poems, or literally We pick berries in civilization), there's a poem that I'd say was very representative of Hansson. The series, dubbed "Tobackadikt", covers four sides and describes a fishing trip. It is difficult to determine whether the poet is remembering a sequence from childhood or just physically revisiting a well-known place.
The poetic "I" describes a gruelling bike ride through a rolling landscape. Evil eyes are cast at passing cars ("scratch the car with the stare scratch the glaze with a gaze") and the curlew lets out its silvery call as the cyclist goes rolling down the oily gravel. If you've ever passed through the small village of Tobacka you'll recognise the landscape with its crazy ups and downs. You'll possibly also have had time to snap up a curlew call, or seen a hare cross the road.
Suddenly the poetic "I" finds himself at the top of a ridge, "yawing in the night smells", passes a steaming ditch and rolls down into a valley. Tobacka rushes by. The next passage describes a sand ridge and a stream called Trinnan. It's not clear whether this is a name that even appears on surveyors' maps but – quite correctly – this is what the stream's called when approaching from the nearby municipality of Vännäs, and this is what it's called in Hansson's poem. From the outside, this small, remote stream is secret; few know this is the best place to land a large, eager trout, or even a small, careful one.
A year ago Hansson's poem about Trinnan and Tobacka was published in Västerbotten's largest newspaper Västerbottens-Kuriren. It drew an unusually large correspondence for something published in the culture section, and poetry too. But the poem didn't create such a strong response because the best poaching spot in Vännäs was suddenly public knowledge, but because poetry – usually so aloof and inaccessible – suddenly broke through. It struck people, with full force, at their breakfast tables. There's no doubt that it'll also be good for sport fishing.
by Erik Jonsson
The room is striped by light and darkness /
The room is striped by light and darkness
it rocks and turns
an entire summer’s warm rays
are pressed in through the blinds
in an opened spiral notebook in a
dusty gray eternity he stays
on the narrow sunlit fields and
tries to write but can’t
form the right flourished letters
cannot hold the pencil his hands
into knife and fork and cannot
understand cannot comprehend in the least
with these clumsy silver utensils cut cleave
chop and chop
the paper into thin scraps of light
it is said that you have turned inland
to avoid your own reflection
and that you sometimes do yourself harm
go in through your nose and dig out
a personal mythology
it is said that you lack simultaneous capability
as if the particulars were too plentiful
that you are unable to take that step back
in order to take in the whole picture
when silence is frenetically talked about
you already lie in the pasture and say nothing
the sun shines through the cow’s udder
it is said that you have withdrawn
made a rough necklace of dried
pike-heads and rattle around out there
hunched over the bogs
your figure has been spotted from forestry machines
when you have split boulders with the force of fire
and escaped with short quick steps
one knows that you were comfortable around books
you sounded your way through the libraries
and placed foreign objects
between the pages of certain selected
passages: dead insects
empty cartridges, fish remains
it is said that you have read too many books in a university town
small flayed-off bits of your skin have been found
stretched up inside dilapidated barns
it is said that your course of action lacks all logic
one knows that you primary live off fish and berries
but speak of you as the worst thing since the wolf
one knows that you work at night
steal laundry from the outlaying farms
and stretch bright sheets between the trees
that you use to catch fat nocturnal butterflies
you carry with you a handcrafted knife
with it you whittle bubbles in seawater
thin and full of promise night after night
it is said that you have withdrawn
in order to braid a winter coat from birch bark
to await the first snow and go into hibernation
in the abandoned dens of she-bears
one has found loose pages from your diary
has managed to decipher symbols for man weapon dog
a search-line scattered in the wind© Pär Hansson, translated by Jennifer Hayashida
I watch TV, I watch what is shown. A big, red wooden house is transported
by tractor-trailer along the main street of a small town; the townspeople line the
street and their gazes follow the route of the trailer. An elderly couple has sued the
municipality because two birches on their lot have been cut down without their
permission. The trees were in the way when the house was coming through. The
trees blocked the house’s advance and were sawed down by practiced hands. First
closeup: The old woman’s restrained weeping when she recounts how her own
mother as a young woman planted the two birches. Second closeup: Her
husband’s feet, as if turned to stone, beside the stumps and the sawdust scattered
in the grass. The house is transported through the market town of Vännäs; the
street is lined with people. Men and women nod and chat, children eat candy and
ice cream. It looks like a pageant. Like a string of heads in front of the burning
forest. I see what I see. I see what is visible and sit very close to the TV screen,
run my finger over the dry, dusty glass and try to distinguish the faces in the
crowd.© Pär Hansson, translated by Rika Lesser
Death is a transfiguration for families. When a family member departs, a well is
bored, a gap opens which allows the survivors to look one another far more
seriously in the eye. Early one morning you assemble around this deeply bored
well. A pail is attached to a long sturdy rope, the rope to a reel, you take turns
cranking the handle and then let the pail, filled to the brim with water, go around.
You hand over the heavy vessel, look one another in the eye. You drink this cool
clear water by the liter.
This pertains not only to the immediate family in mourning, whose father has
suffered a heart attack while he was out running laps. It also applies to the other
families. Those who stand around in groups in a parking lot, dressed up, waiting
for the bells to toll them into church. The men look at their cars some other way.
They look at their cars with different eyes. The women look into their husbands’
eyes. Their gazes almost coincide. And the children look at the trees, the cars,
their mothers and fathers with entirely new, astonished eyes.
It is when you let a heart that is much too large just run: an internal explosion on
a bicycle path between Vännäs and Vännäsby. A quick death before the body has
even managed to hit the ground. Unable to feel the hardness of the ground one last
time. Dying in the air. To remain hanging, half-finished, amid the thunderous
pealing of the bells. But also the thundering of the bells in itself. The bells’ own
bronze-toned clang tolling the assembled, dressed-up, weeping families inside.
The families that have never been more distinctly gathered. They see one another
very clearly now. They stand clustered into small groups in front of their vehicles.
It is early in the day. Their eyes are newly bored wells. Death is right in their
midst, transfiguring and transfiguring.© Pär Hansson, translated by Rika Lesser
The morning sun bestowed light and glitter over the river and the sparse forest in
front of the river. On this morning people were suspended by cords from the trees
behind our house. Children’s bodies hung from the trees; they bore the heads of
adults and the features of adults. Their faces were large and ripe like fruits, while
their bodies were smaller, atrophied. I took note of that difference between bodies
The cords were secured under their arms, and their shoulders shot up toward
their round cheeks. They hung as in harnesses and certain individuals smiled at
me, tired smiles, as if they had recently been rescued from the sea or from the
scene of an accident. Some of them I recognized, others not at all. But there they
were before me, gathered up and real as a circle of friends. Behind them the sun
poured its light over the water in the river, and now they all smiled at me and I no
longer felt nervous.
I walked around under the tall birches and touched their dry bodies, their
reddened cheeks, their feet like spears pointing toward the earth. I whistled a wellknown
tune, I imitated the wind and set everything I saw in motion. The
children’s dry hands swayed in the wind. The heavy heads of their parents swung
and smiled. The body and the head and the space between them, gaping sunlight
that gave and gave.© Pär Hansson, translated by Rika Lesser
The nuthatch drew a line in the air /
A fly wakes me
with its tickling
my back is not infinite
dad is chopping
wood in the light of our courtyard
a nuthatch flies
over his shoulder
on the chopping block
can be turned
he raises the ax, clouds are reflected
and the wood morphs
into plastic trumpets
bright voices of angels
give this morning’s orders
Down to the basement
there’s something I’ll pick up there
in the coolness
though I see nothing
I find my way
now I see
now I’m in the darkness
the chipboard shelf is a landscape
buckled by moisture
jam jars with glass lids
and wire clamps
rubber rings, lingon
lingonberry jam, lingon, lingonberry jam
I lift a jar, feeling
the jar is warm
new labels pasted over
the old ones
too dark to read
it seems unbelievable, impossible
though they’ve been here for months
oat, porridge oats
the board is a plain with people
wrapped in blankets and quilted jackets
they’re on their way
they carry their babies
pulling carts with tools, rakes, shovels
children are carring their siblings
and cloth bundles
with electronic debris
circuit board glitter, copper wire
someone falls behind
is gathered in
the moon roars
like a vacuum
copper wire glitters
Now there’s a ringing in the cloth it rings
in the debris
just like a queue and no one answers
what do they want from me
what is it
I don’t understand
the day dawns
like a vacuum
now they’re falling
behind one by one
those who are not lifted up
when I turn on the light
all movement stops
the jam becomes jam and the jars
large, small with lids, clamps
When I turn off the light
the jam becomes black
not a shine
in the glass
not even a cry for help
carts, clothes, belongings
are left behind
you carry your own weight
you carry each others
porridge oats, oat
they’re headed this way
so I turn on the light again
I turn it on and off
on and off
Further ahead the seed potatoes sprout
in black boxes
the upturned threads
build a lantern
the potatoes think
try to talk
the potatoes want to say
all the goods
materials, human thoughts
intelligent and stupid
it all runs
over the surface, nothing
is only on the inside
they’re headed this way, I have
When I get up the stairs
the jar in my hand
dad’s still there with his ax raised
heaven in the ax
no longer trumpets
and angels’ voices
now so bright
they can’t be heard
I remember the nuthatch© Pär Hansson, translated by Susanne Ryan and Pär Hansson
Think of her /
I’m with Mom now, Änggården’s hospital. She is breathing
Mom said: Every day is different. I feel strong, boys.
Although she is born in Skellefteå, and lives in Gothenburg, she’s going
to lie in the memorial park in Vännäs. That has she said.
Dinner with Peter at Krakow’s. Breaded cheese with riven
horseradish. Her words echo inside me. Peter talks about when his
mother, 41-years-old, died of cancer. Mamma is 65 and shall just
now begin to enjoy her pension.
Blood in her stomach. Echoes inside me.
I sleep over. A nurse makes up a bed for me in Mom’s room.
I read myself to sleep.
She did not want chemotherapy. Vomited blood in a bag. It
smelled in the room. Nor did she want my son, her grandchild, to
see her this way. But he was with her. In the room.
When I awake, my mother is still living. Does not talk. The personnel
do up the morning toilet, I eat breakfast in the dining-room.
Then I sing for Mom, songs she sang to me when I was a kid.
I sing: In a house at the wood’s end … She is breathing. Her heart
vibrates, between breaths. A hare’s body.
I kiss her forehead.
She tries to say something. Half-shut eyes, open mouth.
The time is 10:45.
The roof of Mom’s mouth is like an arch, I think. The sun shines in.
The sun comes in through the window. Into her mouth. The roof is
clean. Her chest quivers, no clinches. I think of all the words she has
taught me. The time is 11:58.
Help oh help oh help me.
Hadn’t the strength to sit by the bed. Caught the bus and stepped off at
Backaplan, bought a new shirt. Needed to change.
Meet Fredrik, he’s home with his son, offers to make coffee and we
talk in the kitchen. To straighten out the thought. To write down sounds
along a line and read aloud what’s been written, and then rewrite it.
To ascend in circles? When they’re about to pick up big-sister from
day care, I follow them out. Hop on the trolley towards Kortedala.
I change in Mom’s apartment, run shirtless down in
Lärjeån’s valley. Hot, but shaded in places here and there.
The river’s muddy sunlit water. I try to think, throw off the frustration.
That I left, that I at long last had not the strength to stay
with her. No contact.
Running helps. Running does not help. She who bore
me, clothed me, she refuses to give up.
See the local news report, Ship to Gaza. Israel’s mistake. The activeists
from Gothenburg are unhurt. My allergy doctor’s picture appears.
I send an sms to Henry: Dinner tomorrow?
Asked for her recipes, cried and wrote down: Black current
The amount of barley flour to make palt.
The number of potatoes to make kroppkakor, the measure
of sugar in the jam.
I pack my things, water the flowers. Ring the personnel
who promise to make up the sofa bed in her room.
Awaken 9:42. Have slept in Mom’s room. She’s alive.
Good morning, Mom. She answers: Good morning. Yesterday evening
we had an eloquent conversation, Can you say goodnight to me,
Mom? She shoots up like a spike in the bed with her robust
voice: Good night!
It’s so different. Everything is different.
I feel strong, boys.
You who bore me, clothed me, cannot die.
Hearing is the last finale. A man’s voice matters. In the end.
You who clothed me, held me.
The first and the last.© Pär Hansson, translated by Tim Dinan
/ 3 March 2015
/ 3 March 2015
Pär Hansson, Zurab Rtveliashvili, Kaveh