Pernilla Berglund

- Sweden -

Pernilla Berglund was born in 1982 in Umeå, Västerbotten County, in Northern Sweden. In the winter of 2013 her debut poetry collection Tilltar/Increases was published. The poems examine our relationship with the people who surround us, in our search for place and location, both geographically and in life. The outer and inner landscapes intersect, proximity becomes distance, and in these very movements we come to create ourselves. Tilltar got nominated for Borås tidnings Debut Award and she's been awarded Umeå's Creative Price in the category "Text". The book was translated into Danish in 2014.

Her second collection of poetry, Fälla/Trap, was published in 2015 and was nominated for Svenska Dagbladets Prize for Literature. In 2019 she published her third book, Rätten/The Right, for which she received Norrlands Prize for Literature 2020. The book was translated into Serbian 2021.


Pernilla Berglund got here education at Literary Composition at Valand Academy in Gothenburg (2012-2014) and at Biskops-Arnö Creative Writing-school 2001-2002, 2003-2004) and has earned a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature.

Searching for a Place


I'll leave the thought alone. I don't see it as it is, a meaning of. You aren't talking to me, that is how I feel. I cloud the river, close the dam and drain. The valley, a dug channel, cliff ledges, the fish ladder. I leave it calm without the constant din, the massed waters, without movement.


In Federico García Lorca's Suites (written between 1920 and 1923, published posthumously in 1983) there is a rarely quoted yet nonetheless interesting line. The words, which could be read as the collection's motto read "Where you are is where the centre is".


It is rewarding to reflect on its meaning while reading writers from the wide open spaces and mires of the Swedish region Norrland. Or, to put it better, I seem to find the same desperate search for place and rest in both Sara Lidman – the writer who more than anyone has given a voice to the people of northern Sweden – and the Nobel Prize winning Eyvind Johnson from the remote county of Norrbotten. Literature from the provinces is often about self-realisation, despite homelessness and longing. The narrator or poetic “I” has been given the thankless task of carrying their landscape and history with them out into the world, from the periphery towards the centre. Reborn yet unsullied.


Lorca produced Suites in 1921 in an attempt to find his own voice and retreat away from his early poetry's romantic-symbolist overload. As with other modernists, much revolves around the relativity of the "I" and its efforts to overcome it. But Lorca's "I" never breaks free. It is caught in a struggle between the what-could-be-me and something else, caught in the narcissistic mirroring of enigmatic nature. In one moment he can be a modernist and revolutionary writer, in the next movingly folkloric with feet firmly anchored in the Andalusian earth. The same double-sidedness is found in the Västerbotten narrators.


Pernilla Berglund, the author of Tilltar (Increases), is the poet from the northern city of Umeå who debuted only a year ago, at about the same time as she began studying literary composition in Gothenburg. Subsequently Berglund has won accolades from some of Sweden's most respected critics, among them the most discriminating critic, poet, and widely translated novelist, Stig Larsson.


In Tilltar, the word plats (place) occurs a dozen times, without it ever being specified where the reader finds themselves. You could say that "place" is the theme of the collection. Berglund writes about place's impermanence. The place becomes an "event" that tries to merge with, and find ways into, the human. Later in the collection the concepts blend into each other. Then it's the self's "I" that happens, "just where I happen," writes Berglund. And so we return to Lorca's formula.


When Tilltar reaches its crescendo, it's with a gentle gesture. In six lines: a meditation on the "I", a dam closed and drained, and walking on. One imagines that the waters are subdued with a hand gesture and that the poetic "I" manages to achieve some kind of harmony.


At the same time, it's here that an actual place reveals itself. Sometimes, however, you have to ask the author to rein in their artistic freedom for the sake of the fable. This is such an occasion. When asked where this poem takes place, Berglund has said that she was imagining the beach below Umedalen in Umeå, Baggböle and northwards, with the cliffs below Stornorrfors power station as background. There, in the delta of the Ume river by Baggböle, the poetic "I" lets itself be transformed to geography.


He doesn't know it himself (or perhaps he has a presentiment?), but the fact is that this place lies just several hundred meters from the house where Stig Larsson grew up. In his review of Tilltar, Larsson asks us to note the comma at the end of the first line. “It is clearly not a slip," he explains, continuing, "As a consequence, the statement I don't see it as it is is laid like a transparency over the statement I don't see it as it is a meaning of. There is a trembling, a kind of drama, in the sentence itself."


To continue Larsson's reasoning, one can say that the poem's subsequent punctuation is at least as important. The rests establish a rhythm that allows the sentences to ebb with short wave-beats. It is the water that calms itself, the language that harmonizes with the place, and the poet that marks out a new centre.


And I think of Lorca again. Standing by the Stornorrfors falls, looking out at the river, the "I" wanting to merge with the Västerbotten earth.


by Erik Jonsson


The Right


In two acclaimed collections, Norrland poet Pernilla Berglund has written poetry with unusual word combinations, abruptly ending sentences, and twists and turns that defy logic. She uses language in such a way that comprehension becomes unimportant, and impact is visceral. However, her poetry is not experimental - quite the opposite. Her poems are simple and unpretentious, yet their unexpected twists create a hovering sense of mystery. 


In Berglund's third poetry collection The Right, the poetic narrator moves through inland Norrland, as always, in a depopulated area on the border between nature and civilisation. She wants to write, but her surroundings are making it difficult. Must she leave this place in order to write? The poems reflect the ambivalence of the poetic narrator; writing both to and from a geographical place.


Yukiko Duke for New Swedish Books, spring 2019