Letter from Sweden

Calling for the Swedish Poetry Revolution!

This year the 9th alive-and-kicking Södermalms Poesifestival in Sweden took place outdoors, in the Indian summer of Kungsträdgården, by the square of Karl XII, in the very center of Stockholm. We had two readings on the open-air stage – presented by Sam Carlquist, the program director – on Wednesday the 28th as well as one on Thursday the 29th, so the audience were sitting, listening, resting in the sun, with their eyes closed; isn’t that a beautiful and telling picture of the perfect poetry listener …? We spent one evening reading at the magnificent city library, Stockholms Stadsbibliotek, designed by the architect Gunnar Asplund, in Rotundan, the round book hall with amazingly good acoustics. The BokBazar recorded the poets and I will link to that when they have put it out on the library’s website. You can then hear Agneta Klingspor, Sofia Rapp Johansson, Johan Christiansson, David Prater, Australia, and Sanja Lovrencic, Croatia, and me too. Our last reading was held in the evening at a café, with almost no audienceat all, except for some other poets. How come there was no audience? There is a saying: Poets can do without an audience. Poets have learnt how to survive without a listening audience.

But as the Festival Director I must ask again: Where did the audience go? Did the 70 persons on Facebook that clicked “Yes, I will come” stay at home? I will never get a satisfactory answer, no answer will satisfy any needs not satisfied. The morning papers did not write about the festival, nor did the radio or television news comment on it or welcome the audience to it. In Sweden that is perfectly normal nowadays. It is as if they had some no-poetry campaign going on. The Swedish media, as if with a collective gesture, have done their best to cut off the unseen golden thread between poets and audience, speaking in general terms. The Swedish bookstores have tried their best to do the same; to try to cut off the red thread of poetry from the books to the readers. But what they do not understand is that the poetry thread is both thicker and more difficult to cut off.

People need poetry and poetry needs people. It’s of mutual interest. But nowadays, since the publishers write signs on their websites NO POETRY WANTED, and the poetry readings are so much fewer than five years ago, there are many people walking around totally unaware of the meaningfulness and power that poetry can give to them. People can no longer remember what a poet is, nor how comforting, how revealing, how up-front poetry can make you feel inside. They have some awareness that poetry is supposed to be something extraordinary for the soul, but they lack the experience of it.

So, how can we Swedes make people aware of the power of poetry? By just keeping on providing them with poetry and showing them, and waiting for the tidewater. The political scene in Sweden is very far from any revolution; most people think about what kind of color they want on their living room walls, even though they already know that they want white walls. But they keep thinking about it, as it might have some hidden truth… Historically, Sweden has been – not now, though – a country of reforms. So maybe that’s the new buzz: The Swedish poetry reform where people, specially the poor, can listen to poetry again. Sweden, the dark nation of melancholy, will burst into tears and feel the comfort and forgotten magic.

Boel Schenlaer

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