Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sweden-US poetry connection (1990-2010)

[I was writing a letter to someone who had expressed interest in my translation of Johan Jönson's Collobert Orbital (Displaced Press, 2009), and then I ended up writing a little history of recent Swedish-American poetry relations in 1990s-2000s, including also references to Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg and You go the words by Gunnar Björling. I think one way this history is interesting is the way it shows the limitations of the strict community confines, and the severe reductiveness of Silliman-like monolingual lineages. Perhaps translation inherently opens up a "third way" in Michael Theune's definition of that phrase.]

[Anyway, Language-related poets have been very interested in getting their work translated to Swedish, going over there for readings set up by OEI etc, so I hope they will want to grapple with Collobert Orbital, which is Sweden in many ways writing back.]

About Johan Jönson’s Collobert Orbital: .... Johan’s text is in many ways a "re-translation" of Norma Cole's translation of Collobert's diaries (Litmus Press), translating it into his own severely restricted language, and also his life (he used to work as a feces-remover at a hospital).

Johan is an interesting poet. A working class guy who was early on heralded as a bright young promise in the late 80s; then his work grew increasingly obscene and constrained (an odd combination); and in the 90s he was more or less exiled from the poetry world. Instead he wrote performance pieces for an incredibly obscene Artaud/Muller-inspired performance troop in northern Sweden (Teatermaskinen), publishing his texts as pamphlets that were eventually gathered up as I krigsmaskinen (In the war machine, they dealt largely with the war in Yugoslavia).

At this point he was in many ways “rediscovered” by Aase Berg, a young poet who had gone from being a member of the radical avant-garde group the Stockholm Surrealists Group to an incredibly popular and influential young poet. The big press Bonnier very briefly let her edit its flagship journal BLM, and she used it in part to bring Johan into prominence. I’ve translated her work too, so I included one of those books. She also has an interesting tie-in for American poetry: as you can perhaps tell, there’s a big shift in her work from the extreme Bataille-influenced early surrealist prose poems to the highly charged, extremely translation-infused poems that follow (particularly Transfer Fat, which is based largely on “translations” of string theory, sci-fi films and other materials, a text that seems to “transfer” the “fat” of signifiers/signified in a continuous movement). Anyway, a big part of that shift had to do with Berg’s interest in American poetry, particularly Susan Howe, who was then just being translated into Swedish.

Since then, Johan has become one of the central poet of OEI, a journal and publishing house founded by Jesper Olsson, a Swedish scholar who spent years in the 1990s studying with Charles Bernstein at SUNY Buffalo and who was inspired by Charles’s emphasis on do-it-yourself publishing. In the years since he came back from Buffalo, Jesper has made OEI into a major influence on contemporary Swedish poetry. [You can also read the work of OEI poet Ida Börjel, published in a special issue of Chain devoted to Scandinavian conceptual writing]

Another figure whose reputation has risen over the past 20 years is Gunnar Björling, whose book You go the words my press published in translation some years ago. Björling was a Finland-Swedish Dadaist who began writing strange, erasure-based poems in the 1920s but whose work had been largely ignored/marginalized until the 1990s. He’s frequently been called “the Gertrude Stein” of Scandinavia for exactly this reason. Anselm Hollo once wrote to me that he thought that with “Transfer Fat” Aase Berg became the first Swedish poet writing “in the wake of Björling.” But it seems his influence is really strong right now for the first time...

[Since this is a brief history it is necessarily simplistic in its own ways, especially since I'm writing about a topic that the addressee hardly can be expected to know anything about.]


Blogger Michael Theune said...

Some interesting reflections on translation in The Art of Attention, by Donald Revell (who is, of course, considered a key third-way/hybrid poet). I find the book both very beautiful and deeply problematic, so it's certainly worth a look.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


THat's my least favorite book of criticism!

Dada caused fascism and Ezra Pound is a sage...

What do you like about it?


10:01 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Dada caused fascism?

That's an interesting "materialist analysis" of the history!

I thought Mina Loy caused fascism.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Wait, who's saying that Dada caused fascism?

Goransson or Revell?

10:59 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, Francois is correct. I obviously don't believe that. Revell says something like that in that book, and he also says that Ginsberg and the Beats were "zoo animals in the cage of capitalism" which is one of my least favorite moments of dismissals in a long time. But I don't want to throw dirt on the book, I'd rather hear why Michael likes it.


11:49 AM  
Blogger Matt Walker said...

how do you know "zoo animals in the cage of capitalism" was meant as a dismissal?

or are you just assuming that, because you're looking for an excuse to diss revell?

it sounds like a compliment to me.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I know because I read the book.

Did you?



3:22 PM  

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