Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Claes Andersson (1937-2019)

Hufvudstadsbladet has an obituary of the poet, psychiatrist and politician Claes Andersson, who recently passed away at the age of 82.

Friday, 7 June 2019

W.H. Auden

On learning and not forgetting

When they asked W.H. Auden if poetry can change
society he said no, can poetry change human nature, 
No said W.H. Auden. But then what can the poems
 do? Allow us to commune with the dead, said      
W.H. Auden, remind us to enjoy life a bit or at least
endure it a bit better, keep us company for a while. 

- Tua Forsström

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The Letter

Sunniva Brynnel Group continues to develop and evolve, with a new album that marks a further step along the road from the Blue Ejder album and its settings of poems by Karin Boye. The album was recorded in NYC and features jazz musicians from Canada and the U.S., including Nathan Reising on alto sax. There are a couple of new Boye settings here. In general the tracks in the album present an interesting blend of folk style and post-Coltrane improvisation and harmony, where voice and lyrics are fused with the work of the instrumental ensemble.

Saturday, 9 March 2019


The cover of my forthcoming new Penguin Classics translation of Karin Boye's dystopian novel Kallocain. It's a work by Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a Swedish artist who created some of the very first purely abstract paintings - before Kandinsky.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Finland-Swedish Literature Today - Series

On the occasion of Tua Forsström's election to the Swedish Academy, Opulens has a series devoted to contemporary Finland-Swedish writing. Authors profiled so far include Tuva Korsström and Merete Mazzarella, and there are apparently more articles in the pipeline. Series editor Ivo Holmqvist has some wry historical notes on the Finland-Swedish presence in the Academy:
Så är det också skamligt länge sedan någon från Finland återfanns där. Den ombytlige Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt som var född i den östra rikshalvan blev invald på stol nr 14 i maj 1786. Åtta år senare uteslöts han, för påstådda politiska stämplingar. 1805 togs han åter in, fast på stol nr 17 som han tvangs lämna 1811 när han förvisats ur Sverige. Han är den ende som suttit på två stolar i den församlingen.
On the outlook for the newest Finland-Swedish member, Holmqvist is encouraging, though he can't  help pointing to some of the commentary that has greeted the latest appointment:
Dagens Nyheters kulturchef hör till dem som hälsat Tua Forsström välkommen fast han samtidigt undrade om hon är tillräckligt stridbar, och här på sidan noterade Helena Lie nyss att det är ”en ytterligt patriarkal hegemoni Forsström träder in i (motbevisa mig gärna, jag är idel öra) så frågan är väl hur länge Forsström kommer stå ut i ett sådant sällskap om det fortsätter som hittills.” Det är nog en onödigt pessimistisk blick in i framtiden även om föregångare som Kerstin Ekman, Lotta Lotass, Sara Danius och Sara Stridsberg satt exempel genom att frivilligt lämna församlingen.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Laus Strandby Nielsen: Two Poems


I’m the only person
in the whole world
who sees the world
with my eyes.
And now I see
myself see myself
almost as a kind of
central heating system
with pipes and thermostats,
and insurance policies
where everything
is written in small print
in medical Latin.

I see myself
see myself
as a chemical factory
with a built-in power station
and without exaggeration
a lot of electronics.

I see myself
see myself
as a very
advanced computer
which is rather primitive
in certain respects.

I see myself
see myself as
an investment
and an investor,
as a market,
whimsically logical
from one form
of hysteria
to another
and back again,
forced against
an equilibrium
that is impossible.

I see myself
see myself
as a bank.
But how could it
go so wrong?
And can it happen
again? Here?

I see myself
see myself
as a small
and yet dizzying
swarm of small devils
that hide
behind one another
when they realise
they are being seen. Easy,
take it easy, say the
ones in front that are the
smallest, while they
swarm away, easy now.
There is no reason
to exaggerate.
Absolutely no reason.
A little smile is enough.

But I don’t recognise
the eyes that see me.

(It must be both
complete and incomplete,
says the spin
doctor, but
it’s all very well for him to say so
sitting there
in that rain-sodden tree
with his yellow beak.)


Jeg er den eneste
i hele verden
der ser verden
med mine øjne.
Og nu ser jeg
mig selv se mig selv 
nærmest som en slags
med rør og termostater,
og forsikringer 
hvor det hele 
står med småt
på lægelatin. 

Jeg ser mig selv 
se mig selv 
som en kemisk fabrik
med indbygget elværk 
og uden at overdrive
en hel del elektronik.

Jeg ser mig selv
se mig selv
som en meget
avanceret computer
der er ret primitiv
på visse punkter.

Jeg ser mig selv
se mig selv som
en investering
og en investor,
som et marked, 
lunefuldt logisk
fra en form 
for hysteri
til en anden
og tilbage,
tvunget imod 
en ligevægt
som er umulig.

Jeg ser mig selv
se mig selv
som en bank.
Hvordan kunne det
dog gå så galt?
Og kan det ske
igen? Her?

Jeg ser mig selv
se mig selv
som et mindre 
og dog svimlende 
mylder af smådjævle
som gemmer sig
bag ved hinanden
når de mærker
de bliver set. Rolig,
bare rolig, siger de
forreste der er de
mindste, mens de
myldrer løs, rolig nu. 
Der er ingen grund
til at overdrive.
Absolut ingen grund.
Et lille smil er nok.

Men jeg genkender 
ikke de øjne der ser mig.

(Det skal være både
afsluttet og uafsluttet,
siger kommunikations-
rådgiveren, men det
kan han sagtens sige
som han sidder der
i det regnvåde træ
og reklamerer
for sig selv
med sit gule næb.)


When it’s dark it gets light.
When it’s light it gets dark.
When it’s dark it does get light
at some point, but at some point

it gets dark again of course.
Then it gets light. Then it gets dark.
Light. Dark. Something is wrong. It’s
completely wrong. It’s going too fast.

In the dark-light I stumble into the light-dark
and hit something soft, the darkness falls,
I’m covered by a fur coat of light. Here

you can reflect that what you say
may end up in a poem, and if you can’t
recognise it at all, what then?


Når det er mørkt, bliver det lyst.
Når det er lyst, bliver det mørkt. 
Når det så er mørkt, så bliver det lyst
på et tidspunkt, men på et tidspunkt

så bliver det selvfølgelig mørkt igen.
Så bliver det lyst. Så bliver det mørkt.
Lyst. Mørkt. Der er noget galt. Der
er noget helt galt: Det går for hurtigt.

I mørkelyset snubler jeg ind i lysmørket
og rammer noget blødt, mørket fælder, 
jeg er dækket af en pels af lys. Her

kan man tænke på at det man siger
måske havner i et digt, og når man så
slet ikke kan genkende det, hvad så?

© Laus Strandby Nielsen and David McDuff 2019

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Mother Tongue

An interesting LitHub post by Swedish American novelist Johannes Lichtman, on the challenges of working in a language you only use to speak to your mother:
The problem hadn’t been with the translation of the second part of my novel—it had been with me. In my novel, Jonas was speaking English like a twenty-eight-year-old American. He was sarcastic at times, as if he were frequently sharing an inside joke with an invisible spectator. He had command of his words, the selection of which he modulated to make someone laugh, listen, or back off. The translator had rendered his English into the Swedish of a twenty-eight-year-old Swede with the same characteristics. But in my head, I heard Jonas in my own Swedish—the language of a twenty-eight-year old who has spent most of his life speaking Swedish only with his mother. The language of a twenty-eight-year old who sounds like an enthusiastic aunt. It was too sweet a language for my novel.

Monday, 4 February 2019


Tua Forsström has published her twelfth collection of poetry, Anteckningar, this time with Förlaget M and Bonniers. The book is in some sense a continuation of En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (2013), though the new volume focuses more acutely on the theme of death, and the tone of the inner discourse has shifted imperceptibly towards a new and harsh gravity. "Tua Forsström is still one of Finland Sweden's most dynamic and vibrant poets," writes Svenska Yle's reviewer, and it would be hard to argue with that judgement. An English translation of the book should be forthcoming from Bloodaxe Books before too long - I'm presently working in that direction.

Monday, 21 January 2019


SELTA is compiling a list of 100 ‘must-reads’ - popular Swedish books in translation, though it’s unclear what the purpose of the list may be. It’s actually quite hard to imagine that there are as many as 100 books fitting this category, with so many titles out of print, and especially in view of the fact that numerous  exclusions are made: for example, no poetry or drama is considered, while for unaccountable reasons the wide panorama of Finland-Swedish literature is kept out of the picture altogether. 

It seems that by ‘books’ the compilers mean ’novels’. 

One thing that did become clear during a ‘name your favourite books’ session on the SELTA discussion forum was that several interesting Swedish-language authors remain entirely untranslated, with no English versions of modern classics like the controversial novels of Agnes von Krusenstjerna and the books of Birgitta Trotzig.

The list is modelled on a similar venture from Deutsche Welle, though it’s significant that the German list is composed not of ‘German’ but of German-language titles - i.e. Austrian fiction is included along with the rest.

Presumably the SELTA list is intended for publication in Swedish Book Review, though this has not yet been announced. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Älvan och jordanden

In Älvan och jordanden (Schildts & Söderströms 2018) Tuva Korsström has written a double biography of her parents, the poet, short story writer, essayist and painter Mirjam Tuominen (1913-1967) and the graphic artist and lector Torsten Korsström (1909-1964). Besides being a profoundly personal document, the book is a substantial contribution to the history of Finland-Swedish literature, and also provides a remarkable degree of background on the political, social and cultural development of early to mid-twentieth century Finland.