My new collection of poetry ‘Cuts & Collected Poems 1989 – 2015’ is out today: it’s available as an ebook and in paperback. (shop for it here.) This book has been a work in progress for some time, and I wasn’t always sure I would publish it at all. It contains four different collections of poetry – one new collection written in English, and my three previously published Swedish collections of poetry, translated into English by me. Translating my own poetry was a rather profound experience, both frustrating and enlightening, and I shared some of my thoughts on that process in this blog post: Lost and found in translation: translator thoughts on poetry & the weight of words.
Here is an intro of sorts for these four collections of poetry.
The only photograph in the book is the one at the beginning of the new collection, ‘Cuts’. It’s a photo of my son, taken seconds after he was born, and it accompanies the poem ‘Peek’. As I was gathering up the poems for this book, I realized that all the poetry I’d written in English was written after my kids were born. That does mean something (though exactly what, I’m not quite sure yet). I thought it was appropriate to begin the book with that moment when I first saw, and was seen by, my first child. It was a new beginning in so many ways.
‘Cuts’ is my first collection of poetry written in English. I debuted as a writer in Sweden in 1989, and have lived in Canada since the early 1990s, but it took me a little over 10 years to actually start writing poetry and stories in English. Then, it took a long while before I even dared think of getting anything published in English. Writing in a language that you aren’t “born with” is frightening: how do you know you’re capturing exactly the right words, and the right essence of the words, when you haven’t grown up with them? That’s the conundrum . Even if you know the grammar and the literal meaning of the words, writing fiction or poetry requires something deeper than that.
For many years after moving to Canada, I still wrote in Swedish and had books published in Sweden. When I started writing in English, I began with fiction before I wrote any poetry: poetry depends so much on your choice of words, and the shades and meanings and weights of words. I think the poetry I write in English is somewhat different than my Swedish poetry was, though that is probably unavoidable, not just because of the language being different, but because I’m different than I was.
As for the title, ‘Cuts’ is a multi-layered word for me. It’s a noun and a verb, it is the cuts in my skin, it is the things in life that have cut me, it is the cuts of poetry I chose to put into this collection, and it is more. I never considered another title for this collection of poems. For whatever reason, it was the one title that seemed right.
‘Blue’ was my literary debut. It was published when I was 20 years old by Norstedts, one of Sweden’s biggest publishers. I can remember how ecstatic I was when I received the acceptance letter, and I can remember all the excitement of going to the publishers for the first time: meeting “my” editor, and sitting in his office in Stockholm and talking to him about my poems. It was a long time ago, in the world before the internet and social media, when the “old-school” publishing model still reigned supreme. Thinking back on it now, it feels like eons ago.
The poems were written during my late teens, distilling all the emotions and thoughts and darkness and light that rushed through me back then. If there was a lightning bolt that set my poetic brain on fire, it was probably T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’. We read it in class in high school, and it completely altered the way I looked at poetry, and my understanding of what you can do with poetry and language. ‘The Waste Land’ is still one of my favourite poems. There’s a depth and a hallucinatory, almost magical quality to it that never loses its power, no matter how many times I read it.
As for that first meeting with the publisher, I remember that they asked me about the cover for the book, if I had any thoughts on that. I had already picked out a picture of a stylized fish that I’d found in a book as one idea for the cover. My only other input was: absolutely nothing blue on the cover whatsoever. I knew that I wanted to signal something (something I had a hard time putting into words) by playing against the title of the book. The end result is the fantastic art-work by Johan Pettersson.
‘Honey’ was published in 1992, and many of the poems were written during my time living in Lagos, Portugal. There is also a poem about Egypt, that was inspired by a trip I made to that country way back in the 1980s. Many of the poems had been works of progress for a very long time: some of them had been around since before Blue was published, but were not fully formed then. Instead, they ended up evolving and mutating for a few more years before they finally assumed their final shape in this book.
As for the title: ‘Honey’ might sound very romantic and sweet, but the poem ‘Honey’ hints at some other shades of meaning for the word.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my last collection of poetry written in Swedish (so far, I guess I should say: no one ever really knows what the future holds!). These poems were written during my first years in Canada, and some of them (as well as the original cover artwork for the Swedish book), were inspired by First Nations’ art on the Pacific west coast. Other poems have their roots in the past, before I ever moved to Canada. I tend to keep scraps of writing around, and then eventually re-working them when the time seems right.
The title, ‘The Third’, is partly a play on the fact that this was my third book, but was mostly inspired by T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land”:
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
-But who is that on the other side of you?”
Some of my poems are autobiographical, others are more like visions or stories, but all are intensely personal.
It feels good, if a little strange, that they are finally all gathered together in one place.
‘Cuts & Collected Poems 1989 – 2015’ is now available:
- Amazon.com – Amazon.ca – Amazon.co.uk – Amazon.au – Amazon.de – Amazon.fr–Amazon.es – Amazon.it – Amazon.nl – Amazon.jp – Amazon.br – Amazon.in –Amazon.mx
- Apple iBooks – Barnes & Noble – Kobo – Smashwords
- Also available in paperback at CreateSpace.
You can read some of the poetry included in the book right here on my website: