Swedish Literature Week

23 September 2018
Author :  

Poems from Sweden








BENGT BERG was born in 1946 in Torsby, Värmland, Sweden. He studied German and Nordic languages & Literary and Art studies at Uppsala University. He worked as a freelance writer and translator since 1975. Berg was a Member of the Swedish Parliament from 2010 to 2014.

Since 1990, Bengt has operated the publishing house, Heidruns Förlag, and an Art Café in his home village Fensbol near Torsby in the Province of Värmland.

Bengt Berg’s debut poetry collection, Where the Dream Ends, appeared in1974; and since then he has written more than thirty books, mostly poetry. His poems have been translated into Nordic languages, as well as Arabian, Hebrew, English, German, Dutch, Greek, Romanian, Spanish, Turkish, Polish, Russian, Latvian, Vietnamese, Bangla, Hindi and Malayalam. In 2014, he published his Collected Poems, Dikter genom 40 år.

He has participated in many poetry festivals, including Medellín (Colombia), Granada (Nicaragua), Struga (Macedonia), and Druskininkai (Litauania), Nisan (Israel), Jan Smrek Festival (Slovakia), Kritya (India), Târgul Festival de Poezie (Romania), Poetry on the Road (Bremen, Germany), Kathak International Poets Summit (Bangladesh), FIP-LIMA(Peru) among others. Berg has won several Swedish Literary prizes, among them some from The Swedish Academy.



Bengt Berg’s poems ”are full of humor and warmth, and characterized by sharp insights into the oddities of people and situations. With time he has become more and more aware of form —without sacrificing other merits — and his poems appear at times to have been written by an Eastern master.” In his poetry the author offers experiences learned in life blended with curious observations of daily realities. Humour is woven into the poems but Berg has also explored themes that are unusual for this genre. In his programs before live audiences, Bengt Berg is a humorist with a serious side, a performer who gladly stretches the boundaries between different art forms and traditions in poetry. These public appearances contribute to the fact that his books enjoy unusually high sales on the Swedish market.




Too Many Poems Are not


There are so many poems

to discover, poems not

yet written. They hide themselves

here and there: in toolboxes

among screws and nails, screwdriver

and hammers – an oily poem

has curled up in here like an iron caterpillar

or in the linen closet,

among all the sheets and pillowcases

that smell white, there lies

– almost invisible to the naked eye –

a white feather for writing

about peace on earth and freedom

for the imprisoned.


Yes, even the freshly baked

bread that you are eating

is a hiding place for small poems

that go unnoticed, unsung;

they sing quietly for themselves

when they finally reach the stomach


Too many poems

have nowhere to live

no one who wants to care for them,

give them words to eat, rhymes to sleep in,

lovely vowels to play with

when the evening comes.

too many poems

have to live in wastepaper baskets,

abondoned like wilted wildflowers

they want to lie in your pocket,

feel your warmth,

listen to your voice

when you speak, laugh and cry

They want to be written by your pen,

they want to be read by your eyes

and when it rains

they want to get as wet

as you.


(Translation Tim Phillips)





Bengt O Björklund

The artist, journalist, photographer, poet, musician and editor Bengt O Björklund was born in Stockholm 1949. In 1968 he landed in jail in Istanbul for $ 20 worth of hash and met a bunch of international artists, poets and musicians. It was then he embarked on his artistic voyage as well as learning to cook, do yoga and generally get a life.

The source of his inspiration in Turkey was his Japanese friend, the artist Koji Morrishita and the Italian artist, poet, and Dadaist Antonio Rasile.

The character Erich in the movie Midnight Express is based on Bengt.

Bengt has published 8 books of poetry, three are written in English. 

Bengt was recently awarded a Sweden Beat Poet Laureate by the National Beat Poetry Foundation Inc.



I, You and Me.


Down sized by moon and light fading

I the memory of all I am

recede in green beckons of turmoil

never looking back nor grieving

the sadness of this world


ruminating hollering yet still

I the proof of nothing more than passing

hanker with the best of our time

just to make sure I matter

at the close of any day


redeemed so many times

uncounted for by the illustrious

the ones squeezing

all they can from the sweat

of the unfortunate ones


I am the shining orange

at the abysmal border control

the bright light in a look

cast across a confused universe

where I will never concede


streams of solicited dare

and a different kind of courage

that I will not grant nor care for

roll like a cockerel flood

in times of no better judgement   


read me not in times of no hope

dream me not when death is a bell

tolling above the silent surf

know I was here and I knew

this was it


even I






The Swedish poet Kristian Carlsson was born in 1978 and lives in Malmö. He writes both in Swedish and English. Since his debut in 1996, he has published more than 40 books, mainly poetry and conceptual writings. In addition to that Carlsson has translated about 30 books, such as Swedish selections of Etel Adnan, Anne Waldman, Valerie Solanas and Rabindranath Tagore, as well as the English anthology “Swedish Poetry Nowadays; An Anthology of 6 Poets in the 21st Century.” In 2018 Journeyman Books in Dhaka is publishing “A Languishing Chain of Presence” and “Covering for Language”, two English volumes of new and selected poems from his entire career. The Journeyman Books has also published a volume of poems by Kristian Carlsson in Bengal translation by Muhammad Samad. Carlsson is also filmmaker, literary curator and publisher.



”The Batumi Poem” is not to be interpreted in relation to religion. It is a travel poem from Georgia, and relates to the widespread tradition of free range roadside cows in that country alone, where it is a custom within the culture of agriculture; in addition, the poem relates to the well known opening line of Allen Ginsberg's poem ”Footnote to Howl”: ”Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!” – Kristian Carlsson.


The Batumi Poem

Kristian Carlsson, 2018



Unholy unholy unholy

roadside cows,

I agree

that I will agree.

Turning forty I have

wasted my talent

on early poems.

All this time

navigating by heart

to infiltrate the flipside

of language—

all the time put in densely

flowering fields

by the Poetry Dictator,

I need to chew my way down

to recover any soil.

At this state of mind

I run the Autonomous Republic

of Unfolding Language,

ruminate all beauty to its ruin.


Unholy unholy unholy

European highway cows,

all along the countryside mountainsides

of square tea-cozy houses.

Should I have had retired as early

as a ballet dancer, or dropped out

as if it were a school.

I am being detained

by the alphabet

in the cage of interpunctuation.

All the time bearded by

the same letters—

my old poems are expired passports

I can still travel on

only inside this cage.


Unholy unholy unholy

poet, your nothing but a

roadside cow.

At the end of poetry

there's nothing but

the beginning of language.

At the end of language

there's nothing but

the beginning of poetry.


The wall of heat—

a busy cloud

outsourced to

the transparency—

tweets in my face,

tweaks the back

of my head—

with the same cottony beak:

Write, write, write.

Confess to poetry,

tell your lewd thoughts,

may the letters break

every bone in your body

and bare them to this heat

unholy unholy unholy.


Poetry is the auctioning of new space

by sealed bids

where the reader spending most time

will build dreams.

So each morning I have to

be a full-fledged monologist again,

go find what dumpster

the alphabet lies in

wrapped as a stillborn child,

scrape the vernix out of

it’s unholy eyes and ears,

look at its grim features

until it speaks

in my own voice:

unholy the misery—

unholy the smile—

unholy the predicament—

unholy the holy—

unholy unholy unholy

roadside cow.


I furnish this poem

with the open grave

of my past decades

where I am to lie

only if I'm ready to spit on it.

I sit patiently

practicing my moo,

participating in my moo,

swallowing everything

but my moo.

I write my moo down

to tell it to myself.

There’s no poetry

where limitations set the limits,

there’s no poetry

where the expectations set the limits—

if a poem scares you

it becomes your god,

if you reject or refuse it

it becomes your god

unholy unholy unholy.


The stillborn child

has arisen

ravaging my memory

for the placentas

of my two children

being brought to life.

Poetry is all what is seldom seen

of the body.

The poem lends its body

to a white sheet of paper

so that the splints of forgone trees

turn unholy again.

Unholy unholy unholy

roadside cows,

I agree

that I will agree.

Less than poetry

was expected of life

and even less remains.

To the young I am old,

to the old I am young—

I have nothing to hide behind.

I sit patiently

paraphrasing my own moo.






Peter Nyberg (born 1974) is a poet and editor in chief for Populär Poesi, a magazine on poetry. The poems are from Palliative Care (2016). 


A social champion

 By Peter NYBERG


During the trip, he appears to be curious

asking about fellow passengers backgrounds,

reasoning about things they find interesting

and knows things about their hometowns,

favourite writers and athletes.

He does not become a fly around their eyeballs

like I do.


His morals are impeccable says someone.

On principle, he has no frame schedule at school.

He runs the municipality´s football team and its youths.

He writes articles about politician´s laziness in the local newspaper,

and knows everything about literature but without being an eccentric

like I become.


One summer, he helps me move house,

consoles when the dust under the sofa swirls up

and climbs into the cabinet when a lamp falls.

The second load and we are sweating when he

says he is driven by fear and

must control his environment and

therefore perceived as social but

deep in, he is antisocial

like I am





Karin Brygger is a poet and translator, a cultural journalist with her hometown Gothenburg as her base. She released her first book of poetry 2006 and 2018 she released a book of essays on the Jewish history of Gothenburg. During the fall 2018 her first translation of a novel will be on the market. Karin Brygger is specificly interested in Jewish history and identity. She is the mother of 3. The presented three poems are from a forthcoming book. The translations by Freke Räihä have been revised by the author.



All too rough edges is solace like Russian, a soft calling. Something to cry out for at night when expensive feathers fall from the Danish designer lamp and down onto the bedlinen. A wound can spread horizontally or vertically, or heal, or cease using willpower, medicinal intervention. If I really thought the truth would set me free I would be talking to you about my doubts.

If I believed in solace it would really interest me.

And if night entered my house without pardoning I would place its scornful faces beneath the lamp, so that clearer they would be.


What about the willow trees, you would surely object, are you not going to use them? The birches?

Will you not –

If I knew for what, yes.

If I only knew which bridges broke –


   Met once a bridge, laid its pillars on a paper

   folded the river. A stretch remained.

   Paced it back and forth, kilometre after kilometre.

   What can I say?

   Relations are just that difficult to fathom.




Two summers in a row she took her mother to Moldavia where roses flaunts. They walked the narrow path. The green gave way. A custodian showed up rake in hand. The twelve foot high monument, where her great grandfather and great grandmother and their sisters and brothers who all disappeared during the war all had their names inscribed, was carved out like a branch-less tree, in limestone. The custodian hummed gently: I painted it green…

It turned out that he had wanted to protect it against vandals, anti-Semitism and the young addicts.

During the second visit they made an attempt to transfer the stone’s pattern onto a piece of muslin and now the stone’s surface will be embroidered on a veil before the turn of the year.

It is she that introduced me to a certain kind of glass buttons. Precision blanc. All of hers are black and green but mine will be black and red. I have no burial-ground to visit, no roses, nowhere to lay my stones. In lieu I show them to you. That is all.




If I think about it I break. You could almost hear the creaking of the branches, like during thunder. But when I lay my brow against the floor the night is silent.


That is my shame.


It is immense and I carry it badly. It is my constitution, that is weak. A Loon shrieked. The scream ceased. There are still people who still choose the Loon. I lay awake thinking of them, of the letter from Natalie, the one I received last spring. She wrote so sadly about being unlovable. Why did she write that?

I think about my letter to you: “My best sport is hope!”

You are asleep now. I failed my mission. I try: you had a blue sweater around noon. You showed me everything you have done. We drank carbonated water straight from the tap. I stood still behind your back and watched your neck. I did it again. Stood there. The neck had a sunburn. You gave me a pen. I have placed it beneath the mattress. What are you dreaming about?

Your days are not like mine. Of course you sweat like I sweat. But I am frantic and absent-minded, I day-dream, look everywhere for things to give to you. Chestnuts, acorns, apples. One day we will sit beneath the Redwoods, whose rounded tops never dies. Their age counted in rings, their flesh named as heartwood, I know this. I have read up on this. We are eating apples.


But that silent night I sat quiet and watched the rain falling over the tin roofs. I never learn that inside me there is always something that is falling. It hurts.



From Stillness (Stillhetens sträckta halsar, 2002) by Mats Söderlund as translated by Olivia Olsen.





Mats Söderlund made ​​his debut as a poet in 1992 and was awarded The Swedish Writers’ Union’s prestigious Catapult Award for best literary debut. He has won numerous literary awards and scholarships as a poet and is regarded as an unrivalled nature poet. Söderlund often describes himself as “a forester from the north” with roots deeply entrenched in the Nordic folklore and the Northern narrative tradition where not everything can be explained. Since the debut, he has released nine more collections of poetry, most recently Årorna i Flocktjärn (The Oars in Flocktjärn) 2016. Göra Kärlek (Performing Love) a long essay on masculinity, gender equality and sex was published in 2012. Söderlund’s first novel, Observatoriet (The Observatory), was published in May 2013. It’s a story about a vulnerable boy growing up in a small village in north of Sweden. In 2018 Mats published the first two parts in a fantasy trilogy on climate change, Ättlingarna (The Descendents). Mats Söderlund was Chairman of the Swedish Writers’ Union between 2005 and 2012 and he holds a degree of Bachelor of Science in Social Work.







Olivia Olsen is a writer, translator and teacher based in Stockholm, Sweden. She holds a BA in Literary Translation and an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University, where she taught fiction to undergraduates. Her translation from the Swedish of poetry collection Homullus Absconditus by Magnus William-Olsson was published by O'Clock Press in 2015, and her latest writing can be found in Black Warrior Review. She is currently at work on The Acrobats, a novella.





with life, with voice and life, with silver and cold, these

bodies that enter me and are me and are the forest

and the very breaths and are the sounds that rise from

me and the smells I emit and are the taste

of silver and iron in my mouth, a voice from the forest deep



my body, a voice that plays

over stems and roots

and sheds its longing

over the leaves’ desire, my movement

a distance built into the strength



to go outside a morning like this

when the church bells ring

out over the district

as a warning

as a guide



a solace for those who wander

in its sound you are a stream

the full chime

of courage to forge

ahead a day like this



out a morning like this

when the songs of the dead

echo through the land

the still, redtrembling

land of berries



land of moss

and moor

where you have learned to bear

where you have learned to follow paths

between homes and cabins



between cabins and nothing

paths that seem to lead into nothing

but gather from out there

the roaming souls of the dead

between nothing and



when you are here

you’re one of them and

when you listen

to my story

it's their words you hear



the mist, the leaves, the bristle of mosses and patterns of stars

in one another in me and in you and we are these voices

this running water and five swans that

bound tight drag their wings in red sinking skies

and in spite of all this a gaze a recollection and you turn



and you turn again and it’s me and it’s you

and we turn and the swans rise onto their feet

and beat their sails like ships they rise

and stretch across constellations their tongues their throats

their roars of jealousy of devotion and return here



to the pondwater, the mistenveloped land,

the scenes of pineslopes, marshes and birchwoods,

how you become still how you listen to their broken throats

when they call your name, when they return

and you listen to the writings of their wings when



you see their beaks wide open and their tongues how they

work they circle the land and return

and their eyes shine and you step out onto

the veranda and you call here they come and want

someone to confirm your memory and your child and the



movements in you that are the climbing shadows of the dead

that you sing and hear the white wingbeats

that you cannot help but sing

their wounds and memory's




From When it happens it is already done

(Venaröd förlag, 2017), by Cecilia Persson, as translated by Freke Räihä.







Cecilia Persson (born 1967) is an author, poet and literary critic residing in Lund. Debuted in 2003 and has since been published with seven books and two translations of Syrian poets. She holds a five-year writer’s scholarship from the Swedish Writer’s Fund.




The Reconciliations




I am writing to you about who I was:

3788 hours on the phone

575 e-mails

93 articles

4 books

476 bags of groceries

132 boxes of groceries

340 tins of Swedish snus

160 packets of cigarettes

27 bouquets of flowers

14 infections

2 heart attacks

102 proclamations of love

43 broken promises

37 dreams of travelling

77 cancelled travel plans

and then I am grateful

for the seven others

who knows who I was

when you deny

who I was




And now we have not talked to each other for a month

I have left fifty-two messages on your

answering machine

written hundreds of letters

out into the void

about what a cruel human being you are

and that I regret every second

I spent with you

When a good friend considerately emphasises

that anger could be a suppressed sorrow

I tell her to go fuck herself as well




I drove the bed to the city dump

and threw all the memories of you into the container

among all the other used furniture

people got sick off

and exchanged for new ones


I stood there spitting and hissing and screaming:

“You, you son of a bitch, you stupid mother fucker!”

and all turned quiet

except the women applauding and squalling:

“Get that bastard. He got it coming.”

The short revenge of women

their disposable lives

in black plastic








Ms Jenny Wrangborg (born 1984) is a cook and a poet. She lives in Stockholm and have for the last 14 years been working in kitchens in Sweden, Canada and Norway. Her poetry and prose concerns working conditions in the restaurant industry, solidarity and shortcomings of the struggle to unionize a sector of the economy where few of the workers are organized and the employers are ruthless. The collection Kallskänken (The kitchen) released in 2010, was a huge success, praised by readers and critics alike. 2015-2017 she was the chairman of the Association of Working-Class Writers.



Kallskänken (The kitchen), 2010

Vad ska vi göra med varandra (What should we do about each other), 2014




War alarm

have you heard coffee cups bang against coffee cups
the murmur of an attacking army
standing with your stomach leaned against the bench
with hands building shrimp sandwiches and feet
aching from the weight
pulled between
the roar of freezers
and the screams of the cash-line
in today’s
race against the clock
inexorably ticking past the lunch break
beneath the sizzle from the coffee machine
the pop music from the speakers
families, children screaming on the terrace
to the tweet from the microwave ovens
the machine gun clatter of the order frequency
and the juice presser that presses the last few drops
out of us


The black eye

She was the strongest of women; mother of two, waitress,
won everyone’s respect with her skills with the drunks in the bar.

She filled in the extra hours when others left the apron on the counter and
asked the manager to go to hell. Was there when people were hospitalized,
attended funerals, fled the authorities.

She was divorced and struggled with pick ups, exchanges, day shift, night shift,
overtime and restraining orders.

When she came to work with a black eye and the manager got to see
her battered face, he said that she should not bring her problems to work.

He could not have her working when she looked like that and if it happened again
she was not welcome back.


I am a human being

I am also human
I need food on the table
a job to go to
I am not invisible

I am also human
I will break if you send me to war
I will rot if you leave me in a trench
I am fragile goods

I am human
my legs ache after eleven hours between cashier and
the headache screams after a whole day in a steep-hot kitchen

the human in me says that it is unreasonable
to earn money for someone else
I am not a machine

I am not invisible
I am the one who takes your money at the gas station
building the car you drive, the being that you send off to war
who rots away in your trenches

I am not invisible
I cook for you and your fine dining
clean your houses
take care of your parents
I am so close

I am fragile goods
it hurts when I fall from scaffolds
slip on the greasy floor
lift the old
my body has no spare parts
because I am not a machine
you can not buy a new one, because you can not buy me

the human in me says that you can not claim my surplus value
because nothing is more valuable than humanity
you can not call me to the office and exchange me for a
faster model
because I am not a machine

I am a human being
I am so close



Three poems from Överlevorna (Schildts & Söderströms, 2018) by Matilda Södergran, as translated by Freke Räihä.






Matilda Södergran (born 1987) is a Finland Swedish poet and translator living in Sweden. Överlevorna (2018) is her fifth book.



p. 29


There was blood and it gathered around the heart.

Boundless comprehension, what do you want?


The curse of compliance.

The wreath of pain around the conversation.


The aversion will come here disguised as reason.


p. 73


Marbled cut surface. Pork-white bliss.

Cut it, and it shall slip from the knife.

Are we this way?


We are a-coming and a-coming and advocate each other,

able to each others well being


Sometimes I am close to bare, minced,

kindred the courage standing in growth in me.


p. 107


Remember the mouth, as left behind with me.

Clear, sweet rind.


There will be a scorn inscribed in the word assured.

To be inside what was fought for. To settle in that this, in short,


shall be seen as the truth.


Obviously carried, carried here by a friend.






Freke Räihä is a poet, translator, literary critic and essayist living in Sweden. This poem is from the 2012 book Nomos (Smockadoll förlag). Two books of poetry are available in English and 15 in Swedish.




In tall grass against the bicycle wheel and falling high and falling low. It could have been a drop handlebar racer, a bmx; towards the sea. Towards walks along the sea. God threw everything I owned in the Baltic; I, but I had help. Sometimes help helped, sometimes it was just Öland; like music, ruins, the circus, trailer homes and the sand that hid anything of value: the I was absolved from all of its value. It was not summer, not at all. Most often it was hardened stones, purified from its sharpness by the sea. We were there, all. All. The sea does not hold any secrets any more, fear and obstacle alone; not in and not out of. The sea summarizes all relation, all weight; paper alone, permits.

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