Book, documentaries & festival | A Nordic-Russian poetry project by Aase Berg, Carl Dieker & Paula von Seth
The 1000 pages long Nordic-Russian poetry anthology Swinging with Neighbours which comes with 4 DVD:s.
“Neighbour” – Nearly everything and a relationship of mutuality
When the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf published a volume of interpretations of poetry in 1960 he called it Valfrändskaper. The title, which can be rendered as “Feelings of Affinity”, but which more literally is “affinity or relatedness of fundament, or of ultimate ground”, indicates that the selection of poems was based on a kind of recognition. “Neighbour” would then be an even more complicated notion, one that could include nearly everything, since we generally don’t choose our neighbours. At the same time, the concept suggests a relationship of mutuality. Neighbours are there, regardless of our feelings about them.
We did not travel alone
Encountering one’s neighbours can be an aesthetic experience, and a even challenge, especially when the neighbour happens to be a poet or an artist. And it was precisely in order to challenge our own aesthetic foundations that we travelled to Finland in 2001 to film and interview Finnish poets. But we did not travel alone. Accompanying us were newly reprinted compendia with contemporary Swedish poetry, and video greetings with questions and commentary from seven Swedish poets.
We met with people we thought had their own unique way of looking at literature and art, people who had questions of their own, and gave us unexpected answers. This was something we thought was missing from the public discourse in Sweden. We began to expand the project, more or less intentionally, by continuing on to Russia, then to Norway and Denmark, and finally back to Sweden. This become the film series Neighbour.
The festival Swinging with Neighbours
Swinging with Neighbours is the name of the Nordic-Russian poetry and art event that we organized in Stockholm from August 19th through the 23rd, in 2004. We had invited forty poets and artists among the seventy we had visited and video-interviewed in Russia and the Nordic countries from 2001 to 2004.
The poets participated with readings in a variety of locations: in a pedestrian tunnel, at “stages” of various sorts (Liljevalchs Konsthall, Kulturhuset, Biografen Sture, Café Edenborg, Liljeholmens Bath Boat) and in a performance space that we ourselves created for the occasion (“Heaven”). At these locations, they also performed experimental and investigative presentations by one another, mini-lectures in public environments, works that were created in collaboration with artists, and episodes from the film series Neighbour were shown on a film screen. Aside from the four artists from Saint Petersburg, there were fifteen artists from Stockholm, Copenhagen and Tokyo who participated with text-based and site-specific works. The poetry and visual art enhanced each other via the interplay that arose.
The anthology Swinging with Neighbours
The present anthology developed from a workshop held on the internet called ”Dating Service for Poems”. The texts of the participating poets were gathered into a sprawling double-compendium of 600 pages in total, with poems and essays in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, as well as translations from these languages and Russian and Finnish into English, French, Spanish, and Swedish.
The editors of the compendia were Aase Berg and Carl Dieker. The compilation was created exclusively for the poets, each of whom received his or her copy two months before the event. The hope was that events such as mini-lectures, a workshop on the Internet, etc., would make it easier to meet in person once the Swinging-festival finally took place. Texts were thus placed side by side and allowed to speak in real-time, before human bodies appeared, bodies that are often distorted by the weight of social pressures and anxieties. It is not always easy to reach the essence of things during a short encounter. Nor is the poet identical with the poetry he or she composes.
If this anthology had been the result of many years of arduous translation work, we perhaps would have preferred a Swedish title, but it came into being after all of our travels and meetings, during which our native Swedish quite often did not suffice. We needed a lingua franca – English.
A survey over the landscape of Nordic-Russian poetry
The editors of the book, in addition to having their own “approach” to the anthology, have asked several of the participating poets from Sweden, Finland and Russia to contribute their survey over the landscape of Nordic-Russian poetry. In ”The Radical Rearguard on Podalida” [De radikala eftertrupperna på Podalida], the poets Jörgen Gassilewski and Anna Hallberg write about trends and tendencies within contemporary Nordic poetry as well as about the film project Neighbour. In “The Poetics of the Sharpened Exactitude” [Den skärpta exakthetens poetik], Dmitry Golynko speaks about the development of Russian poetry after the fall of the Soviet Union. In “On the Threshold between Image and Word” [På tröskeln mellan bild och ord], Helena Sinervo writes about the aesthetic choices of the 1990s generation in Finland. Finally, Martin Högström has made a collage of the six nouns, two verbs, and one adjective that each poet in the anthology had been asked to send in.
The four films and the “readings in the home”
But it was actually with the films that everything began. Between 2001 and 2006, we made more than 150 hours of film with deep interviews, which were then edited together to make four independent parts of approximately 50 minutes each. The four films can be found on the DVDs A and B.
The first film is called World Image, and shows various ways of understanding metaphors and images within contemporary Finnish and Swedish poetry. The second, Black Sheep against the Light, gives a picture of eight Finnish poets who started to publish in the 1990s, and who participated in the anthology A Black Sheep against the Light [Ett svart får i motljus] (2000). The third film is The Neighbour. This is a “relay conversation” where poets in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden discuss what they think of in connection with the word ”neighbour”. The fourth and final film we call Videolog on Avant-Garde. The film deals with the contemporary understanding of the notion of the avant-garde from the standpoint of a number of Swedish, Finnish, Russian, and Chinese voices that have been important for us to bring together here. The DVDs C and D contain “readings in the home” of fifty-four poets and authors. They read their own texts themselves, 310 texts in total. The DVDs also contain slide presentations from the activities of the visual artists, etc., during the Swinging-festival, as well as the film trips in Finland and Russia.
The view from the outside sharpened the sight from the inside
The project is not an isolated event. The uncontrollable conversation has left traces behind it. Our films have developed after having been shown as works in progress. The movement has also gone in the other direction. For example, when poets and artists were interviewed in Saint Petersburg in 2001 about how they viewed the word “avant-garde” today, they answered that it was difficult to relate to the term other than as a historical notion. They explained that, because of the specific history of the word in Russia, where the avant-garde of the early 20th century eventually started to serve the state and “the cruel, inhuman powers of the world”, it was impossible for the artists and poets of today in Russia to use the word. But the more they spoke about this issue, the more convinced they became that they did not need to let themselves be limited by the word’s heavy baggage, and that, indeed, it was possible to use the word given the conditions existing today. Some of them started a magazine – What Is to Be Done? – precisely in order to define and open up channels among the political, global avant-gardes that exist today. Moreover, in Finland, we conveyed the mistrust of Swedish poets towards the use of metaphors in contemporary poetry, but the Finns didn’t quite see what we meant, and pointed instead to this and that phenomenon. That which we told ourselves we had seen from the outside compelled them to sharpen their sight from the inside.
The experience of ”simultaneity”
We wanted to create a wider conversation, one so alive and rich in exchange that it wouldn’t be possible to survey the entirety from any one particular point. And now it has progressed so far that it no longer is possible to determine the boundaries of the exchanges of perspective. With this anthology and its five points of entry, nearly one thousand pages of poems and essays by thirty-seven poets, one artist and a few critics, as well as four DVDs, we would like to demonstrate the necessity of experiencing Nordic-Russian contemporary poetry, and of seeing how poets in our corner of Europe can, together, enrich one another’s texts. The differences are the most interesting, some have said about this project. We can’t quite agree. The most fascinating thing about the project is the experience of simultaneity.
Stockholm, 4 August 2006
Carl Dieker & Paula von Seth
Translation from Swedish was done by Brian Manning Delaney.
The text ”With curiosty as a weapon” was published as the preface to the Swinging with Neighbours-anthology in 2006.
Link to the Swedish publisher Ersatz: http://ersatz.se/bok_swn.htm. The page quotes several of the reviews.
The texts in the anthology Swinging with neighbours are in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish & Russian. The film-series Neighbour on the DVDs comes with subtitles in English.