Lars Norén's poems

by on Jan.06, 2011

Lars Norén is internationally renowned as a naturalist playwright (and perhaps for the fact that while putting on a performance with prisoners as actors, some of the prisoners escapes and committed murder). But back in the 1960s and 70s, before he became a famous playwright, Norén was an enfant terrible of Swedish poetry, the author of several visionary books of poetry that I love.

In particular, I love the corpse-litterd 1969 book Revolver. I read it the first time a few years ago when I was in Stockholm because it was a favorite of a lot of people I know and respect (Aase Berg, Johan Jönson, Jesper Olsson etc). I got it from the library and read it straight trough over a few hours, and was totally shaken, electrified by the experience. Since then, I have often used the structure and “feel” of that book as a kind of model or goal for my own poetry (there comes moments in my writing where I search my way toward a kind of Revolver-feeling). Of course, other than a few stanzas I wrote down in my notebook, I only read it that one time many years ago, so I’ve never been worried about plagiarism…

I love the extreme saturation of violent imagery, and the visionary crammed-in structure. A friend of mine told me that the way these books were composed was: Norén would show up at Bonniers with a couple of plastic bags full of poetry, which then a secretary (probably an unsung hero of Swedish literature) helped him type and arrange the books, and whether or not that is true, you get that feeling from the structure of the book: 215 pages of poems with minumum spacing between poems (which include a lot of found or lifted texts, including Dylan Thomas’s entire poem “24 Years”). But even the individual poems seem “crammed in” – the unit of composition is not the sentence, not the line, not the image; rather the visions seem too much for any of those categories; as a result the poems seem like transcriptions that cannot be contained, that breaks the sentence, line and image. Before one line or image is “finished” the poems have already moved on. The periods often seem to come in the middle of sentences, and often they seem like “false” stops (ie it doesn’t stop).

It’s part Rimbaud, part Trakl, part Celan, part Ginsberg, part Alice Notley (Norén had obviously read the first four, obviously never heard of the last one).

For the longest time, I have intentionally not read this book again because I was sure I would be disappointed. But last week I finally went for it and bought a copy on an online used-book store (it’s a beautiful white-and-silver design from 1969) and I got it yesterday in the mail and wows, it’s still just as great. Just amazing.

Here’s a hasty translation of the final poem:

Final Song on the Morning of Eva Braun’s Death

The wooden boxes, the sand, the summer,
The obscurity. From there
Smeared in oil and winter,
Girl and car garage
Dress of scrapes, film, rain, hardness
Have a dress. Memories
From Eva Brauns’ body snows in and
Finally cover over the portals. There is nobody
From the soil. It is still
The thirties. Grass on the floor, it is
Different, the apartment with
The white friends in underwear in
The burning grass. It is
Still the same. The house is
Empty. In the morning when
They went in to her in the
Brown leather sofa, wintry,
Cut off, stood and looked out
On the morning. Nicotine which has to do with
The dead, long ago, like drought.
The naked body itself in the pit. The noise
From your mother, not yet among
The farmers, a 78-rpm record
Inside death. The girl from the
Brown farm, car garage
From the winter and oil. The greenery
Comes, the hands lay closed and
Hard, the leather belt and
Eva Braun in a puritan grave. They
Were both pulled out. With him
I could disappear. Afterward I was
As empty inside, in the underwear,
And heard the summer get going. The
Privates all stepped down in a pit which was
Strewn with air, burnt paper,
The brown carpet. Tortured
Tonight again by dentists and
Corpses that sat in an hole in the ground
Close together, sat in the grass and
Were tortured by money.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. Bill Knott

    Thanks for this—please do some more!

    Noren was a highlight in the 1979 book, Modern Swedish Poetry in translation, published by the University of Minnesota Press, editors Gunnar Harding and Anselm Hollo,

    some of the Noren poems trans by Harding and W.S. Merwin,
    seemed in the transminimal mode of that time (Jacottet et al)—

    in my copy this 3-liner is marked with an x:

    Maybe this road
    leads nowhere but someone
    is coming from there

    which is not unlike the poems Merwin was writing then—

    (One would think the U. of Minnesota Press would have gone on and devoted a whole series of books to Scandinavian poetry,
    but that’s not the case unfortunately)

  2. Johannes

    Oh, you know I’ve never read that book. Though I’ve read Harding’s book of US poetry in Swedish translation (published in like 1969 or something like that; it’s got the Beats and O’Hara etc). Thanks for reminding me of that.

    Come to think about it, Revolver is not unlike your late 60s poetr (the rabid piano, the were-age etc).

    The book is 200+pages with very little space and I’m working on a few translation projects already, but I think maybe I’ll translate some of it as I re-read it.


  3. Johannes

    Also, I should say that his poetry became more Celan-sh (or Merwin-esque), less “crammed” after Revolver. I like those books too, but not as much.


  4. John Matthias

    As Bill Knott mentions the 1979 Univ of Minn anthology, I should note here that in the next year Goran Printz-Pahlson and I published Contemporary Swedish Poetry with Anvil Prsss (UK) and Swallow Press (US. It includes fourteen poems by Noren. After all those years, and not having worked on Noren’s work since, I am still especially impressed by the last of the three sections of “August” (which I incorporated in poems of my own written at about the same time). Here it is, in English:

    Today I see that my daughter
    Is higher, greater
    Than I, and completed. . .Her
    Hard Kaiser head encircles me and carries
    Me and helps me. We speak
    Silently in each other and then
    She paves the dead ones.
    She comes towards me in her Kaiser skirt.
    From the crib of the road
    In a dust cloud of sleeping crickets,
    Her large blue eyes are watching
    How the realm of day binds its book.
    She hungers after herself

  5. Johannes

    Thanks John, I just meant to mention your anthology.