by Johannes Goransson on Dec.30, 2012
Recently I’ve been thinking about the 1980s a lot. Well recently I’ve started to work on a kind of memoir of Sweden in the 1980s which is really more like a work of cultural history, hopefully in the line of a lot of Greil Marcus’s books.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the Danish poet Michael Strunge (1958-1986), a legendary 80s poet whose visionary poetry I read frequently and devotedly in the late 80s when I started to write poetry. He committed suicide in 1986 and that was part of his Rimbaud-like, Romantic image.
I was trying to find the book I read back then, Kristallskeppet (“The Chrystal Ship”), a selected poems in Swedish translation, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere, which is sad because it’s like my first book of poetry I ever owned (but luckily some Danes sent me some of his poems over facebook). As that title suggests, his poetry is full of sci-fi-ish visions of the city, fitting in very well with the kitsch-related stuff I’ve been posting on this blog – how kitsch not a lack, but an excess, related to Romanticism, how it’s about the poetic in an age of industrialism. It also engaged quite strikingly with the youth/pop culture of the era, including direct references to David Bowie and Ian Curtis.
Here are some quick excerpts very roughly translated (hopefully not too many huge errors, my Danish is shaky):
from “Elegy for Ian Curtis + may 1980”
Your voice was like that:
Smoky nights with unovercome childhood,
unhealed wounds behind the glass armor.
Plaster that tears so impossibly slowly
that the wound is experiences as a wound.
Your depression was clean and free for the worldangst.
You could see your own cancer growth
and did not want to cut it off,
that the cancer is the strongest
is death the closest and inhabits it.
So rather choose death’s naked honesty
than this hypocritical life,
where pain was a sign of life
but live became a sign of pain.
Skinlessness is the highest nakedness and death.
And this is from “The Other Side”:
The machine stands still in its night.
Now the centers are seen glowing
our brains spread their wings out
and the senses sink their tentacles all the way out
in the darkness, it’s so empty, freeingly empty
and chilly, freed from the day’s consciousness,
it now sleeps with crumpled dreams
around the house, before the alloted deadline…
(You don’t have to understand Danish to get the whole joy division, youth culture, fashion angle from this film about him:)
The Swedish pop star Joakim Thåström, somebody I’ve written a few posts about exactly in how his 80s work pertains to romanticism/kitsch, released a new record earlier this year called “Beväpna Dig Med Vingar” (Arm Yourself with Wings), which directly references one of Strunge’s books (The Weapon with Wings) and “kristallskeppet” (and other images from Strunge’s oeuvre) and is dedicated to Strunge.
Here he performs the title track at the 2012 Swedish Grammy’s:
I’ve seen some articles mention this as an homage, but the interesting thing is that Thastrom was already part of the same zeitgeist, except that instead of being poet writing music-influenced poetry, he was a songwriter writing poetry-influenced songs.
Imperiet did record one poem that I know of, “Vykort” by Bruno K Öijer, who is cut from a similar cloth (he started publishing poetry in the early 1970s but toured with a band in the 1980s, he’s ultra famous now, sells expensive tickets to readings etc).
He Wanted You
He Wanted You So Intensely
That He Cut Off
All His Fingers
& Dialed Your Number With His Tongue
All The Time Now
He Hears Your Wonderful Laugh
Han Ville Ha Dej
Han Vill Ha Dej Så Intensivt
Att Han Högg Av Sej
& Slog Ditt Telefonnummer Med Tungan
Nu Hör Han Hela Tiden
Ditt Underbara Skratt
The big valley is a vast mother-of-pearl mirror. There walks the large dead swan in her dead shroud. And there walks the mother-of-pearl children. Or the fragile foundling clumps. That grow out of the virgin mother’s throat. They led the swan into a forest and placed beautiful white stones of mother-of-pearl on her back. Go now and eat that which you have taken from the swans. Then one ran up and cut a branch from the tree and grabbed a burning branch and stuck it into her throat. And scrubbed her both up top and down below. Until the swan’s flesh fell off in beautiful heavy clumps. For some time the swan lay in the bushes and slept. And black merchants came riding on black mother-of-pearl horses. Then they took the swan and carried her away.
I’m thinking about this connection between romanticism and popular culture, between the poetic and pop music, between fashion/makeup and poetry. And also this romanticism as a response of sorts to the propagandistic, leftwing art of the 1970s, which also blended pop music and poetry/art, high and low culture. And also issues of anachronism and decadence.