Interview with Clemens Altgård (pt 3): On Groups, New Ideas and Writing Programs

by on May.28, 2014

[I continue my interview with Clemens Altgård. The previous questions/answers can be found here and here.]
Clemens Altgård 2011 011

Johannes: In the review of your new book Undead in Aftonbladet, Petter Lindgren remembers the 90s Swedish poetry scene as an era of groups – Malmöligan, the Stockholm Surrealists, Nya Juno. In some ways it seems similar to the very contemporary moment of US poetry. If you agree that the 80s/90s was an era of groups, what do you think caused this group-proliferation? In one regard, this harkens back to the era of the historical avant-garde in Europe in the 1910s and 20s (with Surrealism, Dadaism etc). In the US poetry discourse there seems to be a lot of condemnation of this “balkanization” – people love to point out that they are not part of groups, that they “just write good poetry” – to suggest that they are open to all aesthetics and that the “groups” are close-minded. But I think it’s kind of great that there are many different view points, and it seems to me that they different groups are often in fact more “open-minded” than the folks who pretend to be above it all. What do you think about groups in poetry?

Clemens: As far as I can see groups have been instrumental in the emergence of new styles and ideas, especially in modern times. The historical avant-garde groups that you mention are examples of that. We did of course create our own history. We were young and bold and wanted to make history so in some sense we copied the avant-garde group concept. But we emerged in an increasingly post-modern era and that somehow contributed to a growing eclecticism within the group itself. We wrote a manifesto but it was more like some kind of calculated joke than a text to be taken at face value. Malmo Gang’s manifesto has most of all similarities to the famous Dada manifestos. Besides that we also had some more immediate role models such as the older Lundaskolan group (where the previously mentioned Göran Printz-Påhlson was one of the members) and the Vesuvius group from Stockholm. Admittedly Lundaskolan was highly academic while we stood for a kind of anti-academic stance, but there was still common ground after all. The Vesuvius Group had started in the 70s and was heavily influenced by the beat writers but also anarchism and the social revolutionaries of the Situationist International. In the Malmö Gang we certainly had no explicit political agenda but we liked the anarchist attitude of Vesuvius. By forming a group, we got a ground to stand on. The things you are telling me about the groupings in contemporary American poetry are interesting, I think. This must indicate that new ideas are in circulation. I cannot see anything negative about it. Groups are formed and sooner or later they will dissolve. The ideas and different styles will remain in motion. /still be around/…

Clemens: [adds]… Yes, members of Malmö league had certain common denominators. Still, each of us had distinct individual stylistic characteristics. At this time, there were very few writing classes and none at all at the academic level. None of us had any training of that sort. I got a bachelor of arts degree 1981 but never talked about that. We were supposed to be anti-academic, remember? So I talked about “the university of the streets” instead. That was the image. But when the Danish poet Poul Borum started a writing class for poets, Lukas Moodysson became one of the first students. As Denmark was ahead of Sweden in this respect. That formal education clearly affected Moodyssons writing. He became more minimalistic, you could say. Still he remained a member of our little gang. By the way, Per Linde got an PhD in interaction design at Malmö Högskola some years ago. Thus he became the one and only academic scholar in the Malmö Gang. Currently he runs a project on City Fables so obviously he is still focused on urban perspective.

[Note: The most prominent member of the Vesuvius Group was Bruno K. Öijer, who translated some of his 1970s poetry for Action, Yes a while ago. Pär Bäckström wrote an essay about this group also in AY.]

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