“The Malmö Gang”: An Interview with Clemens Altgård (Part 1)

by on May.22, 2014



[I met Clemens Altgård at a reading I gave in Malmö with the Iranian-Swedish poet Azita Ghahreman last fall. We got to talking about Malmöligan, the 80s, and a bunch of other stuff. I thought it would be interesting not just to Swedes but perhaps to others as well if I asked him a few questions about these matters. This is the first of a series of questions I’ll ask him. Please feel free to join in and ask your own questions of him. Here are three of his poems (in my translation) from the most recent issue of Action, Yes.]

Johannes: I’ll begin with a broad question. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, you were a part of Malmöligan (“The Malmö Gang”), a group of writers in Malmö (a major industrial city in Skåne, southern Sweden, also my dad’s hometown) which also included Kristian Lundberg, Lukas Moodysson and Håkan Sandell. One of my first encounters with the group was Sandell’s collection Flickor (Girls) and another was Kristallskeppet, your translation of the Danish poet Michael Strunge. In many ways these two books color my impression of Malmöligan – as a decadent/Romantic aesthetic that is also deeply engaged with pop culture (Sandell’s book samples Iggy Pop and Strunge’s includes references to Joy Division and David Bowie) [I wrote a post about the 1980s and Strunge and “visionary kitsch” a while ago]. I also get the impression that an important part of the group dynamic was the emphasis on readings. You have also mentioned an interest in Latin American poetry. And another part – as the name suggests – is the location (Malmö, hardly the most poetic place in the world). What do you see as the guiding aesthetics of the group? Did the group have a guiding aesthetic? How important was the fact that you guys were from Malmö (as opposed to Stockholm, the capital and cultural center)? [Och kanske jag oversatter en Sandell dikt och en Strunge dikt och länkar till dina dikter i ActionYes]

Clemens: I must also mention the other two members, Martti Soutkari and Per Linde. Both Martti and Per were also musicians and played in post-punk bands. Martti was the singer in Blago Bung (that took its name from a poem by the dadaist Hugo Ball) and Per was a drummer in Kabinett Död.

When it comes to the question of guiding aesthetics of the group I’m sure that you would get different answers depending on who you’re asking. But we all met in that strange subcultural melting pot that existed in Malmö/Lund at the time. There was an underground scene that consisted of different elements, for example: punk, postpunk, psychedelia and avantgarde aestethics. In the beginning it was me, Håkan and Per. Then we got to know Kristian and Lukas. We all knew who Martti was but he was not in the group to begin with. He joined the group in -87, if I remember correctly.

At first we were much into the early modernists like Rimbaud and Baudelaire. And the surrealists and dadaists of course. I must also mention the beat literature. We all read those American writers when we were still very young. There was a Latin American community i Malmö consisting of political refugees and soon enough we got to know some of the artists, writers and poets.

We did readings together and there was a great cultural exchange. Then we discovered the baroque qualities in the poetry of our friends from Latin America. This also influenced our own writing, I think.

If you’d ask Sandell he would say that we were much inspired by the poetry scene in Northern Ireland. It was a kind of influence, yes, but I think that it something that came later on, in the 90s and certainly was of great importance for Sandell himself. But I didn’t pick up on it the way he did.

So we were all quite different. Malmöligan was a set of individuals with some common interests. Malmö in the early eigthies was a city where the Sex Pistols words “No future” seemed very fitting. We had a kind of DIY-attitude and knew that we had to create something for ourselves out of nothing.

We were also opposed to the idea of Stockholm as the center of the universe. We were at war with the establishment in a quite anarchistic way. Because of that we were also in opposition to the boring but at the time acclaimed brand of Swedish socialist realism and we also strongly disliked the old Scandinavian school of bland modernism. You could say that we moved from a kind of rebellious stance akin to the early continental modernists towards some kind of ecclectic neo-baroque aesthetics that contained a mix of high and low. We all also thought that it was important that the poetry should sound great on stage. Rhythm and musical qualities was of great importance to us. But the readings were often quite chaotic depending on the audiences reactions. Sometimes we met applause but at other times we were at war with the audience too. Any way it was great fun!

Blago Bung:

Kabinett Död:

Lukas Moodysson:

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Mignon Ariel King

    It’s fascinating to an American poet to see the influence of American Beat poets on a Swedish poet. Interesting as well is the emphasis he puts on what I would call a refined artistic sense of multiculturalism. That is, a multicultural artist blends high and low culture(s) into something new based on his general natural surroundings past and present and his own specific talents and interests.

  2. Johannes

    Yes I like the connection between multiculturalism and this blending of high and low. This divide between high and low seems to me to be always connected with a strictly monolingual/monologic idea of culture (ie you can find the center, you can learn the truly refined langauge, taste etc). / Johannes