Sunday, August 21, 2022

Johannes Göransson, SUMMER


I cant hear you
the lilacs are in bloom and the underworld
is slow I’m slowly listening to girls

sing about the rabble in syrenerna
they’re at my door pöbeln

the girls are in the lilacs syrenerna
I can’t hear them

I have a telephone number
tattooed on my shoulder and the lyrics

of the song on the radio
seems to be they’re at the door pöbeln

they’re at the door drömmen it’s not
a dream summer never ends

the currency has lost the language
inside language treacherous lilac

language syrener made for girls
like me for me the lilacs bloom

like little fingerprints hundreds
of bloody little finger prints I can’t hear

you I’m listening to the radio my wife
is feeding me pomegranate seeds

she’s feeding me with bloody fingers
it’s summer it’s summer I can’t

hear you det är sommar

I’m really enjoying the rhythms and music of poet, editor and translator Johannes Göransson’s latest, SUMMER (Grafton VT: Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2022). Swedish born and raised, and living with his family in Notre Dame, Indiana, Göransson is the author of eight poetry titles, although this is only the second I’ve seen [see my review of his Poetry Against All: a diary (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2020) here]. Between what I’ve seen of these two particular titles, Göransson works a threaded, thinking and continuous lyric, one akin to a journal or diary, allowing the ongoingness and repetitions to shape each larger book-length project. There is something intriguing about a lyric simultaneously held in the present moment, amid text and across a range of memory, moving from a gesture by his partner or one of their children, a thought on writing or film, and a series of recollections from childhood. The collage allows for a particular and tricky balance that appears to be done with ease, and allows for a lovely, continuous lyric flow. “How strange to wake up,” he writes, early on in the collection, “in this language / and be finished / with home be finished / with flowers och ett vackert hals / barnen babbler / like they are alive [.]” The music and rhythms of his lyrics are quite striking, one enhanced through the sprinkling of Swedish words and phrases, edging into the boundaries of his mother tongue. One is reminded of Canadian poets Erín Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei, for example, both of whom weave in other languages into and through their own work, or the work of Canadian expat Nathanaël; all of whom, as well, have done extensive work translating the work of other writers. On the whole, this assemblage and accumulation of poems provide a variety of threads across an internal monologue, one where images are able to fully ebb and flow, fade and form, ebb and flow. If his lyric is water, he writes the whole length of a river. “How can you think / I’m listening / I’m bicycling / which means cyclamen / cyclidium geranium / or the poison I’m marrying / to the summer [.]” He is writing memory, the present moment and family, as well as writing home, as his acknowledgements offer:

I began writing the book while staying in Fredrik Sjöberg’s apartment in Stockholm, looking at a painting of two girls on the wall: Anton Dich’s portrait of Lillian Arosenius and Hanna Gottowt. In my head I also had the title of Mats Söderlund’s first book, Det star en pöbel på min trap (There’s a rabble at my door). Also special thanks to Sten Barnekow for always finding me some place to stay in Lund, where I wrote a lot of these poems.

The poems curl, and loop, curl and loop; returning to repeated moments, repeated images. Curling up and around themselves, moving outward in concentric circles. “in the painting of ruins / I can hear summer,” he writes. Later on: “I can’t hear a thing/ tingling the thing I hear / is my wife doing that silver / thing to summer / until it’s over she is inte här / the summer is not over / here it’s still not over but she does / the end-voices in a landscape / painting with an ugly tree with / two girls from 1923 I can’t hear / her I know she is not here / you are here Lillian and Hanna you / will grow up to be history / I will grow up to be porcelain [.]” A bit further:

It's OK I’m impersonating a kiss
of lilacs the dust covers

my photographs I only ever write
about childhood

because that was before I died
and now the devil has brought me

back to summer in
Stockholm I’m starting to make

sense of my body
which is becoming buried in

pop music and now ooh-ooh
I have to write you a letter

about my body as if it were
split between foreign

words whispered by angels
and soldiers who march in

through the eye […]

There is such a grief and sense of loss that permeates the entirety of this collection, returning to summer and childhood, returning to children and poison, returning to a foundation of language and a portrait of two teenaged cousins painted a century prior. “To write a poem about violence,” he writes, as part of the second section, “while towers collapse is my scam / a summer scam I do it / while drinking milk of paradise / out of a rifle / but I have to get rid of it / the rifle before the party / starts the party of no / to enter undervärlden / you need a picture of yourself / with a noose [.]” Set in four numbered sections of accumulated, untitled lyrics—“For Lillian and Hanna,” “Flowers for the Riots,” “All the Garbage of the Sun” and “The World”—the first three hold to a structure of standalone poems, most of which each fit on a single page, set as single-stanzas of extended breath running down the page, until the fourth section, which is more fragmented, and extended: a layering of stanzas of one to six lines in a steady stream, all returning back to that poison, that painting, that room, circling into and across a poem about grief (far more grief, I would say, than violence, despite repeated references to an abstract and imprecisely described “violence”). And a counterpoint, perhaps, or sibling work to Joyelle McSweeney’s collection on their same, shared loss, her Toxicon and Arachne (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2020). As Göransson writes in that fourth section:

I invented the meadow
in Giovanni’s room
because my daughter is dead

and I needed it to mean

in Giovanni’s room everything is garbage
nothing has value
and that is why I write a poem

about violence

I write a violence

Given his prior collection, Poetry Against All: a diary, was originally begun while visiting his former childhood home in Sweden in 2013, a book constructed out of entries excised from the manuscript that eventually became his book prior to that, The Sugar Book (Tarpaulin Sky, 2015), one begins to see elements of the larger pattern potentially at work: are these multiple book-length projects begun during the same period of travel home, or are his collections working into what the late Toronto poet bpNichol, or even the late Alberta poet Robert Kroetsch, worked throughout their writing lives, “a poem as long as a life” extended through multiple, published collections? Are all of his published books to-date, or at least these three, part of a single, ongoing project?

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