Lennart Sjögren was born in the village of Böda on the Swedish island of Öland in the Baltic and to this very day lives on the former farm of his parents, down by the shore. During the 1950s, he studied for a while at the Gothenburg Academy of Art, where he met his wife, the artist Eva Forsberg, who has illustrated much of his work. In 1959, he made his debut as a poet. Apart from poetry, Sjögren has also written short stories. Although he has never regarded himself as a real artist, Sjögren nevertheless has a typical painter’s eye. His poems are full of compact, ‘seen’ images.
The fact that Sjögren knows country life from practical experience might perhaps sound like an over-familiar Dichter – und Bauer motif, a romantic cliché of the so-called Swedish nature poet. But nothing could be further from the truth. Karel van het Reve once pointed out that the farmer has no eye for rural beauty. Sjögren looks at the nature that surrounds him, the fields, the animals, the sea, with a cool and sometimes even irate eye. In nature as portrayed by Sjögren there is no room for romanticism – it is a world of eat or be eaten, a world that is indifferent to human nature and morality.
In an article in the Swedish literary periodical BLM from 1978, he gives a clear picture of the vision out of which he writes his poetry.
‘The absolute indifference for the individual that typifies the biological system cannot be eliminated; from that point of view nature is thus more of a chamber of horrors than a harmonious organism. In popular ecological thought there exists a tendency to obscure this destructive context for individual existence, to point solely at man as the destroyer of nature, forgetting in the process that nature long before the arrival of man was responsible for enormous catastrophes and that this great cycle lies completely outside our concepts of good and evil.’
In a recent interview he refers to himself as a Darwinist. Humanity also only assumes a modest place in Lennart Sjögren’s poetic universe. Just as the French poet Francis Ponge, he believes that ‘the silent world is our only refuge’ and he attempts to get as close as possible to the silent world of trees, animals, stones and minerals in his poems, from the conviction that they too have a language – one that is not ours and that can only be hinted at using our words, and in situations that Sjögren indicates by such words as ‘threshold’ and ‘boundary’. The paradoxical nature of this undertaking lends his poems their almost stubborn intransigence. This speaking in the direction of silence, this attempt via language to define the world of the language-less – with the concomitant, always lurking sense of failure – has been persistently and soberly maintained by Sjögren now throughout over twenty collections of poetry.
Lennart Sjögren took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2007.
This text was written on that occasion.
Dikter ur landet (1969)
Köttets hus (1971)
Stockholms central (1980)
Dagen före plöjarens kväll (1984)
Deras ögon (1994)
Sent, tidigt. (2001)
Dikter 1982-2004 ett urval (2004)