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I år gick jag för första gången på en förlagsmiddag på Bokmässan. Förut har jag alltid hoppat över. Jag kan vara lite blyg, jag är dessutom ingen vidare på att dricka vin och samtidigt prata svenska – särskilt när det är folk jag knappt känner.

Men nu i torsdags gick jag på Natur och Kulturs middag på Park i Göteborg. Och äntligen förstod jag vitsen med att äta middag med folk jag knappt kände. Jag lärde alltså känna dem.

Fast kvällen började dåligt. Jag hade glömt anmäla att jag är vegetarian… men det gjorde inget, det fixade sig. Personalen på Park var supertrevliga och omhandertagande.

Vad pratade vi om? Det visade sig att folk i bokbranschen har en hel del gemensamt att prata om. Och det visade sig att jag faktiskt befinner mig, åtminstone delvis, i branschen.

Sen tog jag nattbussen hem, jag skulle undervisa morgonen därpå. Bussresan låter jag bli att beskriva. Vem vet, jag kanske skriver en novell om den, i stället.

For anyone interested in the courses Creative Writing and Narrative Theory or the Novel Workshop, I’ll be holding a free introductory evening this Wednesday from 6:00 to 6:45 p.m., at Folkuniversitetet, Kungstensgatan 45, Stockholm (Rådmansgatan/Odenplan).

The past few semesters the courses have been full or almost full.  Attendance tends to be very strong, and participants develop their writing aided by the dynamics of the group.  Curious about how we work?  Hope to see you there.

The other day I unexpectedly received a padded envelope from my publisher.  I could feel there was a book in it, but I didn’t know which one, or why.  Last spring when an author named Lena Andersson won the Swedish August prize, I received a copy of her book in the mail, compliments of our publisher.  Was this book one of those?  Or something my publisher wanted me to read?  That has happened.

I didn’t think it could be any of the books I’d written – or helped written – because the latest ones were still in production.  Besides, when my books are published, I generally get a package slip and have to go pick up a box of them at the grocery store, specifically from the gambling kiosk near the entrance which these days doubles as a post office.

But this book turned out to be something different: the second printing of my first textbook Echo 5 Main Issues – for which I wrote fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, and an extended poem for.  When I signed on to write the book, my editor mentioned the possibility of it being reprinted.  But already, after only just over a year?  Apparently yes.

At the moment I’m working on three other projects with the same publisher, (as well as another project for myself) and there are always moments in the middle of every manuscript when it seems like it will never be publishable.  This was a pleasant surprise, a reassurance that I’ve been through this before, and that hard work does pay off.

I vintras blev jag kontaktad av Haninge Kommun som undrade om jag skulle vara intresserad av att skriva en text till kommunens katalog över offentliga konstverk. De lät spännande. Mitt under en snöstorm åkte jag in till kommunens kulturhus och pratade med ett par av kommunens kulturfolk. De bjöd på te och vi pratade om projektet, om konsten i kommunen, om vilkören för konstnärer i kommunen m.m. 

Sen åkte jag till Jordbor (där delar av min roman Numera Negerkung utspelar sig) och kollade på konstverket som texten skulle utgå ifrån. Det heter ”Juvelerna i Jordbro” och har formen av ett metallträd med symbolisk pyntning. Jag fick även en bunt kopior på handskrivna berättelser från Jordbrobarnen som hjälpt skapa idéerna bakom trädet.

Snön fortsatte att falla medan jag beundrade verket. Jag tog fram skrivblocket och skissade på idéer – fraser, rytmer, upprepningar, narrativa fragment. Sen åkte jag till biblioteket och skrev utkast på två olika kortnoveller, eller konstnoveller, där jag vävde in citat från barnens berättelser om hur de kommit till Sverige från andra länder – eller andra delar av Sverige. (När det gäller beställningsverk har jag för vana, ända sen jag som tonåring frilansade som krönikör åt The Cleveland Plain Dealer in Ohio, USA, att låta beställaren välja från ett par olika alternativ. Jag vet inte om andra jobbar så.). Under veckan skrev jag om dem flera gånger och skickade sen iväg texterna.

Kommunen valde den andra novellen, den som började som överblivna smulor, den som jag kämpade mest med. Kanske just därför.

Den kommer ut under hösten i katalogen Konst i Haninge.

What do our bodies mean to us as they transition from being attributes to liabilities?  And what’s the use of formal poetry in an informal age?

Moira Egan’s latest collection of poetry Hot Flash Sonnets deals directly and indirectly with these questions.  Its’ catalogued under “1. Menopause –– Poetry. 2 Middle Aged Women –– Health and Hygiene –– Poetry. 3. Sonnets –– American 21st Century.”  But that’s not half the story.

The cleverly-titled collection does indeed allude to menopause, but Egan’s goals are broader.  These pretend to be flash-fiction sonnets, dashed off with one hand while drinking a glass of wine with the other, but their cleverness betrays them: here it is Egan who is the flasher, baring both body and soul.  Borges wrote that poets have forgotten how important it is to tell stories, but Egan hasn’t.  In flashes of lucidity, she connects her corporeal fate to the epic tale of the passage of time.  This is not just potery, it’s also fragmented narrative –– a novella trussed up in quippy verse with transatlantic perspectives and a multilingual lexicon.  Egan’s sonnets are more than sonnets: they refuse to behave –– spilling out of their clothes, bulging in inappropriate places, and making us feel slightly ashamed for not remembering to check her math, and count her feet and lines.

Egan’s Hot Flash sonnets also have a broader appeal than their title suggests. They’re not just about women who have reached a certain age, they’re about mid-life crises in general.  And here, with ironic wit and pathos, is where Egan shows her greatest strength.  Whitman wrote in his first preface that America is the greatest poem, and the poet the greatest American; but Whitman only wrote about the poet as young and vigorous –– during his post-stroke decades as an invalid in Camden, America’s most daring poet wrote not a poem about his own compromising condition.
Egan does.

We repeatedly lie in bed with her, insomniacs, sharing her extended mid-life panic attack, listening to the rain, a peacock (what else?), and the neighbor upstairs who wakes to tears.  We share her crow’s tracks, feel the internal heat, grow just as frustrated as her at the unstoppable reverse-puberty metamorphosing her body. The poems interrupt our reading with asides, jokes, definitions, rhetorical questions, snatches of Italian and French, and internal dialogues.  They ask not only, as we gow older, who we are –– but also who we were… as well as what do we want now, now that we’ve stopped wanting?
While the title would suggest I’m not quite a member of the target audience, I nonetheless find myself sliding the pencil from behind my ear and making notes, for instance in the margin of ‘Confused Complexion’: “Does my confusion need to be so present/upon the very face I need to live/in this judgmental world, in which I’m trying/to redefine both who I am and what/I might actually have done?”

These sonnets, and Egan herself, are also trying to redefine what the sonnet is, and was, and might actually have done (and be capable of doing).  Dante in his Vita Nuova dashes off sonnets like blog- or social-media posts.  Formal poetry was never supposed to be stuffy, and Egan has for years been on a personal crusade to increase the relevance of formal poetry by returning it to its humble, occasional origins.  These aren’t the bittersweet verse-missives of Dorothy Parker, constantly drawing attention to their limited form; nor are they the more somber and symphonic formal works of Elizabeth Bishop.  The tone of Egan’s sonnets falls somewhere in between, while their form pays –– or draws –– no attention to itself.  They proceed effortlessly as pop songs, which of course are our most popular form of formal poetry.

Egan’s anthology Hot Sonnets (edited with Clarinda Harriss) restored my faith in the usefulness –– the relevance –– of formal poetic form, and this collection continues to blaze a trail for other writers of contemporary, informal formalism.

On February 7th, 2013 at IEGS in Stockholm, a group of upper-secondary students presented a one-act play called ”The Right Road to Avalon” by Melissa Obrou, who also wrote and co-directed the play (together with Michelle Haglund). The project was fully student-led and initiated, and accomplished without the help of the teaching staff, who in fact only understood what it was all about the week before it went on stage.  The cast included Alexander Fenikowski, Henrik Lindeblad, Ellinor Magnusson, Annie Holtz, Jacob Svensson, Michelle Haglund, Maya Hjelm, Isabell Hammarlund, Tove Hörberg Danzer, Natalie Strömdahl, Therese Imme and Astrid Lindgren.

The play billed itself as being based on the legend of King Arthur, and indeed appeared to borrowed names and themes from the Walter Scott poem.  Yet the action was removed from the time of England’s early history to a modern boarding school replete with swim-team, social networking, computer hacking, and complex interpersonal dramas both amongst the students and between students and staff/parents.  A triangular romance moved the first half of the play forward, while parent-child relationships took the forefront in the second half.  The sudden death of a student marked a turning point in the tone of the play, and it became far more serious and focused during the second half.

The play borrowed dialogue and plot conventions from the theatrical tradition as well as from the world of sit-coms, and did a fairly convincing job of blending the two.  The political background of The Cause of the Lake, a semi-underground movement which appeared to involve students fighting for the right to go off-campus during the academic year, was harder for me to follow than the interpersonal relationships.  The script could have used a proofreader… but overall, this was a highly ambitious project which I enjoyed watching.  I hope to see more plays from Ms. Obrou in the future.

I veckan kom min novell ”Eleven” på Myrios Novellförlag. Ni som prenumererar på Myrios får tillgång till texten, författarintervjun, studiefrågor samt den fina inspelningen med Gloria Tapia.

Novellen skrev jag under sommaren, tillsammans med två andra som förlaget fick välja mellan. Det blev ”Eleven” som jag till slut översatt och jobbade vidare med. Novellen handlar om… ja såhär skriver förlaget:

”Det är dagen innan examen. Skolans främsta elev och framtidslöfte har åkt fast för dataintrång. Rektorn och studierektorn är oense om hur frågan ska hanteras och eleven själv påfallande arrogant. Outtalade konflikter pyr under ytan, en plats på Harvard står på spel. ”Eleven” är ett koncentrerat kammarspel om makt och kontroll, beroende och uppror.”

Tack Myrios för ett proffsigt samarbete!

By the way, I’ve been meaning to mention a book of poetry for about the last six months.  It’s called Hot Sonnets (ed. Moira Egan and Clarinda Harriss).  I got my copy in Rome last spring, and for a few months it owned a spot in my backpack being read and re-read.  I expected it to be chic-lit in poetry form, but it’s far more complex than that: the poems most vividly convey the mind-body struggle, and the sonnet form chafes the subject matter just the way the poets do against their own earthly desires.

The idea is as ridiculous as it is brilliant: take a lyrical corset and stuff a sexy poem into it.  It made my friend’s eyes grow wide when she leafed through it.  Can you really do it that way? she asked.  Uh, you mean poetry, or what the poem is about? I replied.

Anyway it got me writing poetry again, which is what I mostly wrote as a teenager (apart from journalism-for-money and short stories I hardly ever finished).  And it inspired me to write a long poem that it appears will be published in the book I have coming out this January or so.  I heartily recommend it.

FACUNDO by Patrick Frato

In the United States, the capitol of the publishing industry is in New York.  Yes there are publishers of significant importance in Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere,  but based on the numbers, publishing books has mainly been an East-Coast phenomenon.  And of course people in New York don’t always think like –– or relate to –– the rest of the country.  That’s why New York is vastly overrepresented as a setting for fictional stories in the States.  It’s just natural.  The editors can see themselves in those stories more than in ones about, for instance, Ohio.

How do writers who aren’t from the East Coast deal with this?  I’m from Ohio, and I tried for years to write about the place.  In the end I realized it was probably easier to sell fantasy than realistic stories about my home town.

My youngest brother Pat Frato has long been dealing with this same issue.  He just recently self-published a novel about growing up in the pig-pen of semi-suburban, semi-rural Ohio.  The story occasionally swings into melodrama and farce, but at its core, it’s a coming-of-age tale about a young man who in the beginning doesn’t know who he is –– and therefore doesn’t know how to treat himself or others properly.  It can easily be read as a fantasy, even though nothing fantastic –– or magical –– happens.  The laws of physics are never broken, just the laws of a far-too-rigid and overly moral society.  It’s called FACUNDO and is available digitally.

Igår gästade jag och Björk Mirjamsdotter P4 Extra for att prata om Avståndet mellan. Jag var i Strängnäs på väg hem från Värmland när jag fick veta att radion var intresserad av att prata med oss. Redan då började jag fundera över vad jag ville säga… och hur jag skulle försöka prata så naturligt som möjligt på ett språk som fortfarande efter alla dessa år känns som att cykla med punka.

Björk och jag fick prata i sju minuter om boken, och inlägget redigerades något innan sändning. Väl gjort, P4!

Intervjun med bilder samt sändningen finns här. Av någon outgrundlig anledning tycker jag att jag låter som Mark Levengood.