Desire versus apathy

14 May 2009 | Authors, Reviews

Claes Andersson. Photo: Johan Bargum.

Claes Andersson. - Photo: Johan Bargum.

Bror Rönnholm on the poetry of Claes Andersson

‘Use it or lose it,’ writes Claes Andersson in his latest collection of poetry, Lust (‘Desire’, Söderström, 2008). The collection deals not only with the flesh and bones of things, but with thoughts and emotions: ‘First you are unfeeling then cold / then insensible’. And just like hate, love and desire, you will lose friendship too if you don’t use it.

Perhaps after 28 books and an active life as a psychiatrist, a politician and a jazz pianist, Claes Andersson (born 1937) has reached the age at which he realises that desire, in the broadest sense of the word, is not a self-evident, constantly regenerating spring, but something to nurture and to fight for. It goes without saying that an older person’s perspective and the proximity of death run through the collection like an active undercurrent. Despite the title there is also room for plenty of apathy in this collection. Or, rather, desire also has its darker, complicated sides.

But passivity and alienation are very much in absence – Andersson puts up an energetic front against atrophy by offering us everything there is: the full range of emotions and reality, and a host of different linguistic levels. He moves rapidly between playfulness and profound seriousness, gives us glimpses of sarcasm, aphoristic exaggeration, musicality and old-fashioned, proper beauty; he allows paradoxes to open up new perspectives and irony to blossom.

The pursuit of opening poetry to all aspects of reality has been apparent since Andersson’s days as an angry young man back in the 1960s. It was back then that he began to develop the vibrant collage poetry that has been one of his most prominent tools ever since – for example, see ‘(easter)’.

The poet allows verses and strophes (or sometimes entire poems) to collide with one another in often drastic ways, mixing the private and the political, the trivial and the existential, the read and the experienced, the living room and the big wide world. Perspectives shift, linguistic clichés are turned on their heads, and a representation of contemporary human existence emerges from the collision of images, stories, voices and stresses.

The image that takes shape is broad and complex, the result of opposed movement in which Andersson encourages and shapes this multiplicity, just as the contradictory elements in the collage to bring the absurd and the untenable to the fore. On the one hand it highlights the multifaceted richness of human existence, on the other it is a critique of a lifestyle that, with its gross excesses, simplifies and blurs our values and makes the choices that could lead to a better life all the more difficult.

At times this critique can seem dark and direct, as when Andersson claims that, as a result of our ‘greed, our violence and our immoderation’, we have forfeited our right to live a good life in harmony with nature and ourselves. ‘Everything beautiful that we can touch and that could touch us, we have simply destroyed.’

The bitter stench of such resignation is contrasted with atonement and trust, the freedom that exists in music, and, not in the least, with those affectionate tributes to love and community – elements that, in all their desirous contradictions, are also prevalent in our lives here and now.

Translated by David Hackston

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