The personal and the political

12 May 2009 | Fiction, poetry

In his new collection, Claes Andersson (born 1937) – poet, pianist and politician – takes a look at what human existence is about: excess, apathy, greed, devotion, freedom, and the simple pleasures of everyday life (see the introduction)

Poems from Lust (‘Desire’, Söderströms, 2008), translated by David McDuff and David Hackston
A Finnish translation, by Jyrki Kiiskinen, is entitled Ajan meno (WSOY, 2008)


Despite the prognoses of the Earth's imminent warming
today April 8 it is cold enough to make one’s teeth chatter

In a few weeks I will turn seventy, my ninth grandchild
  August (Siiri's younger brother)
was born two months ago and the tenth is on the way

I hope it all goes well! I was elected to Parliament two
  weeks ago as the Left Alliance candidate  in the constituency of Uusimaa
with 9,346 votes. Thank you! 

In one way it must have been easier to live a hundred
  years ago, when news reporting was still slow and inadequate. Today 

when we have millions of eyes and ears scattered across the globe
we are forced to be there and take part in it all live 

As soon as the machete cuts the children's
necks in Rwanda their heads roll across
the carpets of our living room. When the tsunami approaches

we are already inside the screen ready to flee up
  the mountain. And when the 22-year-old young man at
the university in Virginia kills 32 fellow students with his
automatic pistol our wallpaper is stained
with their blood and the desolate
mothers are already weeping outside our door. We cope with it

up to a certain limit, and then we switch off. But it continues
and repeats itself with a lunatic persistence in our dreams 

My ailments I consort with as with secret mistresses,
one is called Diabetica, another Claudicatio
More I will not reveal to you, vultures, hyenas
  with pricked-up ears! 

I find it difficult to remember names (at a dinner, I was supposed
  to give the speech of thanks about my favourite poet
Henrik Nordbrandt but could not remember his name) 

I love to play jazz on my Yamaha grand piano, Monk,
  Ellington, Bill Evans, some tunes of my own,
then I forget everything else. I float despite my being overweight 

When I hear horn music my tears begin to flow. Seven
years ago I underwent two bypass operations, the
  second was successful

I have six children, all grown up, by three different women
  All the grandchildren as well
Having been living for 36 years with my partner who is a psychiatrist and good
         at many things, including flowers and family therapy 

We live in a large, empty house with many windows.
I read medicine at university and became a doctor in 1962

the same year that I debuted as a poet with the slim volume
  Ventil where I wrote:
‘Caught in the net of material things man has forfeited the possibility

of light. The spider of unhappiness has an appetite for his soul.
  Bon appetit’
It is easy to be ironic when you have everything    

Much of what we know is not possible to
imagine. Like the abduction and murder of children to sell
  their organs for transplants 

Like the attack on a foreign country and the killing of
  hundreds of thousands of people
to secure one’s own nation's energy supply 

Like the suicide bomber’s desperation and contempt for his own life
  and those of others
The obesity that takes as many lives as famine or even more

Like the belief in violence as a solution to the problem of violence 

The list of the things one neither can nor wants to understand
becomes an endless Via Dolorosa. It is Easter and on television 

we see Christ on the cross turned into a bloody lump of
  minced meat
under Mel Gibson’s cruel direction, perhaps one should not  

portray all the evil, as Coetzee says in Elisabeth Costello
and why describe the torture, the  suffering, the pain, if we
  can do nothing
to prevent them? Today is
  Easter Sunday

Christ is risen and the exultation roars through the wonderful
  Easter cantatas of Bach and Pergolesi.
The children have been for Easter dinner, we have
eaten mutton stew and drunk red wine, on television they are claiming that Christ’s tomb has been

There are too many questions and too few answers 

The conservatives won the elections so we have larger class differences, more
  rich and poor
more policemen, guards, Alsatians, violence and charity 

Bismarck knew that social peace can be guaranteed only
  by means of a fair social policy.
Also we who are rich go astray when we no longer
  belong anywhere 

I am not a religious person but I find our destiny
in Easter’s ethnic cleansing and vicarious suffering 

What is the freedom that so captivates us? Is the freedom
  to restrict the freedom of others
the only thing we are prepared to kill and die for? 

The grain of wheat bears fruit when it dies, what ceases
Take me, drink me, eat me, become those I have loved
  and always love

(use it or lose it)

Use it or lose it
Take the muscles in your arms and legs
Take the laughter muscles and the crying muscles
Take the stomach muscles
One day they are gone
Or take thoughts
If you stop thinking you will soon have none left
Or  teeth if you stop chewing
The same is true of the emotions
If you stop feeling they will waste away and wither
Until one day they are gone
First you are unfeeling then cold
  then insensible
One day you stand there shouting: Heil who?
Friendship too wastes away  if you do not
  use it
Not to speak of hatred bitterness
  jealousy and envy
You will end up being very lonely
What will you do then without your old
With desire and sex it is the same
Unused they will shrink and wither away
If you don’t use your love
  it will die
It becomes real in action which is its ex libris in our hearts
Unemployed it disappears forever
What we don’t use uses us up, we early used-up ones

(I write a poem)

I write a poem
I write that I breathe and you breathe
I write that this evening it is raining
I write that the neighbour’s cat is sitting on the back steps
  licking its nose
Where have all our field mice gone?
I write that three-year-old Siiri is looking at the cat and
  licking her lips
I write that the continental shelves are jutting 3.7 centimetres
  into one another
I write that a great hand
I write that I want to stay that I
  long to be gone
I write about everyone and about no one in particular
I write about us who have loved you who will always
  love you
I write a poem
I write that I breathe that you breathe

Translated by David McDuff


This book is about… well, what actually?
Don’t eat the menu… you little rascal
Eats only living beings… er-hum? I seem to have
  a cockroach in my throat
Hit me hard on the back, please. Thanks

Can you feel it burning too…?
Sorry… my eyes are so light-sensitive I daren’t look
  at all

Can I ask you a question: who am I?
Damn it! And who do you think you are asking me such a
  bloody quest …
No, my dear! Don’t look at me like that!

Have you noticed there are cameras all over the place?
Like aphids or crab lice or
Comforting to know that you’re not
  entirely alone

The walls over there… aren’t they like… some sort of
There are cameras with fax and pix and what have you
Nowadays nothing is destroyed rather everything
  is saved for future interrogations

The new constitution smacks of… dare I even say it?
The choice between polonium and a bullet in the neck?
We simply use the words freedom of choice

Did you see on the telly how his head just sort of came off
… the fucking tyrant
So you mean that the real murderers…?
  For the love of Jesus… boom boom
It’ll be the peace prize as usual, I take it?

Nothing surprises me any longer… psst!... someone
  is moving in the zone
For Christ’s sake… now we’ve got them! What shall we do?
  Aim? Pretend nothing’s happening?

Translated by David Hackston


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