A Different Practice
reviewed by Steven Karl
translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida
Ugly Duckling Presse (2007)
I remember sitting in a seminar and listening to him negatively espouse about writers who write about writing poems. The instructor’s words were to the effect that “you have to earn that right.” At first I thought this was some sort of knee-jerk elitist comment until I realized his remarks were thinly veiled disappointments specifically aimed towards his workshop students who continued to submit poems about the difficulty of writing a poem— a sort of self-reflexive rambling that never leaves the page.
Fredrik Nyberg writes a lot about poeming in A Different Practice, which sprawls out over five sections and is the first of his work to be translated into English. However Nyberg doesn’t write about the difficulty of writing a poem or how some mysterious muse remains elusive, instead he attempts to examine how a poem or the act of writing/reading poems links memory and in turn renders one into a nostalgic place.
A good example is his poem (…)
If the day were a poem and to then be allowed to partake of the selection of memories in the establishment of various sequences faces and finally also your geography I nowadays only can imagine as a slowly disappearing palimpsest in other peoples’ silence
The poem for Nyberg serves as a medium in which life is sifted, sorted, examined, and pulled through, resulting in personal introspection about childhood, parents, and lovers. Or the poem operates as a way in which to gauge a collective- “peoples’ silence.” The constant reoccurrence of this need to speak through the lens of a poem proved both exhilarating and exhausting. The strength of A Different Practice is that this collection draws you in and makes you an active participant so it becomes a question of how voyeuristic are you towards another poet’s nostalgia?
My favorite poems in the book were the ones that startled with language, the ones where the syntax’s surprised me and possessed a simplistic art of meandering. The poem, (See summer houses) is a stand-out poem and one of the best long poems I’ve read recently. While I can’t judge the translation I can say reading this poem felt natural and organic for the mood is perfectly pitched and absolutely sustained over five pages:
Nor does my aging have anything to do with the squirrels that ran across the roof at night in something we could have misunderstood as rage * Certain seasons never cease * Ordinary beautiful weather Like a constant seascape I really recall the factories’ smokestacks contours of forest fires beyond accounted-for-waves * The ocean is dark with fall
There are many poems like this where Nyberg is confident enough to present the poem not as if it is mediating an experience, but as if it is the event itself. Instead of letting the poem serve as a mediator, we simply get a poem—which his is memory and now ours too.
— Steven Karl, review contributor