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Eva-Stina Byggmästar, Men hur små poeter finnes det egentligen? (But How Little Can Poets Possibly Be?)

Söderströms,  2008. ISBN: 9789146219088

Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2010:1

The Swedish edition is published by Wahström and Widstrand, ISBN 978515225474

‘Are the books, the poems talking to one another or what is all that muttering in the library –’

Eva-Stina Byggmästar, born in Jakobstad in Finland in 1967, is a multi-award-winning poet who has been publishing poetry since the age of nineteen. Her first collection, I glasskärvornas rike (In the Realm of the Shards of Glass), appeared in 1986. The volume under review is her twelfth, the second part of a trio on love, following Älvdrottningen (The Fairy Queen), which came out in 2006. The third part is expected later this year. When I first came across Byggmästar’s work in the early nineties, she had already published five collections of verse and was considered one of the most important of the younger Finland-Swedish poets. For many years now she has been embraced as much by the literary establishment of Sweden as by that of her homeland, and her books are published simultaneously in both countries. These latest poems are about the joy of writing poetry, of being a poet, of what poetry is and means. Poetry is images and sensations, the words that feed and sustain us; it is books and libraries and a drug for daydreamers. In fact, it is everything that enables us to make sense of the world and find our place in it. The work has been called a paean to the joy of poetic creativity sung by the poet with a twinkle in her eye. The poet comprises all the ‘little poets’ of the title. Why should the poet be a great male bard in an ivory tower? Once established, ‘little poets’ becomes a central concept, written as a single word in subsequent poems, while ‘poet’ and ‘dikt’ (poem) occur as words or as parts of words in all but seven of the fifty-seven poems. Perhaps poetry is the ultimate meaning of life, the little place here or there or anywhere you can be at your snuggest, perhaps under the kitchen table. It’s not simply that the poet can’t live without poetry but now poetry can’t live without her. She quotes Baudelaire to the effect that all human beings carry their dose of opium within them, which, in her case, is poetry. But we are all poets, lyricising our lives, creating our own little worlds through our individual presences, our unique idiolects both constructing reality and being constructed by it. Once confirmed as ‘småpoeter’ (little poets), we are not small in the sense of small-minded or petty. Nor are we minor poets, since the existence of minor implies the existence of major, but we are all equal, modest contributors to the shaping of Nature, which owes its existence to language and the metaphorical, metaphysical constructs it proposes. Little poets are as essential as a library’s little magazines or a culture’s little people, the faerie folk of dreams and nightmares. We are little in cosmic terms, but that doesn’t stop us all being poets. This optimistic, humanistic view of life, conveyed with a serious playfulness, imbues and inspires Byggmästar’s latest volume as it did the previous. Back in 1995 the poet wrote in Vasabladet that her ambition was ‘to renew language and at the same time alleviate mankind’s and the world’s suffering’. This, she said, would entail her being ‘both a rebellious anarchist and a nurse’. These bold aspirations staked out the direction she was taking. Nature had already given her so much delight – an infectious joie de vivre she was successfully transmitting through her poetry. Like all original writing, Byggmästar’s poetry cannot be properly described or analysed by the use of conventional tools; it has to be absorbed, and its unique grammar and discourse learnt, in order to be understood and enjoyed to the full. The structure of her images in terms of phonotactics and syntax, syllabification and rhythm, is as important as the images themselves – its range of significance, its novelty, its discordance. This means that much of Byggmästar’s work has to be both seen and heard at the same time. As inventive, as surprising and sometimes as puzzling as e.e.cummings, she lays out her words in sequences and lines that the translator may have difficulty in reproducing but which the bilingual English reciter can indicate by judicious delivery. But it is enough for the last poem just to be heard. It is a longish love song about Artemis, addressed partly to us and partly to her, a paean sung by the goddess’s favourite nymph, Callisto – aka Eva-Stina. As I read these poems aloud, I imagine I hear soft accompanying strains of music all around me. The words bring my surroundings, including the inanimate, to life. When ‘Näcken’, the naked water-sprite, plays his fiddle for the joy of enhancing Nature’s own music, everyone within earshot listens and starts to move in time to the cadences of the magical sounds. This is poetry at its purest, on course to meet all its own aesthetic objectives of lyrical composition.

Martin Murrell

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