Schildts & Söderströms (Finland), 2017.
Reviewed by Martin Murrell in SBR 2018:1
Review Section: Poetry
Nature Child comprises an extensive selection of the poet’s works, taken from nineteen books in all, plus verse from periodicals, cycles and individual poems, now available to a general readership for the first time.
The very first poem in this welcome collection begins: ‘The room, boundless. / The grass sneaks in, / sits on the edge of the bed / and dangles its roots – / telling of the dew’s / caressing proximity.’ From I glasskärvornas rike (In the Kingdom of the Shards of Glass), 1986. This is both key and trigger. The poet conveys her awareness of the natural world: wherever she is, she never loses touch with real nature, which, for her, is ubiquitous. Her personal space is all life. As we read or listen to her words, imbibing her images and settings, we are drawn into her unspoilt, quasi-Edenic environment and stroll along with her, hand in hand. Nature is both all around her and within her, and through her poetry we are able to share her space, which supplies the themes and alerts the senses, whatever we decide to taste or wherever we dip our toe.
Byggmästar studied art but found herself devoting more and more time to poetry. ‘Poetry can be an emotional geography, landscape painting or a still life in words,’ says Peter Björkman in his postscript. It can be all these and more. Byggmästar’s breakthrough came in 1992 with her fifth collection, För upp en svan (Bring Up a Swan).
Cohesion and coherence may be lost in a selection. It is a big responsibility for an author or other compiler. A collected edition containing an author’s whole published output is more satisfactory, ideally compiled by the writer and published under their supervision. On the plus side, one great thing about compilations such as this is that they may contain poems that have hitherto appeared only in periodicals and anthologies, as is the case here.
The Architecture of the Heart is a cycle of poems addressed to the poet’s lover, published in the periodical Plump in 2014. It begins: ‘You / still cling / to my androgynous body / with kisses and radiant fingertips. // Exhausted and filled with bliss / we fall asleep just before break of day.’ It ends: ‘The opium of your kisses / to me is the fruit / dripping with sweetness / in a Sapphic Eden.’
These lines provide a picture of the poet’s world: an idyllic, erotic space filled with the breathtaking beauty and acts of nature. The poetry communicates the sincere feelings of a woman whose emotions we can’t help sharing. She’s neither a Wordsworth nor a pantheist; she doesn’t seek to philosophise or explain. Natural phenomena provide her unique habitat and preoccupation, as she displays in poetry the love and awe of a totally nature-besotted – dare we say? – David Attenborough.
Some readers may be reminded of The Song of Songs, but Byggmästar’s works are not allegories. This is not an expression of religious adoration, but of human love – a love and reverence for earthly life in all its forms. There are admittedly nods to pantheism and mysticism, but for Byggmästar she and all nature are connected, while some species may have specific tasks: ‘Do not take my birds, / they are this world’s messengers, / they carry human beings’ tears to God.’ From Näckrosön (The Water Lily Island), 2003. The last poem in this collection runs: ‘Holy forests, / where every tree within itself / bears a thousand icons, which were not painted by human hand. / See, a vast forest of icons!’ God may be Christian, but not always. For the poet, the divine is immanent in nature, and Life and Nature are inseparable: ‘To protect itself from the rain / a butterfly climbs in under a rose hip. / I’m thinking of constructing / a new garden inside me, / with fruit trees, a little stream / and oval beds of pebbles.’ From Bo under ko (Nest under Cow), 1997.
Making a selection of pieces from a work with a significant number of internal links is a difficult task, and many of the poet’s published works display such inner cohesion. There will undoubtedly be a few omissions the reader might question. We must hope that Byggmästar – child of nature and master-builder that she is – will one day publish her complete works as a multivolume set.