Stockholm Poetry Festival 2010
The theme of the night was resistance. Resistance against racism, resistance against homogeneity, resistance against the right-wing political wave that is currently sweeping the parliaments of Europe and Sweden. As a way of mounting their refusal to go along with the new order, 10TAL presented a festival full of joyful and sad and rebellious poetry, art and music, and we all left feeling like we understood just what it is that the Swedish Democrats are so afraid of, and why they are so very wrong.
The Master of Ceremonies from Cabaret greeted us with a “Welcome! Wilkommen! Bienvenue!” as images flashed on the screen. We saw the imaginary idyll of both Germany and Sweden, and we saw the results of said idea. Simple and sharp, and very effective. Madeleine Grive kept it simple in her introduction as well, bidding us welcome and reminding us that art is about welcoming other cultures, about taking in influences from everywhere and thereby evolving, which is an apt metaphor for how society ought to be dealing with multiculturalism.
We were then joined by Ghayath Almadoun of Palestine, who knows what it is to truly be invaded and whose poetry pointed out that we are only “safe” from violence and war in Sweden because we can pretend it isn’t real, and Martina Montelius, whose monologue addressed to our newly elected parliamentary representatives was an ever-sharpening weapon. In one instance, the two writers came very close: both their texts contained mocking apologies from the people who the Swedish Democrats would reduce and erase. “We apologize for existing, for living, for being here and inconveniently ruining your dinner/your peace of mind/your first day at your new job.” It’s a tragically necessary reminder that there are people behind the rhetoric and the numbers quoted sometimes seemingly at random. And there is no need for them to apologize. Later in the evening we saw “Face It,” a performance by Anna Lindal and Lotta Melin, which demonstrated the futility of hiding between false words.
Ann Hallström, Lars Indrek Hansson and Stina Ekblad all honored the memory of a writer who bucked convention in her time and who certainly resisted all those who would have her conform to norms, literary or otherwise. Ann Hallström is this year’s recipient of the Mare Kandre award, and her work represents an embodiment of the postcolonial mind. Lars Indrek Hansson and Stina Ekblad presented the first performance ever of Det brinnande trädet (The Burning Tree), a musical composition dedicated to Mare Kandre, that accompanied Ekblad’s reading of an excerpt of Kandre’s novel with the same title. Ekblad’s haunting reading merged perfectly with Indrek Hansson’s carefully plucked-out notes.
Act 2 started in a whirlwind of grief and movement, as Yvonne A Owour read an excerpt from her longer work that centered on the death of a brother and flying and Anna Wallander read poetry that focused on an abusive relationship and a dancer, written by Alison Owour, a second literary Owour sister who made her debut in 10TAL’s Kenya issue earlier this year. We continued in movement, listening to Jasim Mohamed read his wonderful poem Som en sardell, which was a reply to Aspenström’s piece (and thus a perfect example of the way writers can directly influence one another, no matter if their backgrounds are completely different. Aase Berg then read quirky and hilarious poetry that at its best exposes hypocrisies while making us laugh out loud and Keep Company made us want to dance.
The last act had three performances, all as different from each other as they could be. Reading from his short story, Jonas Karlsson told us about the rules of the game: there are none, and no matter what you do, you will have to start over. Mostly. Tomomi Adachi ended the festival on a high note, presenting his sound poetry with a rapid-fire delivery that had the whole crowd enraptured, laughing and beaming in delight. Shima Niavarani read a monologue that once again brought us back to the reason we were all at Dramaten that night; she talked about her experience when growing up in a small town where the skinheads recruited disenfranchised students in her school: “Everyone knew, but no one said anything.” And even if she also said “I was already on my way out of there,” Niavarani’s funny, sharp, and impassioned monologue brought back the urgency of resisting these politics: we are fighting over the souls of our young people, we are fighting for the need of acceptance to not be a privilege of those who look a certain way or fit in in a certain manner. “No one said anything,” she said. It’s true, and it points out what we all must do: it is essential that we do say something, that we do speak out.