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This report is taken from PN Review 102, Volume 21 Number 4, March - April 1995.

Letter from Stockholm E.B. Friedlander

The 'new generation' of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish poets represented in The New Poetry (or their editors) may well have something to learn from the poetry scene here in Sweden. It is admirable to champion poetry that is in step with the concerns and needs of today's public. But the champion, in this case, because it is located in England, is unfeasible, an empty signifier. The bald truth remains. Such poetry, no matter how well it is sold, will remain an impossibility until the nation's children are given something more than the ability to make out a job application!

I do not intend to set England up as a whipping boy, Sweden as some kind of cultural Shangri-La. England serves rather as counterpoint to Sweden. Unlike England, Sweden has been governed, almost continuously since the 1920s, by social democrats. The result is an excellent education system, and a strong emphasis placed on social equality and the maintenance of a common culture.

This political climate seems to have helped Swedes develop a more-public-than-not poetry scene. Through television, and the extensive language training everyone receives, there is a general awareness of poetry. There is no need to do any hard sells here, hype is not necessary. To the contrary, it seems that Swedes love (or at least think well of) their poets. I counted twenty titles by living poets in Stockholm's central train station, a curious little book shop with such anomalies as Roland Barthes stacked ...


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