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This article is taken from PN Review 132, Volume 26 Number 4, March - April 2000.

Gunnar Ekelöf: a living dissonance John Pilling

'We have no poet like him in English or American poetry': Robert Bly, in 1967, of Gunnar Ekelöf, a year before the death of the great Swedish poet. No poet like him then, and now, apparently, more than thirty years later, still none sufficiently like him for Ekelöf to figure as an essential point of reference. Piecemeal publication cannot have helped matters; whereas Bloodaxe have twice issued a Tranströmer Collected Poems, one comes at Ekelöf by way of more or less generous selections, single-volume collections (mostly of late work), and rarely anything that might contextualize an individual poem, whether by date or personal anecdote. Yet in Swedish Ekelöf's Dikter occupy more than 400 pages, often with more than a poem per page; if he is not quite a thousand-page Thomas Hardy or Gerrit Achterberg, then, there is certainly a lot of him to come to terms with, and great variety in a career stretching back forty years to the late 1920s. Ekelöf's lifelong non serviam philosophy, or nonphilosophy, combined with his sense of himself and his life as a version of 'nothing' offers an ironical counterpoint to the published proof that these Songs of Something Else (the title of the Princeton selection of 1982) nevertheless add up to something, and to something substantial in quality as well as bulk.

Ekelöf was born in Stockholm in 1907, the son of a mother whom he could not love and a wealthy stockbroker father in his forties, who was shortly ...


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