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This interview is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

In conversation with the Swedish Poet Håkan Sandell Bill Coyle

BILL COYLE: You began publishing at a very young age?

HÅKAN SANDELL: I did, I suppose. The same month I entered university. A small leaflet of poetry. The first copies were delivered to me by the publisher in a small brown paper package at a bench in the university park. One tends to remember such details.

What was your formal schooling like? Did you ever take a creative writing course?

I was able to avoid military service, having registered for activism in the revolutionary left between the age of 16 and 17, and so went directly to university as the youngest boy in class. I studied Swedish literature and Icelandic language. But there was later a small scandal, and I dropped out, as you say. Instead I learned from the older poets in my home city, Malmö. Mostly from Jan Östergren, I just spent a lot of time sitting at his kitchen table. Among others, I saw Sven Christer Swahn, a poet and the Swedish translator of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and Göran Printz-Påhlsson, who was translated into English by the poet John Mathias. They all basically drank themselves to death, tragically, holding as they did to the old Scandinavian belief that you’re not a real artist if you don’t drink. A form of shyness of the North, I guess, a male embarrassment at their own sensitivity. Brilliant minds. Printz-Påhlsson taught at Cambridge, but was home for summers. Very educated people, better ...


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