(Untitled) / (Untitled) / heart / since i like gala events i’m of course lying on the couch watching the children’s cancer gala / good manners are sexy / (Untitled) / dinners we remember / when the body is lukewarm like a finger / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / (Untitled) / poem
All is fair in love and war and brainstorming
I get an impulse to start with saying that I believe Elis Burrau is wrong. In an untitled poem in his poetry collection och vi fortsatte att göra någonting rörande (“and we continued doing something touching”) he claims that “not everything can be put into this text.” Though believing this to be true of most poets, I don’t think it is of Elis Burrau. His poetry has a sense of unlimitedness that is both unusual and relieving, but sometimes disturbing in the same way that living today can often be.
och vi fortsatte att göra någonting rörande was published by the small independent publisher CL(P) Works in March 2016, and is regarded as the debut of Burrau’s, something that can quite easily be questioned. In a text about the book, Burrau writes that he and his fellow author and friend, Anna Axfors, once “made a pact: do everything immediately.” When going through some of the things Burrau has done and published in the past few years, he seems to follow the pact quite well.
Elis Burrau and Anna Axfors met “in a Google Doc,” and seem to have been inseparable since then. Together they write the blog Vi som aldrig skrev prosa (“We who never wrote prose”), host the podcast En blekt blondins podcast om det gamla Stockholm (“A bleached blonde’s podcast about the old Stockholm”), and are the founders of both THE NEW LEVEL (OF POETRY) and Fame Factory, which are platforms for new poetry and young poets. Burrau and Axfors, together with Ludvig Köhler et al., trekked Sweden in 2015 with Heart Broken Poetry Tour. Before och vi fortsatte att göra någonting rörande was published in 2016, an appendix of the book entitled romantisk eftertext (“romantic closing credits”) had been issued the previous year by the Norwegian chapbook publisher AFV Press.
Burrau writes poetry about things we do and things we say and things we try to do and things we try to say. It is very much a poetry that incorporates both succeeding and failing, and does this in a very performative way: “am i right or am i right / this you can say / if you are wrong.”
In his review of och vi fortsatte att göra någonting rörande, the Swedish critic Björn Kohlström purports that reading Elis Burrau gives a good insight into how it is to be young in Sweden in the 2010s: “It’s a book pulsing of life, of feelings, of enthusiasm and a sort of joy that deserves to replace the carpet bombing of real clichés that contemporary language has made itself dependent on.”
I am often surprised by Burrau’s particular way of letting associations run wild. He has a tendency towards using fixed expressions, but he always does something unexpected with them, as in the short two-lined poem that goes: “nobody leaves the room before it’s done / all is fair in love and war and brainstorming.” Here, the cliché “all is fair in love and war,” demands the contemporary workshop addition “and brainstorming.” In another short poem he, in a similar way, describes the ecstatic feeling a writer can have in the middle of the night: “it’s still the middle of the night / i can feel very moved / from reading things i’ve written / because i recognize myself.” It is as if , by the end of the poem, the poet has completely forgotten the first lines, even almost losing who is actually writing the poem.
As Kohlström noted, Burrau is a poet of his time and place, and one thing that Burrau repeatedly comes back to is that he wants inside jokes to be understood by all. This might seem like a strange and almost stupid thing to say, but reading Elis Burrau actually gives you the feeling that internal jokes are shareable. He has a very descriptive way of writing, which makes understanding all his different references and associations surprisingly easy.
Apart from moving smoothly within the poems, Elis Burrau moves as easily between forms, genres, and different media, without ever losing his own voice. I would almost certainly always know when a poem – whether published in a book, an anthology, or a magazine – is written by Burrau, as well as recognize a Tweet by him in an instant, or pinpoint his very precise and often humorous short reviews in Nöjesguiden.
Burrau obviously doesn’t share the view that a poem needs to be “finished” to be publishable. Instead he works with poetry in what I would call a very generous way. Burrau’s generosity is apparent both in his poetry and his other literary commitments. Seldom have I met such an interested and praising colleague in the literary field, all the way from how and where he publishes his own poetry, via publishing young and upcoming poets in Fame Factory, to his flamboyant literary criticism, and finally how he’s talking appreciatively about whatever and whomever comes to mind at the blog or in the podcast. In a way, one couldn’t get further away from the typical spoiled and egoistic child of the 1990s.
In a review of och vi fortsatte att göra någonting rörande, the literary critic Jenny Högström notes that tradition and the past plays a very important role in the book, as does the sampling and the stealing. One of the poems shares the first line “instruction:” with numerous other poems, but the second and last line with the movie title “dead poets’ society.”
I get an impulse at last not to recommend Elis Burrau, in a similar way as he writes “we would never recommend our own book / then we would rather recommend / a much older / book.” The cover of och vi fortsatte göra någonting rörande features the Swedish edition of Marguerite Duras’ last book C’est tout (1995), and there are similarities between how life and fiction are intertwined in Duras’ works and how performativity works in Burrau’s: “to interrupt / each other / on paper is it / beautiful.”