Note: This statement was first published in the anthology Freily ausgefranst. Translingual Poetics (eds. Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf) Berlin: Hochroth, 2019) translated into German by Daniela Seel.
I started writing Summer while staying in Sweden one summer; I wrote in the most mythical, idealized space I know: Sweden in summer.
I had come home to work on another book about coming home but in my friend Fredrik’s studio, where I was staying, there was a large portrait on the wall: two girls in the style of the 1920s. And I started writing to them.
I began writing in English but the Swedish seeped into my text like reverse wounds in the wholeness. I listen to pop music when I write and I was listening to the Swedish top 40 station and that’s how the Swedish words began to enter my poems.
And I listened to Frank Ocean – “havet” in the poems – the ocean that plays such an important role in the Swedish myth of summer. All my favorite memories of childhood take place in the same location: “Stranden” – “the beach”. That’s what we called the place where we stayed in summer.
Frank Ocean’s name, his songs became Swedish and then English and the Swedish songs became English then Swedish then English. The blood flows out but it also flows in. It was not a reverse wound, nothing that linear. It was a vibrational wound. A sonic wound: the sounds vibrating in two languages.
I read Eva Kristina Olsson’s Det Ängelskgröna Sakramentet – the angel-green sacrament, the English-green sacrament – about an angelic encounter. The encounter is an encounter at its most intense, but it isn’t pure. It bleeds out. It seems to vibrate in a body. That filthy thing.
My own poems became vibrational encounters with the foreign which was the past, the past which was my own but which had become radically foreign, angelic.
I wrote poems in communication with two girls in a painting from the 1920s – Europe before the disaster. They were before but they were also after the disaster because my friend told me what happened to their families. They told me what happened to the moment.
I thought I was writing a poem about the disaster. I thought the disaster was Trump but it was my daughter Arachne. No the disaster was everything and we cannot extricate ourselves from this toxic state.
I came home in the fall and I continued writing to those girls but the fascist rallies and rabble wanted into my poems and then my wife gave birth to Arachne but Arachne had a hole in her lungs and was taken to a room full of tubes and beeping sounds and light but most of all the loud sound of her breathing, or rather the breathing of the machine that was keeping her alive. The idea of the poem as breath is a leftover from the Christian idea of the soul and the body – it doesn’t recognize differing languages. The breath exists outside of the body somehow. My daughter’s machine-breathing was her breath, her poem, but it didn’t come from some imaginary interiority, it came from the struggle of her lungs, her little body trying to stay alive with a machine that was both helping her breathe and killing her. Her body existed in the toxic state.
She died after two weeks but I still walk around with her breathing, her machine poem in my head – I’m still writing summer but most of the time I’m writing the poem for her.
It’s a dialogue but she’s dead.
Poetry was always a dialogue with the dead.
It was always interlingual but the establishment buffoons of US poetry want to keep the foreign languages out, want to keep death out. They dream about a noiseless communication of the soul.
My wife read to me James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” – She read “all the garbage from the Seine” but I thought she said “all the garbage from the sun.” Her breath was deformed by the act of transmission. The bodies in the room – “Giovanni’s Room” – misshaped the original as translingual communication always does. Just as language with actual receivers always does.
I started writing about this room where I was living with the toxic garbage of contemporary America and capitalism but also with my daughters and my wife and our foster son – who was born with a petrified fly buzzing in his spine – and Arachne’s poem permeated the room: wosh wosh.
So the poem about an impossible summer, a summer as a wound where languages leaked into each other, where my own mother tongue acted like a toxin – has become a poem about a toxic room, a room where my daughter’s poem is constantly sounding out “garbage in the sun, garbage in the sun” because that’s her poem, a toxic poem about toxic garbage in a toxic country. All we are left with from this terrible state.
This terrible state is a toxic summer – that’s what my poem is about now. Garbage in the sun. A state that has no pure language. A state whose poetry has to vibrate like a petrified fly in my spine. A state whose poetry is always saying wosh wosh.
This is my angelic encounter.
Johannes Göransson is the author of four books with Tarpaulin Sky Press — Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate (2011), Haute Surveillance (2013), The Sugar Book (2015), and Poetry Against All (2020) — in addition to three previous collections of poems: A New Quarantine Will Take My Place, Dear Ra, Pilot (“Johann the Carousel Horse”) He has also translated several books, including Aase Berg’s Hackers, Dark Matter, Transfer Fat, and With Deer as well as Ideals Clearance by Henry Parland and Collobert Orbital by Johan Jönson. @JohannesGoranss