This review first appeared in Göteborgs-Posten on 2013-07-11
Translated by Johannes Göransson
On the inside cover of Helena Boberg’s new poetry collection, Sense Violence, the follow-up to her strong debut Repulse, there’s a reproduction of an artwork by the outsider artist Henry Darger. Darger’s magnum opus was the 15,000-page fantasy In the Realms of the Unreal, about a few child rebels’ uprising against the Glandelian Lords slave rule. In the illustration there’s a gang of naked children sneaking past blooming flowers that are being watched over by a farmer. In other illustrations, small schoolgirls are executed by hanging and their knee-socked legs are cut off so that the blood drips.
The boundary-traversing quality of Darger’s opus corresponds congenially with Boberg’s textworld. Both of their works include a folk-song or fairytale-sweet features, but also a deeply unnerving rub where the child’s sexual games are reoriented by treasonous, pedophilic grown- ups, resulting in brutal violence.
As with Henry Darger, Boberg’s book contains residues of code language. While Darger traced his images of children from magazines, Boberg’s work draws from Freud, Romantic poets, as well as her contemporaries. At times, the book moves into a materialistic-myopic euphoria similar to Eva-Stina Byggmästar’s poetry. At other times, the poetry features genital-like flowers that veer into merciless sexual violence; a mix between Ann Jäderlund’s earlier and later work. Some of the animals in the text are symbols of evil, like when men’s “snakes” go hunting; others are images of vulnerability, bringing together an alliance of animals, children and women.
With a hyper-confident feeling for the language, Boberg’s suite begins in a place that resembles other places, but it is still nothing like them. It is a language-based existence that is permeated by a feminist awareness of lifelong male violence. The text widens and is pulled back together by the pain from assault, until, in the last few pages, one can sense a chosen, untainted conception. The sound of “ovaries hissing of violent love.”
[Johannes Göransson’s translation of Sense Violence is now available from Black Ocean]
Johannes Göransson is the author of eight books – including most recently POETRY AGAINST ALL and Transgressive Circulation: Esssays on Translation – and the translator of many more, including books by Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Kim Yideum and Henry Parland. He edits Action Books and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Notre Dame. @JohannesGoranss