BENGT O BJÖRKLUND: Up close and personal
We have great pleasure in interviewing a man of many talents, and fascinating life story, Bengt O Björklund. He is not only a writer, but is also an amazing artist, photographer and musician. Bengt’s three untitled poems were published in Confluence Issue 5.
Bengt was born in Stockholm in 1949. In 1969 he ended up in prison in Istanbul together with international artists, poets and musicians. It was there his creativity was sparked. The character of Erich, in Alan Parker’s Film Midnight Express, is based on Bengt. Bengt also lived in Bolton for a bit, where he attended Bolton College of Art for a term! Samantha McCabe delves into the mind of Bengt to find out where his creative flow and concepts are born.
You’re a man of many talents. What inspired you to become a writer/poet, and where did you get your inspiration from?
Bengt: I cannot pin point a certain day or so when the muse grabbed me, but I do remember the impact Dylan Thomas had on me when I read his writing for the first time in 1969, both his mystic and powerful poetry and his colourful short stories. I had been a wandering hippie on my way to India in 1968 and got stuck in Istanbul and where, one can say, I lost my mind with too much drugs.
To make a long story short, the police picked me the first week in 1969 with 30 grams of hash and I was madder than the Mad Hatter at the time, I could not talk and I was waiting to be reborn. Well slowly I returned to Earth and found myself in the company of poets, artist, musicians, philosophers, Black Panthers, you name it, in jail in Istanbul. So in that kind of a context I started to write, mostly in English, since I was the only Swede in the joint. I also started to paint, play the guitar, a tenor recorder and do yoga.
Could you tell us a bit more about your writing background or general background that led you on the path of becoming a writer/poet?
Bengt: Inspired by all the authors whose books I was getting to know, Blake, Eliot, Frost, Mayakovsky, Joyce, Dostoyevsky etc, I kind of found a voice within me, a voice that at times almost could sing. Right from the start the musicality of the poetry was of utmost importance. Those first years I imitated my favourite writers and worked really hard to construct sonnets and rondeaux that sounded natural. All the tools were important; rhymes, assonance, dissonance, alliterations, all were important and still are today although they are just there in the flow of my words.
After returning to Sweden in 1973 I landed in a high security prison, and started to paint with oil colours there, and came in contact with the Swedish poetry scene of the seventies. I was published in a magazine for the first time. Now for the first time I read some of the big Swedish poets like Tranströmer, Martinsson and Ekelöf. Don’t ask me why, but after six months I was pardoned by the king and on my way out to see Europe, writing poetry like my life depended on it.
Some of the poems from the Swedish jail were published in my first collection of Swedish poems in 1975, Breaking through the window (Det genombrutna fönstret). In 1978 my second book of poetry came out, Seekers of Grace (Nådsökarna). Both were published by Inferi. Those last poems were written both in Istanbul and in jail outside Stockholm.
I’ve had breaks from writing poetry, sometimes a few years at a time, but basically I have been writing since I started in 1970 till today.
What inspires you to write and what rewards to your personally get from creating poetry?
Bengt: I’d say it’s the other way around. I go to my office and relax with a beer or so. I wait for my mind to talk to me, to engulf me with words and images and in all that lies my inspiration, that sea of expressions that rumble within me. Then it’s like singing. All that I am is in that state of mind. Writing poetry is to me like finding a higher state of being, a voice that can say so much more. That is my reward. And if there are others that find a resonance in my poetry that is the best of all.
Do you have an author or poet that inspires you, and who is your favourite?
Bengt: Like I said earlier, Dylan Thomas has always been with me in all my poetic endeavours. I’d like to think that I have absorbed some of his playful way of using the English language. Eliot is a favourite and many more – the whole Beat generation, Whitman, Thoreau, Pound, you name it. Many of my friends are poets, so I do read a lot of contemporary poetry as well.
In my Swedish poetry there obviously are more Swedish poets that have impressed me and inspired me. Writing simultaneously in two languages makes you kind of two separate persons on speaking terms, but that’s it.
What is your intended audience in regards to page or audience?
Bengt: I write for the sake of singing to the world. If there is a small crowd present when I open my eyes I am glad. Having said that I must add that graphic form of the poem also is important to me. The poem must please and inspire the eye too.
Do you get more motivation out of performing publicly or by publishing your work in print? Is there perhaps a difference?
Bengt: Reading my poems live gives them body. I think it was Dylan Thomas that said: ‘Reading one’s own poems aloud is letting the cat out of the bag.’ To me who works so intensely with the sound of the poetry, it’s really like that. All my poems must be readable. I discover flaws in a work when I read it aloud.
Cats and dogs and never giving up…
The famous question… Are you a cat or dog person?
Bengt: I got married for the third time 21 years ago. Those first four years we went from one cat to one cat and a dog, to two cats and a dog and three cats and a dog. These days no cats, just the daughter and the granddaughter to the first dog and one more that belongs to my daughter.
You have an active online presence in regards to the media, such as Facebook and Youtube. Do you have any projects that you’re currently working on in regards to poetry?
Bengt: When it comes to publishers I seem to have better luck outside Sweden with my English poems than here in my native land. This spring two US publishers will publish two different books. One is called A Stab in the Dark the other I. The first one I’ve worked on for more than ten years, the other is my latest English poems. My first book of English poems is called singing in my chains like the sea and was published in Wales in 2015 (Iconau Books).
The French artist and musician Frederic Iriarte has been documenting me reading my poetry. There is also a documentary out there about me.
Apart from being a writer and poet, you’re also an amazingly talented artist and photographer, along with being a musician. Where did your inspiration come from while creating those projects and which is more rewarding for you when it comes to poetry and art – as they are equally connected, with one being the word and the other, the visual?
Bengt: Although you can perform with your poetry and meet people in a gallery, the most immediate cultural expression is to play music with others live. But all three of them are different and appeal to different moods: watching how the smallest details in a painting grow; scouring my guts to put my life into words; playing live music on a stage.
For those aspiring writers and poets, do you have any advice you’d like to share with them?
Bengt: Find that voice that is really you. It’s there, you just need to polish it, again and again. Never give up!
Find Bengt online:
And on Facebook:
And his art: www.facebook.com/andrasidanbob/
Me and my Japanese dream
(from Sağmalçilar jail 1972)
I have come
to touch you with a finger of light
to touch you with a smile
in your lonely times
at the banks of Sanz-Nokawa
let me drink
the bitter sweet tears
of the past
broken by the stricken hour
broken by the stricken hour
folded into any number of nest eggs
retold and constantly reimbursed
immersed and standing
on one silly leg
in a wintry forest corroding
to the sound of all’s end game
I drive my nails
deep into wallpapered you
stripped bare in public
ruptured like a ripe plum
broken like an arrow
stuck at the heart of my pale chest
wonderstruck by so many moons
lost in any could be chapter
I still carry the grey cloak
a druid once gave me
somewhere in The Middle Albion
revel you fool by the I letter
carry the unborn and the dead
far into the waste land
I’ve drivelled into the lost trade
I’m run out of town
for the sake
of cleansing the neighbourhood
from the no ceremonies
the ones that will not put down a bet
spin your wheel
you are so in need of a thief
to dare the rest of us
to empty our pockets
your kaftan hides your scars
infections and sores
that never heal
I go I and I will die
you too must go
by Bengt O Björklund