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Ma Ida Börjel, Ma

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2014.

Reviewed by Anna Tebelius in SBR 2014:2

Review Section: Poetry


Ida Börjel is a young poet from the south of Sweden. She has previously published three collections of poetry and won several literary prizes. Her experimental poetry is highly conceptual, echoing other writers as well as non-literary forms of language.

Ma continues this conceptual approach but goes much deeper than mere experimentation. In response to Inger Christensen’s alphabet (1981), the text follows the course of the Swedish alphabet and is almost all set to the right side of the page. Starting at A, Börjel describes in the past tense the fracturing of the earth into continents, the expansion of the universe and the arrival of the human era. What then follows are descriptions, lists, reflections and lamentations on political, historical and contemporary disasters and human distress. Piling these on top of each other and mixing them together, Börjel attempts to describe suffering by describing it all. One poem travels from extortionate interest rates to genocide, to Ellis Island, to the desire to escape to Europe. Each line hides many other stories. It is not until the letter M, for Ma, that the text diverges from its initial structure. Now, the text is suddenly set on the left and written in the first person and the present tense. At ‘I’, Börjel describes how it is impossible to write, impossible to use language to return that which disaster has taken away. The reader discerns the loss of a child and the loss of motherhood, and suddenly the descriptions of violence and catastrophes become intimately contextualised.

Ma, which could stand for mother, is also Japanese for a negative space, a gap or a pause. Ma describes the impossibility of returning to the before of the disaster and the impossibility of describing all that hides in the gaps,in the pauses, in Ma.


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