Around the 2000s, the personal, once again, became political and a new generation of female poets has since been addressing the globalized, mediarised reality through themes such as gender, identity and the body.Through their poetry, connections are created between intimate, bodily affairs and global issues such as war and climate change as well as questions surrounding white privilege and the traces of colonialism. Among today’s female poets are Mette Moestrup, Aase Berg, Ida Börjel and Gerður Kristný.
There has been talk of a turning point in the literary climate of Sweden around 1975. New poets make their debut in part thanks to state publishing subsidies. Space is found for a more nuanced and changing prismatic view of what poetry is and can be. Inner reality begins to be accorded its full significance, as do specifically female experiences.Modernism’s full, rich arsenal of expressions – rooted in symbolism and Romanticism – is available to those women poets making their debuts in the second half of the 1970s who will become the foremost of their generation. They are contemporary with the new women’s movement, and they depict sensuality, eroticism, the dark language of gender, and the peculiar spiritual and bodily landscape of motherhood in very different ways.
A Literary Debate on Motherhood
The socially conscious Swedish writer Moa Martinson, The enfant terrible of the welfare state for two decades, her first name was a household word. The sexual, historical, and psychological projects that inform Martinson’s writing are closely intertwined. Much of her fiction documents the awareness of working-class women during a time of great social unrest when the labour movement became a force to reckon with and class consciousness manifested in organised forms, and can also be read as a feminist critique of the failure of the labour movement to demand social reforms for women.Making the fertile body of a woman the centre around which the literary material is organised was new to Swedish literature. Most of Martinson’s female characters are strong but ambivalent. They are bound to their biological destiny but strive to transcend it. She encountered opposition from the critics for her unpolished portrayals of women’s bodies and sexuality. Placing sexuality in the foreground allowed her to depict women’s existential condition.
In the early 1950s one of the great oeuvres in Swedish literature was initiated when the young Birgitta Trotzig published Ur de älskandes liv (1951; Out of the Lives of Lovers). The novel contains a striving to reach beyond the limitations of the I, to reach the You that is indispensable to life, and this will remain the basic theme and stylistic movement of Trotzig’s works. Is not Birgitta Trotzig really a lyricist? The most intense parts of her work take the shape of poetic prose fragments or of lyrical vision. But narrating the “path between birth and death” stands as a necessity. “The great problem is terribly simple. A brief run between birth and death. That human life should be a community of love. Why doesn’t this exist?” she writes in the essay “Hållpunkter, hösten 1975” (“Fixed Points, Autumn 1975”). This attention to the progression of life as a whole is found in all her stories.
With her remarkable debut novel Tjärdalen (1953; The Tar Kiln), Sara Lidman laid the ground for a magnificent literary world, to which her oeuvre remained faithful. Her novels are constructed around a multitude of people, united in the village. Usually this village is situated in Norrland, on the outskirts of civilisation, but it has scions in Africa and Vietnam. Its characteristics are poverty and exploitation – but at the same time it is presented as a strangely rich collective.In terms of themes, tough questions of guilt and treason are raised, but they are wrapped in a loving, forgiving narrative, in a continued balancing act between law and grace. At times, Sara Lidman’s main contribution was only partly that of the author. Just as important was the debater, the playwright, and above all the political speaker Sara Lidman. She appears in an unusual combination of being fact-oriented yet in possession of an emotional language, a mixture of the front reporter and the Canticles. Exemplary, loved, and hated.
Cecilie Løveid’s first three lyrical prose novels make a radical break from the social realist novel dominant in Norway in the 1970s. Løveid insists on her modernist aesthetics, in which fragments, collage, intertextuality, and polyphony are preferred to the codes of realism. Her fundamental affinity is with poetry, and because she remains a modernist poet no matter what genre she approaches, it becomes impossible for her to submit to a social realist idiom.The same is true of Kari Bøge, whose experimental debut work Asmorelda, from 1971, makes a radical break from the realistic narrative tradition and represents one of the first significant attempts at a new female modernist prose in Norway. Her insistence on an ahistorical individualism and an aesthetics of emptiness marks a departure from other women writers of the period around 1970. However, she also embarks on themes that were and are central to feminist-oriented writing: the question of identity, the relationship to the husband, and the relationship to writing.
Throughout her long and popular writing career, Martha Christensen built on social realism and a critical involvement in how society treats the weak. In her stories, the social system itself becomes a powerful character that prevails over individual will.Martha Christensen’s critical socio-psychology is not directly political in the same way as Dea Trier Mørch’s stories about the relationship between the individual and society. In her work, the system becomes the necessary organisation and the holistic entity that forms cohesion in individuals’ lives and takes care of them. However, her attitudes and her entire body of work are a critical depiction of the modern welfare society and its view of humanity.Her texts remain within the social structure she criticises, whereas the critic of modernism Anne Marie Løn, following her urban novel Veras vrede (1982; Vera’s Anger), journeys through time, the country, and other types of social life in her search for a positive counterpart to the destructive city.
Even though much Nordic ballad tradition of the last four hundred and more years has been lost, the surviving tradition represents an overwhelming amount of source material. The intense registration and publication work undertaken during the last century and a half has resulted in an overview of the Nordic tradition.The extensive corpus of material on which these editions are based contains songs that were sung by and about women. From the host of female singers, collectors, and scribes, we will here select ballads dealing with women’s personal and fundamental experiences – experiences with critical bearing on family and lineage.