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.
Existential Resistance Stories
The Women Writer’s Group in Ostrobothnia
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.
Lyric poetry from the 1960s.
On the New Language-Conscious Literature of the 60s and 70s
The start of the 1960s saw the publication of the first poetry collection by Vilborg Dagbjartsdóttir who, as a modernist and a multifaceted cultural figure, has inspired both a younger generation of Icelandic female poets and poets of her own generation.Poets such as Þóra Jónsdóttir, who made her debut in 1973, and Þuríður Guðmundsdóttir, who published her first book in 1969, were, like Vilborg Dagbjartsdóttir, born and brought up in the countryside, and later settled in Reykjavík, and they are, to some extent, preoccupied with the same poetic subjects. They express themselves in precisely chiselled, minimalist poems that demand the reader’s full attention.
The work of collecting material from the oral tradition of nineteenth-century Finland received financial support from the government and resulted in one of the world’s largest collections, not only of oral poetry, but also of women’s poetry. At least half of the recorded texts come from women: female singers and narrators.The collection efforts focused on content; rarely was any attention paid to the bearers of the tradition – the people who sang the songs or told the tales. We know that many were women, but virtually all of them remained anonymous and faceless.This article will only look at part of the extensive tradition: the ancient runes, documented in Kalevala meter (lyrical poems and ballads), and itkuvirsi (lamentations), which were sung exclusively by women. In all, there are approximately 145,000 texts in the first group, and approximately 3000 in the second.
By and large, what we can find out about Ingeborg Grytten, one of Norway’s two seventeenth-century poetesses, has to be gleaned from her hymns. We do not even know the year of her death. But we know that she was familiar with Dorothe Engelbretsdatter’s Siælens Sang Offer, because she borrowed material for her melodies from it.Thus the west coast of Norway produced the first two female Norwegian poets. They came from the same supernational clergy class that was, at the time, the custodian of writing – and of women’s writing too.
Dorothe Engelbretsdatter drove a wedge into patriarchal male society. She is known as the first female hymn writer in Denmark-Norway to assume a sermonising poetic voice representative of the genre. Her verse found its way into the oral and popular tradition, the realm of most women, as well as the ceremonious, male-dominated, and learned house of God. Depictions of the virtuous and the female were themes that linked low and high, the nursery and the church. Unlike her male poet colleagues, she had no other occupation than that of writing. She faced the God of the old ‘estate society’ not as bishop, officer, or schoolmaster, but as woman. She wrote between sixty and seventy hymns and prayers, mostly collected in Siælens Sang-Offer (1678; Song Offering of the Soul) and Taare-Offer (1685; Offering of Tears), a versified rendering of devotions. She ended up making her livelihood by writing, supplemented by a paltry widow’s pension. Dorothe Engelbretsdatter thus became an early example of the professional author who made her living through the pen. This was exceptional at the time.