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Johannes Göransson

Johannes Göransson co-edits Action Books with Joyelle McSweeney, and co-edits the online journal Action, Yes with John Dermot Woods. He teaches at the University of Notre Dame and writes regularly at montevidayo.com.

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"Pilot pulsates with bare-boned brevity and visceral density."

– Tyler Flynn Dorholt

". . .one of the most interesting and acerbic poets and educators currently at large in the US . . ."

– 3:AM Magazine

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Pilot (Johann the Carousel Horse)

A Kind of Mechanized Urban Decadence

02/25/13

Johannes Göransson’s Pilot (“Johann the Carousel Horse”), written in nearly equal parts English and Swedish, is a curiously named book.  The “Pilot” to which the title makes reference remains obscure, and the subtitle doesn’t (at first) seem to be of much help either. The poem entitled “Johann the carousel horse” is left blank. It appears to have a counterpart-poem, written in Swedish, called “Johannes Karusesellen,” but this leaves any Anglophone intent on puzzling out what to make of the book’s title stuck pondering the half-comprehensible Swedish of Johannes Karussellen.

In a sense though, this Case of the Missing Carousel Horse acts as a signpost for how to read this book: paying careful attention to the “other language” in this bilingual collection offers enormous rewards, even for those of us (most of us) without a lick of Swedish.

When I say you don’t really need to know Swedish to engage with the Swedish poems, I really do mean it. Take the first few lines of “Mjukstycket om att skära” (Google renders this as “Smooth passage of the cut”) and its English counterpart “A soft cut about spasms:”

Vi lär oss blindskrift
skriver ett brev till
presidenten grisar ut
retoriken detta är lyxkött

We learn braille
write a letter to
the president pig
out rhetoric this
is luxury meats

It doesn’t take much in the way of language-learning chops to get from “Vi lär oss blindskrift” to “We learn (us) braille (blindscript),” and in the process of puzzling this out the Swedish comes to look like English in a fun-house mirror, and vice versa. But these poems don’t ultimately behave the way poems in “translation” are supposed to behave, each facing the other quietly from either end of the recto / verso divide like Korean soldiers at the DMZ.

The Swedish and English poems in Pilot do much more than simply mirror each other. Swedish poems cross-pollinate with English poems and vice versa, such that adjacent poems behave less like mirror-images and more like pairs of chromosomes: counterpart poems don’t so much reflect each other so much as copulate. English poems take Swedish titles, poems in both languages borrow freely from the lexicon of the other, and the English poems, at least, seem to have been “infected” by some of the linguistic habits of the Swedish. The relentlessly concussive rhythm of these poems, appropriate to a book that concerns itself so frequently with “pounding,” “banging” and “cramming,” is aided in part by Göransson’s fondness for smuggling in Swedish-style compound neologisms into the English poems — see such poem titles as “Pig the losangelessoft mouth” or “Throughthronged and expensive.”

Ultimately the poems resulting from this all of this linguistic meiosis make for a swirling “carousel” of repeated phrases, motifs, and images, simultaneously evoking fecundity, decay, sexuality, violence and a kind of mechanized urban decadence. If that sounds like a lot, it is, but it’s really all there, over and over again. To pick an arbitrary example:

Technological transcendence

The shellshock will pearl
apart megaphones as tourist
catastrophies bang
on hospital dance floor
while los angeles
confetties in front
crameras hurt
in front the imperial
imagery depict a wound
seduction of a part
that cannot bloat

The poems in Pilot return again and again to these motifs, all of which (decay, death, sex, fecundity, urban decadence) represent or enact states of transition. Pilot lingers in these throbbing transitional spaces, just as it lingers in the space between English and Swedish, turning each poem into a kind of orgiastic, bilingual  “Threshold party,” unleashing and enacting a set of processes equally and invested in procreation and necrosis. Pilot is a living carousel, a linguistic swarm, a “losangelessoft” explosion of pearls, meat, and television; it is, finally, a bass-heavy “Exaggeration music” fit for the times in which we live.

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