singing in my chains like the sea


Category Poetry

In 1968 Bengt Björklund arrived in Turkey. Like so many young people of his generation he was travelling in search of adventure, spirituality and self. In Istanbul he was arrested for possession of $20 worth of hash. He was tortured in an attempt to elicit a confession of dealing and then thrown into a notorious Turkish gaol, a brutal and violent microcosm of a lawless society. The dehumanisation of inmates in the prison was depicted by the American writer Billy Hayes. Björklund was befriended by Hayes and became the model for the Swedish character Erich in the 1978 film Midnight Express. In 1973 Björklund was extradited to Sweden but the five years in the Turkish prison played a huge part in the growth of Björklund the man and also Björklund the poet and artist. Within the prison community Björklund became part of a very international collective of artists, writers and musicians. He discovered mentors and life-long friends (sadly some of those lives were short ones) among the members of this intensely creative group. The Japanese artist Koji Morrishita and the Italian artist, poet, and Dadaist Antonio Rasile became close friends and sources of inspiration in his visual practice and the works of Dylan Thomas and William Blake became significant influences upon his writing. After his release from prison travel became, perhaps, even more important to Björklund s need to find understanding of himself and his place in the world. He spent a large part of the 1980s in Brazil, he toured as a musician with a Brazilian band and ran his own employment agency in one of Rio s favelas. Over the last 40 years he has published six volumes in Swedish: Det genombrutna fönstret, Inferi 1975; Nådsökarna, Inferi, 1978; Staden, Utposter 2003; Jag missade Woodstock, Podium 2009; Funderingar, Podium 2010; Vi drömde om en circus, FEL Forlag 2013. The two volumes published in 2009 and 2013 are autobiographical works in a poetic form. In 2014 Björklund spent some time in Tranås at an international literary residency with fellow writers Tishani Doshi from Madras, Anisur Rahman from Bangladesh, Natalie Holborow and Anthony Jones from Wales and Michelle Mahon from Ireland. The residency, in celebration of the centenary of Dylan Thomas, was part of a series of annual international cultural exchanges organised by Coracle Europe and hosted by the Swedish organisation Kultivera. I was the curator of this residency and it was as a direct result of our meeting here, that the friendship between two writers grew into a relationship of mutual respect and bother-hood as poet and editor. Björklund had travelled only once to Wales while he was living in England in the 1970s. It was a return trip to a festival in the back of a van to a location he still cannot name. He returned in the summer of 2015 and visited Swansea, Carmarthen, Ferryside and Laugharne. An early edit of this collection was undertaken in the bar in the Browns Hotel in Laugharne. After nearly 50 years of writing poetry in English he hoped to experience the spirit of Dylan Thomas during his visit. He felt he only did so in the presence of other writers, while collaborating with fellow poet and percussionist Laurence James in a performance at a Poems and Pints event in the Queens Hotel in Carmarthen. His words deserve not to be restrained by the page and whether alone or in company I urge you to read these poems aloud. Dominic Williams