The front and back covers of the new issue of Ord&Bild are punctured with holes in the shape of a Q. Through them we see fragments of photographs – a window, an underground train, treetops, a boot… Turning the cover, we find an album of snapshots and a single sentence: ‘Qalam – Everything we do with language’.
The journal has been edited with the writers collective Qalam. Launched in 2012 as a creative writing project for young people in underprivileged suburbs of Gothenburg, Qalam has been headed by the acclaimed Swedish author Johannes Anyuru for almost a decade.
Entitled Layers of Representation, a series of conversations between the group’s members together with ‘echoes’ from previous participants show the development of Qalam from slam poetry to the compilation of the current issue. The majority of the authors come from mixed ethnic backgrounds, but the issue takes care to avoid the jargon of inclusion and exclusion. Filled with poetry, prose and conversations addressing questions of representation and language, it instead offers serious reflection on what it means to write – and to write in Swedish.
Maxine Victor weaves together Swedish and Singapore English with photographic images, while Stephanie Toro inserts Puerto Rican Spanish into her hybrid essay-poem-novel Es tiempo de regresar. Yasmin Elemam’s poetry conveys how vernacular expressions have replaced her Arabic and Deeqo Hussein allows Somali expressions to generate emotional tension. These polyvocal gestures come not from a lack of mastery of the Swedish tongue but from a place where a single language no longer is sufficient.
Masoud Vatankhah shares everyday observations in a first-hand account of fleeing from one country to another, taking the reader from the streets of Teheran to a bleak northern Sweden while making reference to P.O. Engqvist’s Captain Nemo’s Library. Shukri Dahir, Sanna Ghotbi and Sabrin Jaja raise questions of what it means to inherit someone else’s pain. Other writers share the complex experiences of belonging to a third culture.
Sandy Harry Ceesay’s queer magical realism tells of love layered in time and geographies, ‘stories we forget when we awake’. Ismalia Jallow’s auto-fictive short story, part of an ongoing larger project, is supplemented with a QR code that takes us to the language of 3-D rendering via a website where we can navigate the construction.
These are stories yet to be told. Seeping through the holes of this issue of Ord&Bild, one can sense several preludes. The journal operates as a ‘critical zone laboratory’ – not only by dedicating itself to symbolic questions of representation but also by providing a space for conversation, discussion and debate. Or, in the words of Anyuru in his poetic preface: ‘What is more powerful than writing?’
This article is part of the 7/2021 Eurozine review. Click here to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get updates on reviews and our latest publishing.