Interviews / Poets

Interview with Johannes Göransson: “I always took my own path to and through poetry.”

Johannes Göransson is the author of nine books of poetry and criticism, most recently Summer, and is the translator of several books of poetry, including works by Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Helena Boberg and Kim Yideum. 

His poems, translations and critical writings have appeared in a wide array of journals in the US and abroad, including Fence, Lana Turner, Spoon River Review, Modern Poetry in Translation (UK), Kritiker (Denmark) and Lyrikvännen (Sweden). 

He is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Notre Dame and, together with Joyelle McSweeney, edits Action Books.

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Hi Johannes, welcome to Famous Writing Routines! Your poetry and critical works have been widely published in various journals both in the US and abroad. How do you approach writing and publishing your work, and what has been your experience with getting your works published internationally?

My mode has always been to send poems to journals that I like to read. There’s really no reason to be in a journal I don’t read. I’m pretty old now (almost 50!) and a lot of my publishing comes from having crossed paths with people, and often they are not American poets. Translating poems and publishing works in translation has forged many transnational partnerships and collaborations. That’s why I have a lot of international publications. Poems are always moving, morphing, mutating. And I am morphed along with them. 

Summer was recently published in 2022. Can you tell us about the themes and inspiration behind this book and how it differs from your previous works?

It’s about bodies, history, art. It’s about the garbage that goes through our bodies, transforms our bodies. It’s about money, debt and luxury. It’s about gold and inflation. It’s about what we keep in and what we try to push away. If it’s also an elegy for my daughter Arachne, it’s a furious elegy. 

It was inspired in part by reading poets (mostly Eva Kristina Olsson and Ann Jäderlund), listening to pop music, sitting around in a friend’s studio in Stockholm one beautiful summer, looking at a portrait of two girls from the 1920s. In a sense it was inspired by being home but not being home, not ever being home again. 

Like my book Pilot (Fairytale Review, 2008), and unlike my other books, it’s written in both English and Swedish. I began writing it in Sweden, with Swedish pop songs playing on the radio. I’m interested in what happens when different languages collide, how they transform each other, and create new conditions for my mouth, throat. 

You have also translated works by several authors, including Aase Berg, Ann Jäderlund, Helena Boberg, and Kim Yideum. What challenges and opportunities have you faced while translating poems, and what do you feel are the most important aspects to preserve when translating poetry?

Every project is different. I try to listen to each work I translate; I like to think it will tell me how to translate it. In translation, nothing is preserved, texts are set in motion, which. means they will be transformed. And so will I, as the translator. The opportunity is to bring incredible poets to new readers, new poetries, new contexts. I only translate books that I love. That I want to spend a lot of time reading and rereading. 

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You co-edit Action Books with Joyelle McSweeney. Can you tell us about the experience of editing a literary journal and how it has influenced your own writing and perspective as a poet?

We’ve been running the press for 20 years, and that has shaped my reading and writing over that period. I’ve become part of volatile, international networks, which has led me to read books I would never have read without it, met poets I wouldn’t have come in contact with otherwise; and gotten readers I could originally not have imagined. 

As an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Notre Dame, can you tell us about your experience as a teacher and how you incorporate your background in poetry and literary criticism into your lessons and class discussions?

I always took my own path to and through poetry; I try to keep that in mind. I assign a lot of different kinds of poetry, from different cultures, and I teach it from different perspectives. I try to be inclusive, especially of the weirdos that are so often pushed away by our system. They are the people who will bring new visions and ideas to US poetry. 

Can you tell us about your writing routine? What does a typical day look like for you?

Summer was an incredibly intense book. More than a book it was a place I could enter into and would instantly start writing. But I first had to get to that intense place and I’m not there anymore; it feels kind of hard to get back there, so I haven’t tried. I haven’t really written anything since I finished it. I think I’m going to have to invent a new routine, to move in a new direction. 

If you could have a conversation with any author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?


I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite recent reads?

I’ve been re-reading Kalender Röd Levande av Is [Calendar Red Living of Ice] by Ann Jäderlund, and Eva Kristina Olsson’s Medea and her Antigone. Sean Bonney’s Our Death has been one of my favorite books of the past couple of years. Recently when I was down in New Orleans to give a reading, Rodrigo Toscano said Summer reminded him of Huidibro, and that made me go back and re-read his Altar, especially the later poems. That also made me go back and reread Hector Viel Temperley’s Hospital Britanico, which is a book I feel very close to. 

Can you describe what your writing workspace looks like?

It’s full of books and paper and my daughter’s sewing machine and my exercise bike. The plants are all dying.

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