Dear Vilde

On the table

Oslo, 7 February 2022

Dear Vilde,

[…] I begin with a few words, a line. This, for example:

gather and disperse

I can’t remember where it comes from. Maybe mil­i­tary theory, troop for­mation. […] It is both an im­pera­tive and a de­scrip­tion of how I work. I collect words and phrases, I write them down on small bits of paper and spread them out on the table. I move them around, I try out dif­fer­ent com­bina­tions, I place them below each other, next to each other, I gather them in sec­tions, and at some point I might have writ­ten a small book. I have writ­ten all the books for England Forlag [England Press] this way, and two books for the Swedish small press Chateaux. […]

I have published two larger collections, Dronning av England [Queen of England] and Britisk mu­seum [British Museum], both with Kolon Forlag. The pro­cess is the same, only with larger units. I spread out small books on the floor, and images and let­ters and other texts, and move them around. […]

British Museum

Sometimes I publish a few lines in mag­a­zines, per­haps lines that have not yet found their place in a book. These two lines, for ex­am­ple, were first pub­lished in Swedish, on the same page in the mag­a­zine Slot:

a child carries a child

why is it beautiful

They were later printed on separate spreads in the book Klokkene [The Clocks], as the first of its three parts. I always place the lines on right-hand pages and leave the ver­sos, the left-hand pages, blank. The lines are iso­lated, and the eye can rest, while the thoughts wander. […]

Slot 9 The Clocks

Sometimes I pick out a few lines from a book and pub­lish them as an in­de­pen­dent text. The fin­ished work doesn’t exist. These two lines, for ex­am­ple, are prin­ted on sep­a­rate spreads in the book Tre bøker [Three Books], as the last of its three parts:

the great words

forgive them

They were first published as an in­depen­dent text in French, in the mag­a­zine Pen­sion Victoria, and then in Nor­wegian in the an­thol­ogy Gruppe 10 [Group 10], like this:


forgive them

Note the capital letters—the big words, quite simply—the first line is now a title. I’m think­ing about what it does to the two lines. […]

Pension Victoria 12

Some lines might stand best on their own. This, for ex­am­ple:

the mills of poetry grind slowly

I have printed it on writing paper, post­cards, stick­ers. This line I have only print­ed on place cards:

the reformation begins

[…] The place cards can be used to write with, the lines can be moved around and com­bined in many ways. The post­cards too, for that mat­ter, if the table is big enough. […]

Place cards Postcards

I have also printed books with only one line, in addi­tion to a title. London, for ex­am­ple, with this line:

a paper boat is burning on the river

I have called it a work instruction, and I have set paper boats aflame and afloat on rivers, but never on the Thames.


Håndtak [Handle] is another example, with this line:

a handle in the shape of a leaping deer

This could also be a work instruction, some­one could make or could have made such a handle. My start­ing point was not a thing, but an exam­ple in a dic­tio­nary:

a door handle shaped as a lion’s head

[…] I often rewrite, as above. The sources are often old, and they can be more or less obvi­ous—‘the mills of poetry grind slowly, for ex­am­ple, is a re­phras­ing of an old pro­verb, ‘the mills of God grind slowly, of un­known origin. Other lines are direct quo­ta­tions, al­though they might not come across as such—‘forgive them, for ex­am­ple, is a quote from Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34). […]

Four Walls

Fire vegger [Four walls] is a third example, with this line:

the images are hanging in the garden

The title line has accompanied me for a long time. I first print­ed it on place cards, then on large sheets for an ex­hibi­tion, then post­cards, until it even­tu­ally ended up as the title of my second book for the Swe­dish small press Chateaux. I have writ­ten two books for their turquoise seri­es, a book seri­es with a strict mate­rial and formal frame­work. The start­ing point is the print sheet, 25 x 40 cm, folded twice, into an uncut eight page book.

Four Walls

I translated the book into Swedish to avoid con­fusion, I want the lines to be as clear and direct as pos­si­ble. My first book in the same seri­es, Det ferdige verkets skjønnhet [The Beauty of the Fin­ished Work], is easily under­stood by Swe­dish read­ers and hence not trans­lated. I trans­lated the first book into French, and Andreas Vermehren Holm trans­lated it into Danish. The Danish edi­tion is an ordi­nary saddle-stitched book pub­lished in the seri­es Bes­tiarium by the small press Virkelig. The French edition is a print sheet with­out cover pub­lished by Victoria Xardel as a sup­ple­ment to the mag­a­zine L’usage. I men­tion these two, Andreas and Victoria, because their work is im­por­tant to me. I have never met Victoria, but we have cor­re­spond­ed for a long time, and I always think of her when I sit down with my bits of paper. […]

L’usage 5

The two books for Chateaux are printed in the col­lec­tion Britisk mu­seum, an ordi­nary thread-sewn book, which con­tains the texts dif­fer­ently from the orig­i­nal edi­tions. Some­thing is lost, while new con­nec­tions appear. A letter may shed light on a book, for ex­am­ple, or a few dis­con­nected lines. […]

I republished the two books in their orig­i­nal form, as two sheets folded into two books, with England Forlag last year. The joint title is To bøker [Two Books], and the pub­lica­tion be­came my Christ­mas greet­ing to friends and ac­quain­tances. I send my things by post to friends and strangers, and I often get some­thing in return. […]


England Press


  • London (4 pages, England Forlag, Oslo, 2009)
  • Tre bøker [Three Books] (24 pages, England Forlag, Oslo, 2010)
  • Pension Victoria 12 (4 pages, Venice, 2010)
  • Gruppe 10 [Group 10] (224 pages, Kolon Forlag, Oslo, 2010)
  • Dronning av England [Queen of England] (152 pages, Kolon Forlag, Oslo, 2011)
  • Det ferdige verkets skjønnhet [The Beauty of the Finished Work] (8 pages, Turkosa serien 1, Chateaux, Stockholm, 2013)
  • La beauté de l’œuvre finie [The Beauty of the Finished Work] (8 pages, trans. Jørn H. Sværen, L’usage 5, Corbières, 2013)
  • Slot 9 (8 pages, Stockholm, 2015)
  • Håndtak [Handle] (4 pages, England Forlag, Oslo, 2015)
  • Det færdige værks skønhed [The Beauty of the Finished Work] (8 pages, trans. Andreas Vermehren Holm, Bestiarium, Forlaget Virkelig, Copenhagen, 2016)
  • Queen of England (152 pages, trans. Jørn H. Sværen, Black Square Editions, New York, 2017)
  • Fyra väggar [Four Walls] (8 pages, trans. Jørn H. Sværen, Turkosa serien 13, Chateaux, Stockholm, 2019)
  • Klokkene [The Clocks] (24 pages, England Forlag, Oslo, 2019)
  • Britisk museum [British Museum] (168 pages, Kolon Forlag, Oslo, 2020)
  • To bøker [Two Books] (2 x 8 pages, England Forlag, Oslo, 2021)

Text and translation by Jørn H. Sværen. First published under the title ‘A letter from Jørn H. Sværen’ on the website Scrypth, 23 April 2022. Photos by Vidar M. S. Husby except paper boat by Thomas Kvam.