Öyvind Fahlström’s Bord: Visual devices in poetry


  • Eva Lilja Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion, University of Gothenburg




Öyvind Fahlström, concretism, The Swedish fifties, gestalts, cognitive schemas, premodality, visual devices


The poet and artist Öyvind Fahlström (1928–1976) was the leader of the Scandinavian avant-garde during the fifties and the beginning of the sixties. He wrote his only collection of poetry Bord [Tables] in 1952–1955, but it was not published until 1966. In this book he applies the aesthetic ideas of his two manifestos – signification is what matters in poetry but signification emanates out of the visual materiality of letters and the sounds of speech. Bord contains advanced visual poetry as well as sound poetry. We may notice that the same tools for description and analysis can be utilized for both these modalities, something that can be explained with the help of gestalt psychology and the image schemas of cognitive poetics.

Fahlström’s poem “Den svåra resan” [“The hard journey”] is a three-pages score for speech choir and a beautiful visual poem as well. A harmonious, strict picture contrasts to the turbulent sounds. What you see and what you hear express different moods and supply different significations.

The printed picture of elder free verse typically has a straight left margin and a wavering right one. After Fahlström, poets more and more tended to pattern the whole page. With time, Fahlströms ideas met with American language poetry, creating a special quality we recognize in contemporary poetry.


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