a conversation with a poet

October 19, 2017

I am walking to the home of Alexander Fallo and thinking about the power he holds with his accomplished Instagram profile. Those people that he touches through his poetry, the people he makes smile, feel and reflect. Maybe they are reading on the tram and suddenly they shine up during a grey morning commute to the office.

We are meeting just in front of his apartment, walking from each end of the street, he with a pizza, a six pack of beer and a friend, who is staying at Alexander’s place for the time being while his own apartment is being redecorated. Me, with a journal.

His apartment has a tasteful interior in the nordic way, but full of books, in shelves and at the windows. He offers me a beer and we start to talk. 

 

How do you feel about the role you have so subtly been crowned with, ‘Instagram Poet’ and how does it feel to have a label upon you?

 

I don’t feel like I like it right now. To a degree I think I have been afraid of being labeled but at the same time I have been doing this for such a long time and had my vision about writing and being published before Instagram. Its also about, what I talked with other poet colleagues of mine, that the attention and many readers I get from Instagram is something that you can get jealous of as a writer. I think that many people find me easy, and a bit too poppy. But really, that is ok for me. People tend to stick labels on each other, it is an easy thing to do. At the same time it is a shame that people who have a name for themselves can be placed in the front of the jobline and being published just based on their name as a product. It has been 10 years since I had a meeting with a publishing house and under those years I have been going at writing with a steady pace. But I do not like to be labeled as a Instagram Poet for my writing. I don’t even know what an Instagram Poet is.

 

Are you more comfortable being called a poet?

 

I produce poetry on a daily basis so yes, at the same time it is hard as well. It is something entirely different to use Instagram as a medium than to sit and write poetry by your self and wait on that day when you get your script accepted and published. I think it is fun to have many readers and get more followers and comments. It is also something to have in mind that the instant gratification can be dangerous, if you have not written before, through social media. This is something that I would not have if I did not write on Instagram, it may be total silence after you publish your book.

 

Yes, visualise the time when your dreams are realised and you are waiting on the day your book will meet the critics judgement.

 

I suppose it will be terrifying and I can imagine that there are critics out there who have been waiting on the day they get the opportunity to criticise me publicly because of who I am and what I have been doing.

 

So you mean that your public persona today can have a negative impact on your way to get published as a poet, due to your use of Instagram and that you don’t have culture capital, more of a temporary hype?

 

Hopefully my writing will stand on its on based on its quality, that it is good enough for that to never be a question.
 

 

It is something about your use of words that gets me thinking about your next step towards getting your poetry published: Will you still keep writing on Instagram when you get published?

I think so, as long as its fun. I had a thought about shutting it all down the day I get published, then it is enough. But at the same time I think that it is good, I do not know how long Instagram will keep existing so I don’t feel it is bad to be visible and present. Maybe it is just good in contrary to authors who get published, some things happens for them, then all of a sudden it is over and they are gone for one, two, maybe three years before coming back again with a new book. During that time it has been awhile since they were visible in the audiences eye or mind. From a commercial point of view it is nice to be so present in peoples lives even if it is in small portions. You are constantly current, just based on that fact that you published a poem today. Instagram's flow is constant, based on how often you post and in that way it is almost the opposite of how it is when you work with poetry. What I am doing right now on Instagram is fast and almost current. It may not be poetry, it could be called something else, I do not know and it is not too important for me.

You have been studying at the writing school in Tromsø and probably had a style already worked out back then — has it changed from then to now?

I remember how back at school I worked on an collection of short stories with relationship thematic and I think I wrote the same back then as I write today. Easy and snappy. The difference is that the texts were longer back then. I have always wrote with this style and about the same things. Under these teen years I always got the same answers from the publishing houses "it is good but have you thought about making it in to a novel?". Something that I have never been able to accomplish. I lost interest in it. I just want to do what I have been doing. But right now someone is interested and looking in to the opportunity of publishing my work.

In your texts on Instagram we get to read from a first hand perspective, you and I, is the text something from personal experiences or is it more of an alter ego who writes what we read? Is it fiction?

I think the reason people like reading it is because it is easy to relate to and “personal”. It may be something from my life, sometimes it is, sometimes it is not. Once there was a time when my life and the fictional collided in the writing, without intention and it does feel like a character. Without further comparison I feel that Dag Solstad takes on the role as Dag Solstad in media and in interviews. He probably is not like that all the time. He may act his role and Instagram is an easier version of me. It is strange to think about how closely connected my writing is to the life I am living and that people think it is me they get in the poems. That being said, it does not mean I am good at expressing myself or my emotions in everyday life just because I write about it. I can be an idiot and have hurt people and been stupid, but that can also be my character and I feel he can be very stupid, idiotic and pathetic. Even self-centred in a way. That says a lot, maybe thats how it all began — me feeling sorry for myself.


Was it something you started by your self or was it someone who pushed you to it, publishing poems on Instagram?

I recently went back on my Instagram feed and remembered how I started taking photos and then how it evolved to publishing texts. There I could joke and write funny poems. At one point it developed to what it is today. In the beginning it was different. I tried Twitter but there you don’t get any response and you don’t know if anyone reads it. I did it for a while, but feel I did not get it. I also started an English account to see if I could manage it, but it was hard to try and translate things to English. It was after all something I thought was worth trying out. Now I think its enough with what I have, that is my landscape and thematic.

Do you ever have the feeling that you have to publish something today, every single day?

I have never felt any pressure around it. The thematic right now works and its important that it is based on lust and no stress. The account became popular and that is fun and I feel humble about that. I have been going at it for so long now that I have been reflecting around people who have been doing the same thing long enough and succeeded in their own field. If you keep sticking to the process long enough and creating you will have this moment when it will all fall in to place. I think about that a lot, and maybe right now, it is happing to me. After a couple of years with poetry and Instagram all of a sudden it opens up other doors, based on my work. This summer I had these workshops for kids about poetry among other projects that may be out in the open soon. That is something entirely different from if I had just wrote one book, I think. I have a platform in a bigger scale than if I “just” was a published author, he says with a smile, and it gives me opportunities to be visible.

Are you comfortable with the offers you get and are they related to what you do?

Sometimes I get offers that are weird in relationship to me as a person and my profession but, for example, it was fun to hold poetry workshops with the kids. At the same time I have to watch out for myself and try to not jump in to projects and offers that are too far off from how I am and what I want to do. I am a yes person so it is very easy for me to dive into things. The focus has to be on the writing.

With your studies behind you and jumping around in your life as a writer, I am curious as to whether your choice of studies and workplaces has been conscious or related to what you want to achieve?

No, not really. I jumped in to Westerdals without knowing what I wanted to get out of it and when I was done there I did not really know what to do. Because in my time at Westerdals I made fanzines and did not do any commercial stuff as I was not interested in it. But I started to write some things for websites and even though I did a lot of that, I did not want be a journalist, I just wanted to write. But it was hard.


While we are on the topic, do you ever have the feeling that you're selling yourself? 


I do not know, it is problematic. I am a yes person, as I said, but at the same time I am thinking that it is sweet to say fuck it. I have never been a part of or felt at home at the literary scene in Oslo. It was a bit easier in Tromsø.

 

I talked with Fredrik Høyer who felt he also did not belong among the culture of writers who may exist at Blindern (Oslo University) and such. I do not belong there, I think I have a longing of being surrounded by people out in the open. Even if I appreciate, read and respect those who are in much narrower field and topic — more proper poets. In other words I think you can combine the social outgoing side with the classic introvert tendency to a poets life. I also feel I have reached a point in my writing career that I can joke about it and with it. I do not like belong isolated, I am more social and maybe more attention seeking than others.

That makes me wonder who your role models are and your favourite authors?

It is a hard question but I mentioned Dag Solstad today and he is one of my biggest heroes and Kjell Askildsen. Amongst poets it is Jan Erik Vold, I really like everything he did in the re-creation of the beat authors. I honestly do not have a favourite author, it is more that I have many that I appreciate. When I think about it, when I started to like poetry, Geir Gulliksen was important. Nils-Øivind Haagensen also has a similar style. I like to read Norwegian literature. Besides that I like Raymond Carver, who reminds me of Askildsen. Dag Solstad is not similar. I love Lydia Davis who writes short and snappy stories. I like to keep trying to keep myself updated on what is being published. A personal favourite of mine is Henrik Nor-Hansen who is the opposite of me in this present, distant from the spotlight.

As we talk about Norwegian authors Alexander walks around, getting books from the shelves, windows and dining table where we are seated, picking his personal favourites for the time being. 

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At this point of the interview the phone rings. It is from the pizzeria. He apparently forgot his wallet. Three minutes later he has a call on FaceTime, someone who called the wrong person and hung up. Then right after that he gets a shopping list via a text to which Alexander replies with a question mark. A short insight to his life as he continues…

Think about Tore Renberg who came to one point in his writing where he changed everything and made a choice to write for a broader audience. It is a choice about how you want to write and why. A lot of authors tend to not want to be in the spotlight. 

 

Do you ever compare yourself to other people who do things similar to you?

I don’t know, I mean I do see others who are following me on Instagram and I understand it is about poetry or they are related to it, but I don’t care about reading it or copycats. It could be people are stealing or coping from me but, so it is and always has been in the creative world. Back in 2010 I had a blog called 99 problems on tumblr. At that time I had a routine of writing a story fast before I went to work. It was back when
I started to work as a copywriter and was during the prime time of tumbleporn. I was publishing a «tasteful picture» of a woman, it was always a woman, and wrote a short story related to it, based on free association. It became 99 stories eventually. I used some of them later on in my writing. One time I did a public reading at an event and while I was reading there was a man in the back of the room with some of his friends and also one of mine standing beside them. When I started to read one of my texts they started to talk in the back, “He is reading your stories” one of the guys said. My friend overheard everything and told me later. So basically this guy had walked around and told his friends that he was the one who wrote 99 problems, he could do that, as it was anonymous. My friend confronted them saying “that’s not right” and you can imagine the facial expression on this guy being busted. It is embarrassing. I know who it is. I wonder if he knows that I know…


Do you ever feel misunderstood?

No, but I sometimes have a feeling about it when I publish a longer text on Instagram. When I publish shorter ones I get more likes, the longer ones you actually have to read. Then I see that it is not as often appreciated or being read. It makes you stop when you are swiping through the feed. You don’t have that much time to make an impact on Instagram, but again, it is different from reading a book.

 

About writing then, do you go into a state of mind and where do you like to write?

When I write poems it could be anywhere, even on the bus or tram I can manage to focus on writing without losing concentration. I have come to the conclusion that earlier I focused on preparation which involved cleaning, making myself and my surrounding ready for me to write, which does not work. You should be able to write here or there, you should not need to make a big ceremony about it. I notice that if I clean the desk top neatly and make myself a cup of coffee - I get anxious.


I brought myself a writing desk that reminds me a lot of yours and thought that this will be it, here I will write a lot. I have had it for three years and have not written a sentence on it.

I write mostly here, on the dinning table, on the laptop but not on the iMac. Or I lay over there on the sofa and write. Some authors have a special routine for writing, like Thomas Espedal. It may work for them but for me personally I think that the more I plan for it the less I write. Sometimes I start to listen to white noise and only listen to that while I write. It works for my concentration. But I try not to do that. I think I did it more before when I thought writing included preparations . Right now I write a lot on my phone, and it is refreshing to do so. I don’t know why.

It may be something you are connected to, a part of you. A natural move?

I have been writing more and more on the phone, it has so much text on it right now that I don’t know what to do.

How does it feel to talk as a private person in public and do you reflect on what you have been saying and doing? How does that feel?

I can talk a lot, and to be part of events or being interviewed about clothes can make me feel a bit off but I think that nowadays it is a part of the public persona package.

 

Alexander walks around in his apartment when we start to talk about an author we both appreciated, Stig Sæterbakken, and I ask him if he has a system, alphabetically or the likes, for his books and he confesses that the system crashed. Right now he just places books he think relates to each other in some way based on if he feels the books belong next to each other.

I have been thinking about why I read mostly Norwegian literature and I feel almost ashamed about how little foreign literature I’ve been reading.

I feel that normally it tends to be the opposite, that the national literature comes later in life.

It just happened. But Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen and that type, I like that. Also a while back I read a lot of the Alt-Lit authors like Tao Lin. It was refreshing in a way. That could also be literature.

Alexander talks about authors and books with such a compelling voice that you feel a desire to read, now.

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What do you think about the scene for literature in Oslo and Norway?

I think its hard to get a grip around. I was in Bergen and had discussions there and got the feeling that this was a place where you could meet each other to talk. That being said I don’t know if the people feel it is hard to get included there. In Oslo I miss that in some part, but we have Litteratur på Blå. In Bergen, however, you get the feeling that there is a special place that you can go and meet other people who write. Maybe I am not just a part of it here in Oslo, but I think there is not enough options here. I miss an environment for writers. Recently I I did meet an old friend and poet, that I know from my time in Tromsø, Morten Wintervold, at Litteratur på Blå’s 10 year anniversary. He told me, in his northern Norwegian dialect, to get the hell out of this town, because here you can’t write. There is too much fun to be had here. He had a point that there are a lot of distractions here in Oslo and a lot is happening here. He had seen me in the tv show “Unge Lovende” and thought I did so much weird things besides just writing.

 

But I think that there are a lot of gifted people in Oslo and most of the people I know who write are nice people. I feel that we miss a gathering place, however.

Are you not going to Litteraturhuset in Oslo?

No, I may not visit it as much as I could or should and I like to meet at a different type of setting than one where literature is in focus with a store and a lot of people talking and walking. But that being said, it is always good to talk with people about writing. I miss that a little, you get something out of it. I have a lot of friends, it is not that, but not friends that write that much. Most of them do something within the creative sphere but it is not the same as to talk to someone who writes and that understands how hard it can be. It is very easy to write on Instagram but very hard otherwise. That is my opinion. One has to have their own room. I use a cottage as one of my writing places and drive there when I have the opportunity.

 

My one goal about writing is to be that good that I don’t have to edit and correct the text. Like On the Road by Jack Kerouac, just write it and be finished. As little editing as possibly. I like that and am working on it he laughs. 

 

 

We started to talk about the creatives today and that they may not be the romantic bohemians that we imagine them to be...

 

 

Today we live with pressure to succeed and in generation perfect where everything seems, more or less, planned and professionalised. Do you agree?

That is interesting, how we change and evolve. A friend of mine is an artist and he is very clean and straight. If you imagine the artsy type who take every thing far out, he is the opposite and acts almost as a professional athlete in his approach to art. I think it is a myth that you have to be like, for example, Bukowski. You do not have too. You may have to have lived a little to have the ability to write about stuff. When you work with art or write I think it is good to be clear in your own mind. But I sometimes find that a hangover can be a good mood to write in. A bit decadent but you may feel self-confident in your own hangover, or just don’t think too much about it or care, you just write. Or maybe you could be still drunk after all.

By the way, about the creative scene in Norway, you are a part of it — do you think that a lot is happening culturally here in the creative life, besides your experiences in literature? I feel that there is a lot of potential in this young scene here in Norway.

Yeah, I feel that a lot of good things are happening right now and it may be that I am lucky to know a lot of people working with music, or just good creative stuff. It is inspirational to be around it and a part of it. Oslo is starting to become something within art, fashion and music. I have been in to rap music for a long time and I think that all of a sudden Norwegian hip hop became something that could be played anywhere, in any club. It is that good and sounds that good which is cool. I can’t say exactly when it happened but all of sudden it just did. Nowadays a lot of Norwegian artists create better songs than Americans. It is awesome.

 

A couple of friends and I went to Reykjavik a while ago and went out and into a club. The moment we entered the place we heard a familiar beat, it was Unge Ferrari and the dance floor started to sing along with the lyrics. It was sick. We just looked at each other and thought what the fuck, so strange. That became a good night with good vibes. There is a lot of good things happening right now and I think that music in Norway is having its primetime in all almost every genre. I feel that the literary level in Norway, on an international scale, is at the top. The only thing is film, we have never had a filmmaker like Bergman or Von Trier. Joakim Trier may be on his way to become someone internationally. But otherwise it is not a lot who stand the test of time and remain as a masterpiece.

Within literature you have the masters.

Yes, now we just wait for the next one, the new generation.

 

 

 

All photography Ronja Penzo

Poems by Alexander Fallo

 

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