I arrived in Sweden in the summer of 1973, with a teaching job and a small rented
cottage by the church, in Mariestad. It was my first time out of the UK, and it might
have been anywhere: my only motivation was just to get out; to leave the dark and
drizzly northern town of my birth, the solemn cloisters of my alma mater, and to
avoid at all costs the (perhaps imagined) horrors of an English school staff-room.

I spoke sub-schoolbook French, minimal German and no Swedish, and yet in
Stockholm I found a city which seemed to have been waiting patiently for me to
arrive. In Mariestad I found a pretty town of quiet, jolly people all of whom seemed
pleased that I had come. If only life were like that!

Well, for me, in Sweden, it was and is, and I have spent the rest of my life
reciprocating. As the poet said, you only fall in love for the first time once. It is
neither over-dramatic nor an exaggeration to say that everything I am I owe to
Sweden in general and to a number of individual Swedes in particular.

The poems in They Spoke No English are snapshots or what John Glenday has
generously called ‘little films unravelling through love, absence and desire’. They
are assorted paragraphs in a longer love-letter to a country which is far beyond
special to me. They were written over a five-year period of particular reflection, and
are dedicated to the memory of my lovely late wife, Yvonne, and to our delightful
daughter, Lucy.

Stephen Keeler

STEPHEN KEELER is originally from the north-east of England. With degrees and teaching qualifications from the universities of Durham, Leeds and London and the Royal Society of Arts, he spent almost forty years in international language education living an working in Sweden, China and Vietnam and in most of the former Soviet bloc republics of eastern Europe, for the British Council, the United Nations and the BBC World Service among others.

Widowed in 2003, he moved from London to the north west highlands of Scotland where he writes and teaches creative writing.

In 2012 he won the first Highland Literary Salon Poetry Prize, judged by John Glenday, and in 2015 he was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writing Award. His work is published in South Bank Poetry, Northwords Now, Glasgow Review of Books, Gutter, The Poets’ Republic and Butcher’s Dog, among others, and has been short-listed for numerous prizes including the Winchester Poetry Prize (twice). His poem Snow Moon was placed second in the 2020 Writers’ Federation (Scotland) Poetry Competition, and he was commissioned to write a poem for the 2020 StAnza, St Andrews Poetry Festival.

The collection Thinking of Leaving was Commended in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize/Indigo Dreams; his chapbook While You Were Away is published by Maquette Press, and his short collection Scar Tissue will appear under the Coast to Coast to Coast imprint in spring 2021.


After Lars Gustafsson


They make a claim as much as we lay claim

to them the little objects that have found


their way as though compelled to occupy

that space between two books that window-sill


the table in the hall. They sought us out

as much as we found them a home for now


the olive-handled corkscrew bought in Arles

the Swedish crystal vase I never liked


so gave it to my mother one Christmas

and when she died it made its way to me


again. I like it now too late. It stands

beside a miniature Buddha made


of tin with holes to sew it onto clothes

and there’s a painted wooden box I bought


for you when there was nothing else and I

was homesick for the warmth of you: inside,


five kopeks and a Soviet stamp meant for

a postcard; the inevitable shell.


It was a sea-coal beach and warm for March.


Dalarna, Sweden


At such a distance

and seen only through broad strokes

of uncut grass


the ancient goat-man

sometimes indistinguishable from his herd

a half a dozen long-haired creatures


featureless and still

and as ambiguous as sunlight

placed as though by children playing farms


one in prodding a foreleg

or shaking off the flies

might cause the battered bell around its neck


to tonk

the goat-man in his long black coat tall hat

three-legged stool and stillness


seemed to grow from out of earth

a self-sown shrub rinsed of colour

by a hundred Swedish winters


and silent as the wild-flower field

after picnickers have left the bees again

to imitate the fizz of pylons

and only if an unexpected lift

of thermal ruffled up the air

in passing


could the goat-man’s voice

goat-like be heard across the field

in conversation of a kind.