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
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.