Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Nordic Poets

I've started to get interested in Scandinavian poetry. I think I've mentioned before that I have Danish and Swedish blood in me from both lines of my family.

Sadly neither language was passed on to me. My father was half Danish on his mother's side, with a Swedish grandmother, but my grandmother died when he was eleven, in the middle of WWII, and contact was lost with her family and my father simply gave up on both languages.

My mother had Danish blood on her mother's side too, but was raised by her father's maiden aunt, after a short-lived marriage between her much older father and very young mother, so again there was no handing on of the language. Indeed I only confirmed her Danish connection by tracing my mother's maternal line after her death, as it wasn't a topic that our family ever discussed.

But I thought it would be interesting to read some Danish poetry, even if it is just in translation, as I often think my tastes and sensibilities are not really all that Scottish.

And from the little bits of research that I've done I've decided that there couldn't be a better place to start than with Inger Christensen.

Here are two extracts of her work:

1) The Butterfly Valley, a series of 15 sonnets, with the final sonnet being made up of lines from the first fourteen and

2) a photograph of a section of The Alphabet on a wall in Copenhagen with an extract of the poem. "Christensen wrote this masterpiece 1981. She uses the alphabet (from a [“apricots”] to n [“nights”]) along with the Fibonacci mathematical sequence in which the next number is the sum of the two previous ones (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…).

As Christensen has explained: “The numerical ratios exist in nature: the way a leek wraps around itself from the inside, and the head of a snowflower, are both based on this series.” Her system ends on the n, suggesting many possible meanings including “n’s” significance as any whole number."

I have just ordered The Alphabet in English and hope to obtain a copy in Danish too, so that I can look at both together.

But maybe I should just stick with this gem, The Danish Poet (winner of the 2007 OSCAR® for best short subject).


Blogger Sarah Laurence said...

Good luck with your quest. Nice opening image.

2:02 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

Thanks, it feels very much like a quest. The photo is mine, from my recent Harris trip.

2:06 pm  
Blogger femminismo said...

Have to watch this video later. Gotta get back to work. Love the writing on the building! - Jeanne in Oregon (thanks for your comment)

8:55 pm  
Blogger Pam said...

Great movie! The Alphabet sounds like a fascinating read..I may order it if you report back. I recently read a novel, Out Stealing Horses, by Norwegian writer Per Peterson that was really beautiful. And then coincidently ordered from Copper Canyon Press Rolf Jacobsen's selected poems...trans. from Norwegian by Robert something's traveling in the airwaves. Thanks for posting the movie. I loved listening to Liv Ulmann too.

10:29 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is a gorgeous wee film, it wholly captures your attention from the start and I love the humour behind it as well. I'll come back for the 15 sonnet link... have you read Tomas Transtormer too? Let us know how you get on with the Alphabet too.

10:07 am  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

A rich feast indeed - thank you! I must re-visit to finish the sonnets ... Beautiful photo.

2:08 pm  
Blogger Rouchswalwe said...

Super stuff! Have you come across the nifty site called Nordic Voices in Translation? It's at:

4:35 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

Thanks everyone. I got Alphabet in the post yesterday and have been devouring it ever since.

The langauge she uses is wonderful and I love the riffs she goes off on.

I read a piece that says it is the repetition the "pedal note" of the word "exist" that makes the whole thing work and I think that they're right (

"whisperings exist, whisperings exist
harvest, history, and Halley's

comet exist; hosts exist, hordes
high commanders, hollows, and within the hollows
half-shadows, within the half-shadows occasional

hares, occasional hanging leaves shading the hollow where
bracken exists, and blackberries, blackberries
occasional hares hidden under the leaves"

I also love how her references are mine, blaxkberries/brambles, red currants, hares etc.

R I will look up that site, thank you for alerting me to it.

5:49 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

I loved that video! Thought I didn't really have time to watch it all but then couldn't stop. specially liked the details of cats and dogs!

I always thought Transtromer looked good, but haven't followed it up. The world is so full of a number of things... there are some particularly good ones here!

3:46 pm  
Blogger swiss said...

danish you say? two words.
henrik nordbrandt.
you won't regret it!

7:30 pm  
Blogger apprentice said...

Thanks Lucy, I'm glad you enjoyed it. Youtube is such an amazing resource for good and ill!

Thanks Swiss I've read one of Norbert's Selected Poems. I understand he has lived outside of Denmark most of his life, and I enjoyed his very broad world view, and yet how much Denmark still comes through in his work. I should have made notes on the librry book I borrowed, but my favourite poem concerned the closing of the 20th century - it began something like "it is early in the year, late in the century"

11:30 am  
Blogger swiss said...

if you go to the lounge there's a couple of his poems there - links on the sidebar. i could only find two so i may post some more.

he's only got a couple of books available in english unfiortunately
bt he has a few poems thta appear regularly in anthologies

12:18 pm  
Blogger Colin Will said...

Probably worth scouring the shelves of the SPL for Danish poets. Transtromer's my favourite Swedish poet, and Anselm Hollo a terrific Finn. I'm back to reading more German poets these days - Bachmann, Celan, Enzensberger.

10:56 am  
Blogger apprentice said...

Thanks Colin -I've been borrowing from the SPL, that where I got the Norbert from.

I'm reading the Serb Vasko Popa just now. I love his early animal and inanimate object poems.

But I do find myself draw to the Baltic poets.

11:05 am  

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