from my ebook Queen of the City
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-City-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp

 

‘What do you mean?’ asked Carmichael. His alertness was topping the scale, but he fought to remain calm, unperturbed. He felt his fellow travellers struggling inside.

‘Come on, now. This is First-Home stuff. You must know this.’

A lot was going on inside Carmichael, and he fought for an even demeanor.

Ok,’ he said. ‘Well, just play along a moment; why don’t we… run through the story again — memory got a little scrambled in transport.’

‘Well, it’s the Seven Worlds’ Quest.’

‘Of course it is. And?’

‘First world — you know, our first home of course.’

‘Then the second is… here?’

‘Obviously.’

‘Third?’

‘Well, they’re still working on that. It should be that place, there,’ he pointed with a hand not divided into fingers, at screen in the wall, and the Earth came up. ‘I suppose that is where you were due to go. Supposed to be continents and… but they keep shifting around, they can’t get them to hold still long enough, you know. They seem to be having trouble getting the time scale to settle down, I think. Then there’s all that, ugh, water. Most of it is, really. Pretty yucky. And there are those, you know, plants, and stuff. Not very inviting.’

‘Earth.’

‘Earth, you say. Seems more…’ he shuddered again, ‘water. Well the one after that will be that red one there.’

‘Mars.’

‘That what you call it. You are making this up.’

‘No, no. Go on.’

‘Then the biggy.’

‘Jupiter.’

‘Ju… ter.’

‘Then Saturn, er, rings?’

‘Yeh, yeh. Next though… you will not guess what that is. Go on, guess.’

‘Uranus.’

‘U-a-sus — means nothing to me. No. Guess. You can’t. Because you can’t see it, that’s why. That one is it, the ultimate mystery of all life.’

‘Ok, we’ve… I’ve got all that. It’s just, well…’

‘That’s the Quest.’

‘There are more than seven.’

‘M…more than….’ It was the nearest he got to a question.

‘Well, yes, there’s Neptune and Pluto, even, maybe, it is debated, though the arguments against are…’

‘Another….  More than seven?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘Someone always gets it wrong. Don’t they. We’re brought up on this stuff. Our Noble Quest. And now you say… there’s more than seven. They spoon-feed us this great noble quest. They purposely give the wrong information. They really want us to fail, behind all the big ideals.’

‘Look…’

‘I feel ill.’ he said. His colours were all swirling, churning.

‘Give him a few minutes.’ a voice said inside Carmichael.

‘He needs a nice cup of tea.’ said the tea voice.

‘We need to know…’ a soft voice began, and 

‘… how to get home.’ another voice butted in.

‘Tell us, tell me, about world, er, three.’

‘They’re still working on it,’ he said, faintly. ‘Can’t quite get it right, yet. Sort of thing.’

‘Oh? Who is?’

‘The Mariners. Still hunting out the warm clothes, you might say. Going to be pretty cold, and, er, wet. Very wet. Ugh.’

‘Hm.’

‘They’d better hurry up though.’

‘Oh, and why is that, then?’ his sense of irony was piqued.

‘Well, you can see. Look.’ he gestured all around. The walls were briefly transparent: they looked at a featureless landscape.

How did he do that? Carmichael was intrigued.

‘We’ve ruined this place. Like we did the first one. They used this place as a dump for waste, spoil; then it turned out we had to live here because the first had become worse. It’s even worse there, now though. I went back summer hols before last. Visit the old place. Never again. All the heavyside’s gone now. Freezing and I mean freezing, on the dark side, the poles, that sort of thing.’

‘Can you just.’ the sober voice whispered, ‘ask him how he got there?’

‘Yes, ahem, how did you get there? You know, old home?’

‘Oh, the shuttle. The vacuum shuttle.”         ‘

‘And can you use it to number, what is it, three?’

‘No. Well, they’ve talked about it. And, well, no one knows what’s there. We could just plonk down into… anything. Might be big scary monsters.’

‘Hmm.’

‘I’m not supposed to say this, but, well, they did try it. Made a bit of a mess of the place.’

‘What… sort of a mess?’

‘Oh, you know… mass extinction kind. Ahem.’

‘When… when was this?’

‘Ages ago. About six. So far.’

‘And after the first two or three… mass extinctions. They kept on trying it?’

‘Well, you know, little loss, really. Boiling seas, acid seas, frozen seas, no seas. It’s only water. Ugh. What’s water anyway.’

‘Yes, er, quite.’

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My father-in-law died last year. He was 96.
So we had his house to sell – not done this before. The rather nebulous local couple, the buyers, wouldn’t say if they wanted furniture (new family). All the kitchen stuff, yes. No contact. Oh well.
First week this year we had our house roof retiled – been dreading it. An exhausting experience.
‘Now we can relax,’ we said.
An email: the buyers want to move in asap: 23rd Jan. Yikes! 6 days. My f-i-law had kept Everything, neatly ordered, but… everything. In a panic to clear the place we had to let important stuff go. We knocked ourselves up getting it ready. Took the keys to the estate agents (their rapacious natures came to fore – we’d still had to leave things because we don’t have, nor can afford, transport).
‘It’s 25th, they said. We have their email for 23rd. Went to notify the conveyancers that we’d handed the keys in.
‘Ah,’ they said, ‘we’d sent an email this morning…’ (we’d left by then). ‘It’s been changed to the 12th Feb.’
All those papers, items, we’d had to let go….
It has now moved to the 6th Feb. Ok, that’s doable.
Only we both came down with exhaustion, and a Winter bug – as time ticks away.

I was thinking, are there loose parallels here with the Brexit fiasco? The rather nebulous buyers image, for one: the unknown before us; those calling the shots.
We’d met a number of Leavers recently – and, boy, are they mad! They are furious. They are adamant, dug-in, come what may. No negotiation.
For whatever reason, 52% of people who voted want Out. It shocked us all. What infuriates them most is that there was No Plan. There’d be to hell to pay if the govt reneges on this deal. A new Ref would probably be the same result.
Because people don’t like to be pushed about, basically. And hurt pride? Yes; they know they have been made fools of. This arrogant stubbornness is the flip-side of the so-called ‘bulldog spirit.’
As for us: we will have to try and snatch-back as many worthwhile things out the jaws of suicidal, ruinous, Brexit.
But I wouldn’t trust my judgement, or that of anyone I have met, to decide on this vitally important topic. There are so many hidden levels of investment – from greedy-eyed Brexit MPs, making a killing off other’s misery, to rumoured ‘special relationships.’
So, who would I trust? Ah, yes, that question.
‘If Corbyn gets in,’ one Leaver said, ‘he’d bring the communists in.’
‘I didn’t think there were any of those left,’ I quipped. He chose not to hear. And Theresa May – surprised everyone with her tenacity, but there’s No Plan B. She was never a decision-maker.
I get the impression she has tried to appease both sides, and fallen down the gap in between.

I rather like that image: between two stools. An image doesn’t claim to special insight, truth, veracity; it just to be striking.
This is why the best cartoons are so important. They catch a fleeting moment, expression, in an image, and open it up. We love the entertainment an image gives. They can please, but also mislead. They don’t change anything, but they do ease the tension, allow in nuances.

And I feel for Northern Ireland and Eire in Brexit: what an impossible situation!
Scotland… I am a little wary. The hard-line Independence people are as furious and one-dimensional as the Leavers.
Think of them as the ‘Scots Wha-Haers’ that the great Scottish writer Hugh MacDiamid inveighed against, in his 1926, A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle.

‘Scots wha hae wi Wallace bled’ (The Brus, by John Barbour, 1375: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44292/44292-h/44292-h.htm
And get that date: 1375, ye Chaucerians) as the only criteria for Scottish identity?
And yet, I always preferred William Wallace to Robert the Bruce: Wallace, a man of the people, crushed by the English. And is there an echo of that ultimate religious sacrifice in that?
It is said the Independence Referendum in Scotland failed because the Media, Arts, Medicine, Health, Research, etc, were afraid of being shut off from sources of research grants, and knowledge.
Ahem? Nudge, nudge? But then the Tory Party of UK has  gone out of it way to ignore anything to do with Scotland, so…

The people: what are we, and where are we now?

On William Wallace: if anyone has a tour of the Houses of Parliament, stop in Westminster Hall for moment, because that is where Wallace was tried, hung, drawn, and quartered. Some authorities have it as Smithfield: See Wiki for English vindictiveness and vengeance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wallace

I’ve stood out by Stirling Castle, and gazed over the Firth of Forth to the Wallace memorial. It is a tower, set against high, dark, hills.
I felt a shiver of awe.

Untitled

Posted: January 20, 2019 in Chat
Tags: , ,

1
We live our lives like baited traps,
hope to catch ourselves, or someone else there,
partner, politician, stance, or cause,
to validate us, perhaps.

As though our living on longing
reconfigures us
and the thousand compromises life is
are steps back – refusals – away
from our own responsibility.

The longing for authenticity
turning lives stale;
the precincts, parks, streets
we scabbed knees on, worked on,
the cities our lives made,
are provisional,
plaster-board mock-ups.

And to remember is an act of betrayal,
almost:
an action, yes, but not itself
the living moment.

2
Waiting with the patience of trappers in the outback,
on the edge of wildness, for whatever-it-is.

You will not know it until you name it, its features
figured in red in the sounding stomach, cave wall.

Your rites and enticements are enactments,
feints to habituate wonder, excitement.

Anything to keep out the emptiness that chills.
But waiting and arrival are parts of the whole;

it carries these shadows around with it always:
promise, possibility, renewal.

As long as they are near, you say,
if only to yourself, in private, at night.

 

From one window a woman’s voice
an aria from Mozart, a clear cool breeze
in thick night heat.

Another window, a parrot flying,
a tropical storm trapped behind glass;
a noise like heaven tearing.

This window is empty, no one home
or elsewhere: shift workers
before early call. These I have known.

Here a laugh, a conversation;
an insistence of children, rolling banter,
close-woven tones of communion.

Another a blue flicker of a tv
and nothing else; the curtains open,
the night falling in like isolation.

Here the crackle of an argument
already full-throttle, self-feeding;
ending inevitable, origins forgotten.

And in and between each window, holes
gaping in the night’s fabric.
The hot night stalking restless.

 

1
There are many more types of poetic expression than the personal lyric. The lyric has become predominant at the present time because of political and ideological factors: we look to the self as the source and sole repository of values; we value personal experience as the only trustable source of knowledge of the world.

The idea and ideal of community has been tugged from beneath us; likewise the ideal of a sense of futurity, of progress, to be replaced by an all-encompassing political climate where our lives seem wholly regulated by bodies of authority. Lecturer Peter Middleton quotes Julia Kristeva to effect here: “… capitalism has isolated us, in ‘islands of discourse’.” (i.e. from John Donne’s “No man (one) is an island” to the Thatcherite statement that there is no such thing as society. We may hate it as it is, but we do have to deal with it).
And who knows how to deal with the Big Society notion, at one point broken – a toy? a piece of machinery? – at another, the country as a private business in need of saving (- from everyone else?).

2
Christensen mostly used the playful, highly mathematical writing experiments of the French experimental OuLiPo group.
Although not a signed-up member, it can be seen that she uses many of their techniques. The most decisive are the use of strict mathematical superstructures, and insistence upon quality of sound. OuLiPo was a movement originally based around the writer Raymond Queneau, and incorporated George Perec (Life: A User’s Manual, and A Void, a novel that, when written in French only used words that do not contain the letter ‘e’). Queneau was a mathematician, and so the group tended to use highly complex mathematical structures for their writing.

One of the many listed OuLiPo experiments is that of using multiple perspectives to explore a given situation. One published example of this is B S Johnson’s novel, House Mother Normal (1971), which offers a perspective per chapter from each of the members of a nursing home, in explaining (or not) the event of the story. You cannot but wonder about Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1860), where the members of a court case each give their evidence, full of conflicting events, asides, and all the riches of the personalities involved. OuLiPo does acknowledge predecessors, designating them “anticipatory plagiarists” (: Mind Performance Hacks). One OuLiPo virtue is a mischievous sense of humour.

Christensen’s Watersteps (2001) takes us through five Roman piazzas, each with a fountain, and the same red car. There are eight similar ‘classes’ each with five ‘sections’, one for each piazza; and each ‘class’ has five components. This is a rigorous math.

Seamus Heaney’s Seeing Things sequence of four lots of twelve poems, each of twelve lines in length, also points to a possible OuLiPo construction. Why twelve? Is twelve an expression of completion? We have to ask these things, because they have an intended significance.
Most recently we now have poems created upon use of the mathematical concept of pi called Pilish – or “piems” – where the number of letters of successive words is determined by pi.

All these ‘experiments’ are only unofficially recognised aspects of rhetoric, an expanded, up-dated use of age-old techniques of persuasion (can we read that ‘persuasion’ as marketing, advertising?).

3
The Fibonacci mathematical system was ideal for OuLiPo purposes. The Fibonacci sequence runs: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…. where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. The implications of this system, first devised by a Cardinal soon to be Pope, are astounding, both for mathematics, and physics.

In Alphabet the repeated phrase of paragraph 1:
apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist
mirrors the first two numbers of Fibonacci – 1 and 1. The system begins with 1 repeated, and so here the phrase is similarly repeated. It is also a numerical device of implication; where 1 is a prime number; it is also the main focus of a network of negative and positive numerical sequences, of decimals and fractions: 1 is never 1, it is the consequence of its positioning, and it is that that is evoked here. The reiteration of the clause emphases 1’s position in the matrix of math. As in the Fibonacci sequence we do not begin with 1 but with 0, in effect on the blank page preceding.

We are also required to read here that apricot stones carry a poisonous pit. As we begin with the beginning: A, and a new myth of creation, we are also required to read here that within the first creation is the means of its end. Or maybe not so equivalent: maybe, just that a degree of toxicity is necessary for life. And also, that, like the mark of Cain, is a part of creation from the very beginning.

By combining number with alphabet, Christensen is taking us back to the earliest use of languages, Sumerian, Attic Greek, but with a more modern twist.

With paragraph 2 we have:
bracken exists; and blackberries,blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen.

Already on a linguistic level we have an incantatory pattern forming. On the chemical level we now have bromine and hydrogen. Bromine, like hydrogen, is potentially lethal. As, indeed, are the seeds of bracken. This new pastoral suggestion now allows us a reading that suggests an early, a volatile, Precambrian period in our scientific creation myth. We now have three levels of reading: of the text, of chemistry, and botany. If we accept the time scale, four levels: botany, chemistry, textual, and time.

As a reviewer notes: “The useless abundance of bracken, succulent berries — and corrosive bromide: the unbalanced mix all around us. Hydrogen seems, here, almost safe, but the “bomb” suffix is not long in coming.”
Alphabet was written during the 1970s, a period that lived under and reacted to, above all else, the possibility of immanent nuclear war, the atomic bomb.

With 3/C we get:
cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

The levels expand: arboriculture, botany, chemistry, entomology, physiology: from basic classifications, to subclassifications. We move from Platonic forms, through Aristotelian classification, to our modern forms of knowledge. And zeroing in from the macrocosm to the microcosm, from the external world to the brain’s inner world, as source and site of knowledge, intelligence: self consciousness as the self’s consciousness.

Following the Fibonacci/alphabetical systems through the book we arrive at N, with six hundred and ten lines. Mathematically ‘n’ can be any number.

So far in the poem sequence, we have moved from basic forms to gradually emerge into a world of killing, the hydrogen bomb, pain. It must be remembered that mathematics is the vehicle of proof for the sciences. And the sciences, as amply illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance work on armaments, capable of application to many and varied fields of human activity both peaceful and not.

With 5-E (eight lines) we also get, delightfully (in the Danish the predominant consonant is E, which also ushers in a dominant alliterating pattern):

early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms, junipers, soreness, loneliness
exist;
eider ducks; spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future.

With 13-M and 14-N we arrive at actual times, with dates:
morning June twentieth……..evening June
sixteenth….morning June twenty-sixth.

To get here we travel through excerpts from lives, suggestions of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, and:

in mid-November, a season
when all human dreams are the same,
a uniform, blotted out history
like that of a sun-dried stone

a couple of mute parents stand there,
a dog, and some children run around,
an arrival they try to imagine
as water that’s raised to my mouth

I lay sleeping inside my hotel room;
:from ‘12/L’

These are the stories we have inside ourselves we cannot always make sense of, but continue to pick over in our isolated moments.

‘13/M’ begins with:

metal, the ore in the mountains, exists
and then explores the hidden or covered things:
darkness in mine shafts, milk not let down
from mothers’ breasts, an ingrown dread where

whisperings exist, whisperings exist
the cells’ oldest, fondest collusion

consider this market, consider this import
and export of fathers, half bullies
half tortured soldiers, consider…..

to

layered light, as if behind
layers in a fresco the snow
on the mountains, its shapes……..

13 also replicates the Fibonacci numbering in stanza lengths. We have five, eight, then thirteen line stanzas, and then followed by new sets. The interweaving of themes and items from earlier sections tie-in here; we once again come across bromine, but applied differently, and apricot trees: their applications multiply and evoke moments from a life, from an ideal of living. The fabric grows wonderfully rich and rewarding, full of complex patternings.

4
Where the lyric concentrates images, their reverberations, networks of associations, within as small a compass as possible, Inger Christensen, especially in her earlier work It – of which Alphabet is in some ways an admitted response – schematises rather than concentrates. Structurally it is very strictly arranged into three sections whose line count is, in the original, very tightly controlled: each line of Prologos has sixty-six characters in the original; Prologos has eight sections.

The body of the book, Logos, consists of three sections: Stage, Action, Text each of which has eight sub-sections: symmetries/ transitivities/ continuities/ connectivities/ variabilities/ extensions/ integrities/ universalities.

These subsections “attempt to analyse and categorise the words that language’s use to show relationship… as applying to the network of relationships… writing builds up as it goes along “ ( Ann Carson, from Introduction). All this in no way lessens the effectiveness of expression, but allows the playout of implications to be fully explicit. The intent of It is to be a ‘philosophical and political exploration of the nature of language, perception, and reality.’

If there is a reference in this work to The Book of the It, a precursor to Freudian psychoanalytical explorations, by George Groddeck, I suspect it has been subsumed and overridden early on.

5
It must be noted that the Fibonacci system deals also with the proof of the Golden Mean.
Christensen exhibited a growing concern with ecological matters, as evident in her Butterfly Valley: Requiem. This sequence is a series of conventional sonnets, the last line acting as the opening line of the following sonnet in traditional style. The last sonnet of the sequence, sonnet fifteen, consists of all opening/closing lines. This sequence perhaps represents her approach to that Golden Mean.

Charles Lock and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, in their Guardian obituary notice, noted of Butterfly Valley: Requiem ‘the division of… 14 lines having been recognised in the Renaissance as akin to “the golden ratio“.

Can we read Christensen’s major works as working towards this great ideal, this universal; of the possibility of the concept of ultimate meaning in all the apparent randomness of the world?

Are the images Christensen uses purely random? And do we mean by that ‘mathematically random’? Is it random in the way that creation appears to be random? Is there such a thing as random? All these questions are implied by the system she uses. She requires a response from the reader: for her writing is part of a two-way process.

We may have lost all sense of security, safety; Inger Christensen here posits the possibility of a higher sense of stability, of a grand working towards/unravelling of, a nontheistic scheme of things of which we are all a part of; in effect, where we are perhaps the instruments of the process.

6
New Directions, the American publishers, are currently republishing her work. Her earlier three books were recently re-issued as one, and well-worth reading: Light, Grass, and Letter In April. See:

https://www.ndbooks.com/author/inger-christensen/

They are also to publish a collection of her essays, The Condition of Secrecy, in 2019.
New Direction also publish one of her novels, Azorno:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Azorno-Directions-Paperbook-Inger-Christensen/dp/0811216578/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1546017892&sr=1-8&keywords=Inger+Christensen

whilst The Painted Room, is published by the Harvill Press:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Painted-Room-Inger-Christensen/dp/1860465935/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1546017954&sr=1-1&keywords=Inger+Christensen%2C+the+painted+room

An earlier non-fiction book, The Meaning of Metafiction, is still available through Amazon:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Meaning-Metafiction-Inger-Christensen/dp/8200056929/ref=sr_1_50?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1546017685&sr=1-50&keywords=Inger+Christensen

 

In my piece on Henrik Nordbrandt I mentioned the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelof as one reference point. Pia Tafdrup has also spoken out in favour of Gunnar Ekelof’s work. She comes in from a completely different direction. Much of her poetic sensibility is based on the feminist critiques and theories of Julia Kristeva and Helene Cixous; her body-centred explorations of the here and now utilise the rhythms and languages of desire.

For Pia Tafdrup writing the body is very much that of the ‘Écriture feminine’ of Helene Cixous, and of Elaine Showalter who writes, “… the inscription of the feminine body and female difference in language and text.”. Écriture feminine places “experience before language, and privileges non-linear, cyclic writing that evades the discourse that regulates the phallocentric system.”

The book Spring Tide, translated by Ann Born, Tafdrup describes as just one aspect of her writing: Spring Tide and White Fever constitute two parts, while The Bridge of Sounds became a third quantity, which could not have been thought of without the preceding ones. Seen like this the three works are related to one another as thesis-antitheses-synthesis… A continuous, dynamic praxis.’ (Walking Over the Water. 1991).

It has been noted by some that Tafdrup set out from the beginning to be one of the top Danish writers; something like W H Auden’s career plan in English. And yet she has not been so beholden to the Danish canon. Her earlier works have been controversial, foregrounding the body, sensual experience, women’s perspectives. Her travelling companion in this was Marianne Larsen, whose writing, “analyse(s) sexual repression, class struggles and imperialism…”. Pia Tafdrup’s  previous book, The Innermost Zone, 1983 “sets out to explore unknown regions of the body and mind…” that is, unknown in literature. Pia Tafdrup’s assault on the canon has always been from a radical perspective. Her concerns echo Rosemarie Tong’s comment on Helene Cixous: “(Helene – sic) Cixous urged women to… the unthinkable/unthought… in words”.

Pia Tafdrup’s two major volumes are Spring Tide (1985) and Queen’s Gate (2001). There is detectable a move from “short lines… mounting impatient rhythm… ‘(Horace Engdahl) to “a many-voiced, multi-layered…” (Bloodaxe) style. In between we have the Arkpoem (1994); a very different experiment in form, it opens:

I was writing this long and labyrinthine poem in which I opened up

 and at the same time stepped into that openness, stillness, with a white voice

 as word after word drank from its stream, and the further the poem extended

 the more difficult it became, its syntax gradually transforming underway…

 

Her structure here is the cyclic exploration of self and the world as outlined by Elaine Showalter in her writings on feminist theory.

In 1991 she published Walking Over the Water. Outline of a Poetics. (part-translated by David MacDuff), a long series of meditations examining and elaborating upon her working methods. A key part of her strategy for major recognition. At every point it can seen her intent has been to situate the feminist perspective within the Danish canon.

The great appeal of Spring Tide lies in its sensuous, breathless lines: “…to write the syntax of desire…to a great degree demonstrate it…” (The Syntax of Desire, author’s foreword). The book is based around the first recognition, enjoyment, waning, and loss of desire “in all its manifestations…”:

Spring Tide

                 I lie down

                 bare myself

                I’ll be your animal

                  for a moment

                 with senses stretched out

                 between neck and heel

spring tide

           ……………………………………………………..

Spring Tide is a book honed on public performance. The incantatory effect, the feel of transgression, the building rhythmic force of these lines all must have been electrifying.

In the structure of this poem, its paralleling of clauses, we have something of kin with perhaps, a rhapsodic, biblical style.

It is not all pleasure and sunshine, however. As Horace Engdahl comments: “Her poetry has a shadow side… the prevailing season… is actually winter, the harsh, windy Danish winter with its endless wet snow.” And it is. The reader does not notice at first, but predominantly it is very much desire in warm places.

This darker side makes itself more known in the later book of aphoristic four-liners The Thousandborn:

                            Don’t look for poetry’s black box,

                            it hasn’t recorded any answers,

                            ……………………………………………………………….. 

 It is perhaps she is indeed “demonstrating …all its manifestations..”, even the desire for the dark, the cold, that is a part of all our make-ups.

Queens Gate (translated by David MacDuff) at times achieves a great elegance of line and phrase:

                             Clear is the water, blue as in a flame,

                            like a sky that floats,

                          ………………………………………………………

from The Shining River)

and

                            Here an undercurrent gathers,

                            here is a well with water

                            ……………………………………………………….

                            and the creatures still cry.

from The Acacia Valley

There is the kind of almost classical reticence here, and a tone that the Scottish Gaelic writers often achieved.

As can be seen, the two poems are water-based in their imagery; the whole book with its nine sections gestates a mythology of origins:

From water you have come.

                                                          The Shining River

The “white voice” of the ‘Ark’ poem echoes the ‘white ink’ of Écriture feminine.

1
When we consider modern Danish poetry three names come uppermost: Henrik Nordbrandt, Inger Christensen and Pia Tafdrup.
Why these three in particular? It is probably because their work has met with the best response from European readers.

They also define three main directions of modern Danish poetry.
The late Inger Christensen worked within the wide field of textual experimentation. This field is, in many ways, the most challenging; it calls into question, through its reassessments of language use the meaning and value of the self, of society, ideas of progress, the intrinsic possibility of reform, change, improvement etc. Her use of structure is very original, employing rationales and bases from outside the literary field.

With Pia Tafdrup we meet a writer very much a part of a feminist exploration of the world. Hers is a sensuous and taboo-breaking poetry. Her European best seller Spring Tide (1983) explored an erotic, sensuous awareness of the body in and through nature.
Her prize-winning Queens Gate (2001) further explored the author’s myth-making nature, while with her later long single poem Ark, written for a Nordic Prize occasion, she breaks out of the short lines and breathless rhythms, into a much longer line and more extended cyclic structure.

Inger Christensen and Pia Tafdrup both look to France for ideas: Inger Christensen to writers like Stephane Mallarme, Paul Valery, for their focus on the text, and further, to the writings of Roland Barthes and the Semiotic movement. Her name is often connected with the French Oulipo group (Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino etc) of text experiments.
Pia Tafdrup can be seen to respond to the feminist body-consciousness and language ideas of Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva. Henrik Nordbrandt, on the other hand, shares some of the awareness of the musical possibilities of language inherent in Stephane Mallarme and Paul Valery, that Inger Christensen also applied to her own work.

What is of particular interest is that Écriture feminine places “experience before language…” (Elaine Showalter).
This is also one of the great appeals of Inger Christensen’s writing method, her part in the ‘systematic poetry’ movement: where Pia Tafdrup takes the pressure from the solely textual concept of writing and focuses it on the intent, the ‘desire’ of language: not so much Roland Barthes, more Jacques Derrida, Inger Christensen mediates language through the interpolation of artificial forms. The poetry of both is enabled by the use of non-poetic structures, whether of thought/theory, or of form. For Henrik Nordbrandt the non-poetic enabler is the objective life, in effect, his peripatetic lifestyle.

2
With Henrik Nordbrandt we have a finely tuned classicism, a classicism against which other experiments in poetry measure themselves. His is a gay, slightly exotic presence, reporting back from Istanbul, Greece, the Mediterranean, to the northern, and by necessity of geography, and climatology, buttoned-up sensibility.
With a number of his Danish contemporaries still tangling with the strictures of Christian belief, Henrik Nordbrandt must represent something slightly pantheistic.
He has been greatly influenced by the mood and temperament of Constantine Cavafy in Alexandria, and like him writes an exquisite line, full of snatched joys and melancholy.

Robin Fulton as admirably translated Henrik Nordbrandt for Dedalus Press.
Henrik Nordbrandt’s China Observed Through Greek Rain in Turkish Coffee – the title itself, with its digressive clauses, is as much a précis of his poetic style as it is an example of his characteristic wit – is on one level a poem concerned with the resourcefulness of the imagination, how it can bend time and space, and through the image of the semi-willow pattern figure within the cup, take us further from the humdrum into the possibility of hope:

…the Chinaman
sees the sun appear through a green leaf
which has fallen into the cup

the cup whose contents
are now completely clear.
(ibid)

The cup can be said to symbolise the insularity of the self, a self reliance – which in itself is a commentary on a state of emotional poise, a pause between the pull of desire, and the fall of loss, that brief state of self possession.
A Greek rain falls into the cup, displacing the contents, revealing the Chinese figure: this encapsulates Immanuel Kant’s ideas of the self and the world each in their separate sphere, as well as demonstrating the classical objective correlative of T S Eliot, but taken on, made Henrik Nordbrandt’s own.

In another reading, this is a poem ultimately of loss, using the standard pathetic fallacy of rain as tears. Again, he takes it further: the rain overflows the poised cup of the self, self possession becomes the loss of the possession of the other. Just as the narrator’s self is absent as a persona from the poem, so, by extension, is ‘the other’ absent as a presence.
The old man in the cup, with long white beard and eyes either burned to cinders or self absorbed, reflects a possible future as a survivor of desire, an ascetic in his self sufficiency. (Odd how many who claim to have sublimated desire are of an age when desire tends to die down naturally.)

Fullness and emptiness are two of the possible readings, and map out Henrik Nordbrandt’s particular developing metaphysic, as elaborated upon by Lars Arndel:
“…double consciousness… on the one hand actual presence is a constant point of reference. The other presence becomes most conspicuous and authentic when it is withdrawn…”
Gerald Rosch notes: “ (Henrik Nordbrandt)… conjures up a world where loss and fulfilment occur simultaneously. Presence, arrival and possession cannot erase absence, departure and loss… man is on the move without knowing where to”. We can see this clearly in the very fine poem below:

After having loved we lie close together
and at the same time with distance between us
like two sailing ships that enjoy so intensely
their own lines in the dark water they divide
that their hulls
…………………………………………………………

But there are other nights, where we drift
like two brightly illuminated luxury liners
lying side by side
…………………………………………………………………….
And the sea is full of old tired ships
which we have sunk in our attempt to reach each
other.

: Sailing

Henrik Nordbrandt has developed an experiential system of values; the active imagination is capable of bridging memory and time. This is the motif behind his award-winning book Dream Bridges, which won him the Nordic Literary Prize in 2000. Memory cannot be trusted, any more than time itself, to record and hold human values.

The summer is over.
It was like the other summers
as much as they were like each other
and were different

and as the Easter Island statues
opened their eyes
the moment one turned one’s back on them.

And each summer
remembered more than what happened.

: Portrait Of The Heroine, Far Out At Sea
(Off-Shore Wind, 2001)

One reference point is the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelof. We can see Gunnar Ekelof’s influence in the epigrammatical concrete form capturing a metaphysical content:

No matter where we go, we always arrive too late
to experience what we left to find.
and in whatever cities we stay
it is the houses where it is too late to return
the gardens where it’s too late to spend a
moonlit night

…………………………………………………….
that disturbs us with their intangible presence.

: No Matter Where We Go

This is especially prominent in the later poetry:

The light stands flickering in its column, that
bears nothing.
.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
I asked for water and you gave me sour wine.
I drank from a corroded cup beneath dark icons
I asked to die, you gave me gold to stay.
I asked for a story, you gave me my own.
…………………………………………………………………..
Each day here costs us a century in the kingdom of
death.
: Near Lephkas

Henrik Nordbrandt and Pia Tafdrup look to the language of desire, a predicated use of language.