> Poetry in Copenhagen

Poetry in Copenhagen

Par |2019-01-23T14:45:18+00:00 22 décembre 2013|Catégories : Blog|

It seems that God has cho­sen a few hun­dred, or at the very most a couple of thou­sand, in each nation for the buying of poe­try col­lec­tions. Poetry is publi­shed in small print runs and the shelves of poe­try doesn't take up much space at the books­tore. That’s how it is in Denmark and in most other coun­tries – even in China with a popu­la­tion of 1.4 bil­lion it is rare that a poe­try col­lec­tion becomes a best­sel­ler.

When tra­vel­ling the world and spen­ding time in air­ports, you are plain­ly confron­ted with these unsha­keable facts. There is always a books­tore in the air­port, but too often the shelves hold no poe­try what­soe­ver. At the front of the coun­ter are mys­te­ries and cur­rent best­sel­lers with fla­shy covers. More modest­ly pla­ced you may find a sec­tion of clas­sics, but no poe­try ! I find that rather unam­bi­tious – poe­try has aes­the­tic dimen­sions you can­not find in prose. It evokes emo­tions in a more direct man­ner and focus on themes of impor­tance for eve­ryone.

Recently on my way home from Peru I had to change planes at Heathrow and was in tran­sit there a few hours. I went into the books­tore and was pre­sen­ted with the gloo­my fact : No poe­try. Astonishing ! The UK is an old natio­nal culture with proud tra­di­tions in poe­try. British poets have writ­ten so much excep­tio­nal and emble­ma­tic poe­try. Would it not be appro­priate for eve­ry books­tore in the coun­try to car­ry Blake, Yeats, Pound, Auden, Elliot or Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney ? In order to find a solu­tion to the mys­te­ry I approa­ched the friend­ly young clerk. “Sorry,” he said without shame, “Poetry doesn’t sell.”

You could receive the same ans­wer in a books­tore in Copenhagen. And we are very well aware of it ; the mar­ket forces drive life on our pla­net. However, the pro­blem is that if poe­try isn’t to be found in a books­tore it will never get the chance to prove its via­bi­li­ty. If rea­ders are only fed mys­te­ries and best­sel­lers we will all become more stu­pid, our brains will wither and our souls lose their wings. There ought to be poe­try on the shelves of eve­ry books­tore with a sense of pro­fes­sio­nal pride and self-res­pect. 

I actual­ly don’t think that the cur­rent situa­tion among book­sel­lers gives a true pic­ture of the esteem of poe­try among rea­ders. Poetry lives, is doing well and flou­rishes like never before. It fol­lows its own chan­nels to connect with rea­ders.  Festivals and rea­dings gather many enthu­siasts who enjoy lis­te­ning to poe­try and who may buy a book or two at the same time. And that makes sense because poe­try ori­gi­na­ted in the mar­ket square and in the bazar, where poets have reci­ted since anti­qui­ty.

Among Danish poets Inger Christensen was unique. A great per­for­mer and an eminent poet. When she died a few years ago The Guardian cal­led her “one of the most signi­fi­cant European poets of the 20th Century” – and states in the same breath that “She was Danish, and it is a mis­for­tune for any great wri­ter to be confi­ned to a lan­guage with few rea­ders.” That may be true, but Inger Christensen cros­sed the lan­guage bar­rier with Alphabet – a long poem full of won­der at the world and nature, and keen­ly aware of our threats to them – and Butterfly Valley, a requiem in the form of a cycle of son­nets of overw­hel­ming beau­ty and deep exis­ten­tial insight.

Among women poets one should also men­tion Pia Juul and her fai­ry­tale poe­try full of cruel­ty and magic and Naja Marie Aidt who lives in New York and who with Alting blin­ker [Everything is Gleaming] explores the fee­ling of being a stran­ger in a new place in the world. An acces­sible, humo­rous and absurd sen­si­bi­li­ty cha­rac­te­rizes much of her work that is favo­red by rea­ders.  As is Pia Tafdrup, who has been trans­la­ted into Turkish by Murat Alpar.

One of the most impor­tant Danish poets is Henrik Nordbrandt. In book upon book he chal­lenges him­self and the Danish lan­guage and in some mira­cu­lous way he almost seems to grow youn­ger and more play­ful with the years. Henrik Nordbrandt is well known in Turkey where he has lived seve­ral times. He speaks the lan­guage and has many friends among Turkish poets. Fortunately he has also writ­ten a Turkish cook­book, Damelår og andre spe­cia­li­te­ter [Lady thighs and other Specialities ], that intro­duce hun­gry Danes to the won­ders of Turkish cui­sine.

Peter Poulsen and Thomas Boberg should also be coun­ted among dis­tin­gui­shed Danish poets. And recent­ly a col­lec­tion of Peter Laugesen’s poe­try was publi­shed in Turkish trans­la­tion, Sincabın Sakladığı Sözcükler (Yapi Kredi Yayinlari, 2011). Laugesen writes a sur­rea­lis­tic dia­ry-like poe­try, ins­pi­red by his own expe­riences of dai­ly life, like going for a walk and change conver­sa­tions with ran­dom pas­sers by. His book was also trans­la­ted by Murat Alpar, who toge­ther with Hüseyin Duygu, is of inva­luable impor­tance as cultu­ral bridge buil­ders bet­ween Turkey and Denmark.

Finally I want to men­tion Erik Stinus a fine poet and a dear friend who died a few years ago. During his last year alive he recei­ved “Uluslararası Nazım Hikmet Şiir Ödülü”. At that event the fes­ti­val direktörü Salih Zeki Tombak said, “Erik Stinus, okuyu­cuyu Danimarka şii­ri­nin iro­nik karak­ter­le­rin­den uzak­laştırır. Stinus, buna karşılık batı şii­ri­nin yaşayan­dan yola çıkan, yaşadığı Çağa tanıklık eden büyük bir ozandır. Yaşam boyu bütün eser­le­rinde ortaya koy­duğu insancıl öz ve sanat­sal başarı­dan dolayı ödülün ken­di­sine veril­me­sine karar veril­di”.

That’s how it is : poe­try is the neces­sa­ry breath and oxy­gen of lan­guage. There is eve­ry rea­son for opti­mism and to feel good about the state of things. Poetry may not be dis­played at the front of the books­tore and it rare­ly reaches the top of the best­sel­ler lists. Instead good poe­try is long-lived. As the clas­si­cal Chinese poets Li Bai (701 – 762) notes in a frag­ment :

Perfect poems
Are the only buil­dings
That always stay stan­ding


Niels Hav, Copenhagen, 2013