CONDITION OF SECRECY by Inger Christensen


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Insights into a poet who was definitely not living in an ivory tower.

Danish author Christensen (Light, Grass, and Letter in April, 2011, etc.) was one of Scandinavia’s finest experimental poets. Thoughtful and ruminative, these essays, skillfully rendered by translator Nied, reveal what poetry meant to Christensen (1935-2009) and how she wrote it. She calls herself “an almost insanely enthusiastic ‘enthusiast of language.’ " Her concerns were many—nature, art, philosophy, freedom, equality, and politics, including Ronald Reagan and Alexander Haig—and her artistic influences wide-ranging: Blake and Newton, Magritte, Elias Canetti, Chomsky, Maurice Blanchot, Merleau-Ponty, and Giordano Bruno. In the first essay, Christensen recalls having three “experiences” as a young girl, “still nearly indescribable.” Those “warm summer images” were her “first aesthetic experiences.” “Silk, the Universe, Language, the Heart” is her poetic discourse on another discourse, Lu Chi’s Wen Fu. The author explores how language is alive for her: “All nouns are very lonely,” adjectives, “helpless,” adverbs, “quite strong-willed,” verbs, “very agreeable,” and prepositions, “nearly invisible.” By writing poetry, Christensen believes, “we’re trying to produce something that we ourselves are already a product of.” She envisions the Big Bang as a “poem” we’re “in the middle of.” When she writes, she “sometimes pretend[s] it’s not me but language itself that’s writing.” As “human beings, we can’t avoid being part of the artistic process.” Christensen excitedly describes working on her poetry collection alphabet, which was a “great adventure.” Poetry, declares the author, is “not truth—it’s not even the dream of truth—poetry is passion—it’s a game, maybe a tragic game, the game we play with a world that plays its own game with us.”

Christensen’s probing, questioning, hopeful voice was an important one and is missed, but we can still hear it in this provocative book.

Pub Date: Nov. 27th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2811-4
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2018


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