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Inger Christensen January 16 1935 – January 2 2009
I’m greatly saddened that Inger Christensen has passed away at the age of 73. If you’re not familiar with her poetry, she was the best known contemporary poet in Denmark. In the United States, she may have been read by few and far between but in Denmark, she was treasured by all: protesters used to chant lines from her poems during the 60’s and her poems were part of murals on building walls.
Her collection,Alphabet, is her greatest known work, a collection that ingeniously uses both the abecedarius form, anaphora as well as the Fibonacci sequence, in order to create a brilliant long poem about how the one’s actions infect community, population, history, and the natural world. I once went to a reading by Nathaniel Mackey who insightfully said that a “series has a sense of contagion” which is so apt with Christensen’s work. The series begins austerely with one memorable line “apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist,” which in turn sprouts to two lines on the next page, “bracken exists, and blackberries, blackberries; bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen” until it spirals and proliferates, propelled by the Fibonacci sequence. Out of this form, Christensen creates a kind of bounty and a kind of boundlessness. A gorgeous and frenzied accretion happens in which she spins an environment into existence through her verbal susurrations. But if contagion means growth, it also begets virulence, destruction, as it does in Christensen’s world where her homage to the natural world quickly dovetails into her ecological concerns of the future. This book is both timely and utterly timeless. Alphabet is a masterpiece, one of the strongest long poems ever written in modern times.
Of her poetics, Christensen claims, “I write like wind / that writes in water.” I hope more Americans will get to know, engage, and appreciate her brilliance.