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Inger Christensen January 16 1935 – January 2 2009

By Cathy Park Hong

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.

Comments (5)

  • On January 9, 2009 at 5:35 pm Lary wrote:

    Thanks for this informative posting (I am going to read Alphabet as a result) but unless you’re into foretelling the future, the date of Christensen’s death is a bit off…(the original post dates her death as January 12, 2009)today being the ninth of January.

  • On January 9, 2009 at 9:18 pm Maureen wrote:

    THANK YOU for this Cathy. Inger Christensen exists Inger Christensen exists! –M

  • On January 9, 2009 at 10:17 pm Daniel Rounds wrote:

    Inside the first office there is a second, inside the second there is a third, inside the third a fourth office etc.// Inside office no. 3517 an advisor advises and administrator// In office no. 1423 an administrator administrates an advisor// Man no. 8611 has been spinning fables all this time about consideration// At the end of all the united offices sits a well-paid hidden observer
    from IT, by Inger Christensen, translated by Susanna Nied and published by New Directions, 2005 page 145.
    The broad sweep of her mind continually amazes me. She’s like Rexroth crossed with Popa, Holub, and Juarroz.
    Her work is brilliant. Everyone should read it.
    d. rounds.

  • On January 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm Monica Youn wrote:

    I only recently started reading Christensen’s work, and even the sad news of her death doesn’t affect the illumination I’ve found in her poems.

  • On January 14, 2009 at 6:11 pm Cathy wrote:

    Thank you that Lary! For some reason, I accidently put the 1 before the 2. I corrected it.

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, January 8th, 2009 by Cathy Park Hong.