Poetry News

BOMB Talks With Danish Poet Ursula Andkjær Olsen!

By Harriet Staff
Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Hear

"Ursula Andkjær Olsen has reached an assured position as one of the most critically acclaimed poets in Denmark," writes Morten Høi Jensen in an introduction to an interview with the poet for BOMBon the occasion of the "inventive and fluent [English] translation by the Brooklyn-based editor and journalist Katrine Øgaard Jensen" of Third-Millenium Heart (Broken Dimanche Press/Action Books). From their conversation:

MHJ

A common theme in this book is what you previously referred to as “things that are inside and outside one another.” Could you say more about that?

UAO

There are two aspects to this notion. First: It has to do with a Danish children’s song called “Far out in the woods was a little mountain,” which is a very beautiful song, often imparted as a lullaby. I frequently sang it to my son when he was younger. It’s about, among many other things, a bird in an egg and an egg in a nest, a movement both inwards and outwards. This song became very important to Third-Millennium Heart, to its images, its movement, its way of “operating.” It became a kind of perpetuity, entirely local in its origins: “You were inside me / I was in the house / the house was by the lake / the lake was in the city / the city was in / inside the world.” This continuity of things that are embedded in each other, connected by small and large webs—it’s like an entire cosmology.

Second: In the summer of 2010 I visited the Rudolph Tegner Museum in Northern Zealand. Surrounding the museum is a sculpture park, with a sculpture called The Embrace of Darkness. It depicts a woman sitting between another woman’s outspread legs. When I saw it I thought there ought to have been a third woman sitting between the other woman’s legs. And then I thought, I could create that sculpture myself. But once I wrote the poem, I felt there was a counter-poem missing in order for it to become a kind of portal. So I wrote the poem with men arching over one another. The women emerging, the men arching, embracing one another—it’s a striking gate, I think. And once that gate had been erected, I felt a book was there ready to come through.

MHJ

My mother used to always sing that song to me too. There’s something deeply melancholic about it, don’t you think?

UAO

The Nordic tone… The loneliness of the forest. I think I started to sing it to my son because Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen made a version of it on CD with choral music that I used to listen to quite often. In his version it was actually more cheerful, or at least more wobbling, breathless, less rueful. My son made a version of the text when he got a little older, a version that goes: Far deep in mommy, there was a little mountain, the prettiest mountain I’ve ever seen. The mountain lies far deep in mommy, etc. A writer I know interprets the original text as being about letting go, the child letting go of the mother, and about letting go of being awake, and that the movement in the text from mountain to tree to branch and finally to child to pillow creates a kind of bridge unto sleep. It’s as though a bunch of extension cords are inserted between the child and the parent, extra umbilical cords that make it possible to let go without severing the connection, like a rupture that is diluted instead as the child drifts off into sleep. I suppose my own version in Third-Millennium Heart is more of a parent’s wish for a child, an egg on the pillow. And perhaps it feels more like an abyss than a series of extension cords.

MHJ

This entire cosmology, as you call it, also opens up the intimate, corporeal experience to the social and the political. I thought—perhaps in a somewhat banal way—of the old feminist slogan, “The personal is political.” Why did you take up social and political critique in this book?

UAO

Probably, and simply, because I have a hard time concentrating on myself for too long at a time. So perhaps it’s more a case of Third-Millennium Heart landing in these much larger issues that I was already occupied with—society, global economics, technology, nature, the entire world—and then spreading its pressure wave of body thought and language into the surrounding landscape... 

More of the surrounding landscape at BOMB. Now if someone could get on that translation of her novel, Krisehæfterne, we'd really appreciate it!