Theater of Cruelty

"Her hands were a road / of breathing trees"

Kosmos' beibi, Poems in collection
POETRY / Kosmos' baby by Gunnar Wærness, and Collection by Erling Kittelsen are two books that have a similarity in how they extend away from the personal (author) self and borrow voices from the environment. The latter makes fun of the cultural tourist and New Age consumer who attends evening classes in Sufism one month and shamanic drumming the next.


At the turn of the year, MODERN TIMES takes a closer look at some of the year's poetry publications.

But first two exciting poets who both published two poetry collections last year: By Cornelius Jakhelln came out late at the same time The wheel of life og My world of wreckage and window to grace (The chapel). And from the pocket publisher Antipode Films came two collections of poems by the legendary Øystein Wingard Wolf#: My childhood og Orange. Both of these poets will soon be unique in Norway by writing poetry based on imagery and visual talent.

Pattern-rhymed sonnets about closed fish receptions and military bases are unusual fare.

All four poetry collections revolve around an unprivileged childhood described in an imaginative light. Wolf grew up with a Jewish father in the Oslo working class on Teisen: Here Captain Nemo meets the space dog Laika, and "Dad had borrowed money for a large apartment / He cooked Spanish omelettes, whistled and flogged, / had never enjoyed himself in a Gerhardsengate" . While Cornelius Jakhelln, returned to the South from Berlin during the pandemic, recalls the school bullying and observes how "the dilapidated cabins on the islets have been demolished". He remembers his mother: "The snowflakes swirl past the windows / in the white-painted southern village / They are only here once / This is also the case with people."

Nobel prize blank

Jo E#ggen, a poet who, like Jakhelln, has a sense of form characterized by the Norse, this year continued his long-standing series of poetry collections with motifs from islands and neighboring countries. Icelandic poems (Aschehoug, 2023) finds itself, with historical perspectives, in a modern era of industrial closures. Pattern-rhymed sonnets about closed fish receptions and military bases are unusual fare. And throughout, it is the compressed poems in the book that provide the strongest charge. An example is one of the most politically oriented poems "Frognerprinsen, Libyabomberen (Gammalislandsk heltquad)". A poem that flirts with the archaic: "A democratic house of chalk with the right to war said: / there Jens passed the test of strength with flying colors / The jensebrynja is knitted by yes people in a flock / the helmet is murky and media dark / no Russian rogue no, nobel prize blank / 'it's a citizen for fair play when Norway bombs' / Mist's murderous snow got good Libyan training / said the gromgutmunnlaret in Ap's blåskjær.

Gunnar Wærness

But then to the two poetry collections from 2023 that I intend to focus on. Kosmos' baby by Gunnar Wærness, and Collection by Erling Kittelsen. Two books that have a similarity in how they extend away from the personal (author) self and borrow voices from the environment. Wærness does it through role poems, the use of "masks". It could apply to the futurist Velimir Khlebnikov or one of Latin America's first modernists, Vicente Huidobro. Kittelsen achieves this, the collective level, in that all the poems are dedicated to different people or to specific phenomena.

But first Gunnar Wærness, who is more abstract and chooses expansive perspectives in time and space. A world space that the stanzas imitate with their broken lines and leaps of thought ('space' is actually the literary term for this).

With the help of Khlebnikov and Huidobro, among others, Wærnes can unfold over much of the 1900th century, with the technical innovations, but also the wars, with the bread queues in peacetime, Picasso, the party books, hungry and homeless people. Through the utopian Khlebnikov, he can extend existence, against time and space. All religions are included (as with Kittelsen), the constellations and zodiacs get new names, and even the nearby is painted against something magnificently larger: "my friends are constellations / animals are constellations / thoughts are constellations." A third persona used here is our Norwegian post-war poet Gunvor Hofmo, who is assigned a voice and describes himself as having "the lungs empty like closing dance schools / the heart staring out of a dark aquarium". In the poem, she speaks of "a poor God" and of people who "light a candle for themselves". Just as in a Song of Solomon with its alternating chorus, Hofmo is answered by her close friend Ruth Maier (killed in Auschwitz 1942), but now as an "echo frightened out of her own body", and she tells Hofmo that "her hands were a road / of breathing trees».

Erling Kittelsen

In Erling Kittelsen's new Poems in collection  the words extend in a related way in all directions, in a duality of the local and the global. It is possible to see him as a fighting man on the same side as Wærness, only with more introspective doubt.

With his introductions, Kittelsen has done more than anyone else for immigrant literatureone in Norway. Despite that, one notices concerned observations of the multicultural, if this should mean an absence of any culture – or, a commercial culture shared by all, as Pasolini feared. But instead he adopts a different perspective: "We have enough in our own Edda / to catch sight of other epics." He makes fun of the cultural tourist and the New Age consumer who one month attends evening classes in Sufism and the next in shamanic drumming, and asks himself: "the faith that carries a source in itself / do we need to take other people's sources?" In the same slightly tragic portrait, he outlines: "African drums / unknown great-grandmothers / unattainable stars / lonely paths." The answer to the problem, from Kittelsen, seems to be somewhat more eclectic and probably hopelessly utopian: "Everyone says it's impossible / The only possible / that Israel and Palestine merge." The poet dreams of a faith that can "see further / than its own image". About a new type of religion, about a Jerusalem, where there is "In the middle of the city there is an octagonal center / for unifying thoughts, spirit and loving / willingness to sew together broken surfaces".

Also the wars, with the bread queues in peacetime, Picasso, the party books, hungry and homeless people.

All the poems in the collection – Kittelsen's most accessible for a long time – have an addressee, sometimes of a more abstract nature, often more personal. Some poems are short like epigrams: "TO A MONEY SAVER / The money to be saved / from ending up with the poor." And like the previously mentioned Jo Eggen, he has an evil eye for the Norwegian military involvement in Iraq ("which was crushed") and in Libya. In the same way as Eggen, he is critical of neo-capitalism here at home, where "the rich need a protected spot / so as not to get their field of vision dirty". Kittelsen comes from an older generation and doesn't have much left for consumerism in general, what we see around us in the capital and in the Norwegian media: "An unimaginable laxity / shared by like-minded people / spreads in the nation." In just three lines, filled with irony, he manages to summarize much of contemporary Oil Norway: "something deeper gets to swim freely / something higher gets to dive in peace / something lower gets a place in the Storting".

While the positive symbol on frihet in the poetry collection, it is the bird on the book cover, a force that transcends borders, everywhere at home and itself: "Just flew in / knew it was familiar here."

Håkan Sandell
Håkan Sandell
Sandell is now MODERN TIMES' regular poetry critic. He is a Swedish poet and literary critic. He is now a regular poetry critic in MODERN TIMES. Sandell has published around 30 books, and for several decades he has also worked as a culture writer for the Swedish morning newspaper Sydsvenskan. His latest book is the collection of poems The world opens the gates (2023).

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