25 Points: alphabet

by Inger Christensen
New Directions, 2001
64 pages / $12.95 buy from Amazon









0. Inger Christensen—that petite, Danish demigod with her propensity for potted plants and the wild unknown—must have been hounded by the idea of growth. By what is massive. I guess if you look at/dwell on the vastness of things for long enough, you’ll predictably find yourself engaged with death options, the tempered dark where there are no underthings to stabilize you—and you are a little dust, alone with the chilling and the growing of yourself. It’s just you you you and the big outside.

1. Christensen’s alphabet is a sprawling network, shaped by the Fibonacci sequence that signifies nature’s inclination toward animal, exponential levels of growth and similar vanishings of decline. There’s an incantation stitching the poem, especially its beginning, that simply verifies the existence of things:

doves exist, dreamers, and dolls;
killers exist, and doves, and doves;
haze, dioxin, and days; days
exist, days and death; and poems
exist; poems, days, death

Death exists, details exist, the small monotony of days exist, all alongside one another.

1. I once read the entirety of alphabet in one of those concrete courtyards, the sad kind that’s trying to cute-up a hospital. I read it another time out loud for someone (although finishing was weird and uncomfortable because I was just beginning to tell, although I liked this person at the time, that they were not really interested in me and definitely not interested in 80-page metaphysical poems structured like the Fibonacci sequence), and another time on my bedroom floor with a whole .75 of OT that was looking nothing like a group sport because I was sad about something or something. And many times before and after that I can’t remember anymore. One magical person said, when I asked her about alphabet, that it made her think about cornfields a lot.

2. I sometimes try to relate my deep affection and appreciation for the state of Iowa, and I always think about cornfields that continue past the curvature of the earth, this massive output of production that literally exceeds our capacity to see it, much less understand it. “wheat in wheatfields exists, the head-spinning / horizontal knowledge of wheatfields, half-lives, / famine, and honey . . .”

3. Sometimes all it takes to be humbled is just the existence of certain things.

5. I’m shocked and quieted every time I read a newspaper, but not like I am by cornfields or incomprehensibly vast networks of connection. Although, the more I think about alphabet and re-live those declarations of both physical and metaphysical existences, the less I see the distinction.

8. There are some lines in there that simply state the death count for some great tragedies— “140,000 dead and / wounded in Hiroshima / some 60,000 dead and / wounded in Nagasaki”— and these numbers stand still on the page. The lines are always wavering between the porous and the immovable, the intimate and the intergalactic.

13. I wonder what it would look like, speaking of networks of connection, if Christensen had written a long poem/book of poems about the internet. Like, would that be beautiful? Would that be sheer terror?

21. It’s impossible not to talk about Susanna Nied’s translation. In an interview at Circumference last year, Neid said that she started working on alphabet’s translation in secret: “I didn’t tell Inger I was doing it. For the time being, I didn’t want anyone else’s input, not even hers. I had a very strong sense of what the poems could become in English. I kept shaping and reworking. Interlinked sprials. Double helix. Beauty and destruction. I was possessed.”

34. You can easily be possessed by Christensen. If you hear alphabet being read aloud, the words bend towards rapture, like hypnotism. Partly due to the steadily revolving repetitions—existence, vanishing, existence, vanishing. READ MORE >

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June 11th, 2013 / 12:09 pm