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:
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 >
June 11th, 2013 / 12:09 pm
It fell completely silent. I felt like a diver who finds himself at the bottom of the ocean one minute and on solid ground the next, unable to hear whether the others are saying he’s dead or alive because he’s encapsulated in a silence as vast as if he’d brought the ocean up with him and it surrounded him now like a hue bell that no one could pass through without drowning. The fluttering plant curtains filtered the light that flickered over my eyelids as over a gray sandy bottom. I dozed off in this air that was dense and warm and green, and also poisonous, because she had already discovered me, and then, with the greatest silence, sprayed her poison in through the windows, a green poison that quickly stripped all the leaf-flesh off my human body, exposing my ribs, fluids, and reproductive system, causing me to cave in, collapse, crumble, almost vanish; yes, there was actually only a little dust remaining, and that could be easily brushed off the sheet before lying down, as if there were a little sand between the toes the evening before. I got up. A couple of drops fell from my crotch. They spread out and became a little gray spot on the sheet. A little head with ears.
Inger Christensen, Azorno, pp. 22-23 (translated from the Danish by Denise Newman)
Inger Christensen died last year. She wrote very many books. There are no interviews with her online.