:: Article

Four Poems

By Morten Søndergaard.

more and more Danes are finding work
more and more Danes are now millionaires
more and more Danes are having children with Dannebrog-shaped moles
more and more Danes are expressing concern for the environment
more and more Danes have a feeling of inadequacy
more and more Danes take the car to Vienna
more and more Danes make little sounds with their mouths
more and more Danes are also eating their apple cores
more and more Danes are committing suicide
more and more Danes are googling their own names
more and more Danes are born left-handed
more and more Danes are going to poetry readings
more and more Danes suffer from winter depression and stop short in traffic, at a loss
more and more Danes speak German
more and more Danes are playing poker
more and more Danes no longer feel Danish
more and more Danes have their teeth fixed south of the border
more and more Danes are licking the mirrors in public toilets
more and more Danes describe themselves as happy
more and more Danes drive round the country at night, experimenting on cows’ eyes
more and more Danes enjoy moving very, very slowly when they are alone.


The Lovers

I awake in a land where the lovers have seized power. They have introduced laws decreeing that no one will ever again have to look away, and that orgasms need never come to an end. Roses function as currency, the insane are worshipped as gods, and the gods are considered insane. The postal service has been reinstated and the words ’you’ and ’I’ are now synonymous. After the revolution it was decided that broken-hearted lovers should be eliminated for the safety of those happy in love. When they track me down I immediately surrender. The executioner is a woman and it is quickly done. It is winter and I have not met you yet.



The Ornithologist In Question

An ornithologist is a person with a powerful urge to watch birds. If two ornithologists catch sight of one another, one of them will mention a figure. It might be a high figure, let’s say 267, or a somewhat lower figure, 113 for example. The ornithologist who has cited the lower figure will eye the other ornithologist, the one who has cited the higher figure, appreciatively and possibly give a whistle of admiration. The ornithologist with the high figure will shrug his shoulders. They will then part and go their separate ways. The reason for this is that the figures 267 or 113 refer to the number of different species of bird which the ornithologist in question has crossed off in his copy of The Colour Guide to Birds of the World, a book by Swede Gunnar Fahlström. Gunnar Fahlström is the ornithologist who has cited the highest figure. The number of crosses can vary widely, depending on the ornithologist’s age and keenness. It should be added that ornithologists are honest souls. In general they wear clothes in simple, natural colours, and some carry small pairs of binoculars on leather straps around their necks. The Colour Guide to Birds of the World comes in a handy pocket format. To save a lot of unnecessary flicking back and forth through The Colour Guide to Birds of the World when an ornithologist spots a new, non-crossed-off species, ornithologists have introduced the practice of gluing together those pages on which every bird has been crossed off. It is said that all the pages of Gunnar Fahlström’s own copy of The Colour Guide to Birds of the World are glued together, and that this book, which is nothing but an unreadable, glued-up clump, is wedged under a table leg in a mountain hut in north-east Lapland, to prevent the table from wobbling.

From To Hold the Sea at Bay with a Broom, 2004, Borgens Forlag


Night Blog

The night is here again.
Someone has let me in to the control tower and thrown the keys
away. Words request permission to land. Come in.
I believe in the conspiracies of the words behind the back
of the syntax.
You just have to keep going.
Full throttle. Hope it goes okay. Even though we’ve nowhere
to go. Write like the evening light that rips open chasms
in all the colours. A spectrum from violet to phosphorescent green.
A light falls on the words inscribed here. I walk
up into the mountains with an invisible dog and write a poem.

The floors say: Hello, feet.
We go by names: counterpoint, breaking point, melting point.
Time runs its programme, it goes by, it passes, it stands
The body tips forward in its figure One, for everything is
, everything
comes down to blind faith in floors, faith in you,
I walk back, step
by step, I sit on the toilet in my grandmother’s bathroom, a ground of brown,
yellow and blue rectangular tiles, tiles, a way of
falling into a brown study, studying brown and yellow and blue oblongs of tile
and there in the toilet in my thoughts cut the tiles free and lay them out again
on the floor, in new patterns,
far more satisfying patterns, in the beginning was the pattern,
the brown and yellow and blue sensation on the soles of the feet,
random formulations, run-up to figuration, here and there hints
of a flower with petals, a face, a cockroach, a knife
or a screwdriver would do it,
prise them loose, the tiles, but it can’t be done, these feet
accept all sorts of floors, all negotiable surfaces.
We search for places. The floor is a starting point.
The place is the walker’s
fixed abode. A sense of place. This place: We.
We let the air out of this place, as if from a beach toy,
and take it with us.

Ready? Each word is another word.
Each tongue another tongue. From now on face is ’snow’.
One is friends with one’s toes. A sentence to get hold of.
Hold up. Giddy-up.
My white horses. As a child I played the mouth organ
and regularly rode off into the sunset.
I set. Sorry: I said, I’m Lucky Luke. The palefaces of words
turn among the birch trunks.
Face ought to be face.
Step by step.
So and so many steps. Shanks’s pony.

My vanity is veritably enormous. Postcard from
Pound: Rid yourself of it, pull it down. I take a walk along
the pedestrian street, ciao. A walk can begin and end anywhere
at all. There is fire on the mountain. Luckily. Poets on
exercise bikes supply the language with electricity. Keep it
going, as they say.
Poetry is so eco-friendly. High-voltage sentences keep whole cities
up and running. I roam at random around the town. Go all
I must wean myself of this weird habit of counting
I truly cannot tell which foot took
the first, but
I remember my playpen was exactly 3 steps long,
there I paced under a
stripy jaguar sun, back and forth, it is 27 steps from the kitchen
over to my desk,
it is 513 to the post office
and 6989 to the football ground down by the motorway, I begin
to go out in the sun, like a babbling fool
suddenly realizing
that life is not one long descent towards death, but a series of
complicated steps
in unforeseen directions,
it is 3124 steps up to the artichokes in the olive grove,
423 steps
down to the bar. It could be 1 step to the moment
of concurrence that occurs
when the poem is written and I am allowed
to be in the world, one on one,
there it is, looking so utterly
convincing with artichokes and Glenn Gould, ossicles
and dogs and chili and
you. I walk up
to the olive grove to see to the artichokes,
of the artist as vegetable
, the artichokes, we cook them,
we pluck off
their petals,
we work our way in to the delicious heart, that’s what we’re after.
Find your patch
of chaos and tend it, get it to flourish with stray shoots
from every branch,
25367 steps in one direction, 25367 in another,
like when
as children we
counted our steps on the way to school
and had to start from scratch if we trod on a crack, now we make
strokes on paper like bartenders counting beers, four down
and one
across, so and so many days to go, will you, will you, will you come
out in the woods with me. Out there
a copper beech counts its leaves backwards and somewhere the sun is blabbing
in an old fountain.
You could
go crazy with all this counting, counting giro forms, counting girlfriends,
counting brown and yellow and blue cars, counting steps, but
digits deaden
the pain and shift it slightly
from the told to the telling. We do not count
on our fingers now,
most of it is done
in the head.

From A Step in the Right Direction, 2005, Borgens Forlag

Translated by Barbara Haveland


Morten Søndergaard (born 1964) is one of the foremost of the younger generation of Danish poets to emerge onto the scene in the early Nineties. Søndergaard’s first collection of poetry, Sahara i mine hænder (Sahara In My Hands) was published in 1992. This debut collection has been followed by a succession of works which have won him both critical acclaim and a number of literary awards. Language is Morten Søndergaard’s medium and his métier, one which he practises not only as a poet, but also as a translator, sound artist and literary editor. And while his craft is solidly rooted in the classic poetic tradition he is constantly intent on exploring the possibilities of language and new ways in which these can be presented. Over the years, alongside his written publications, this has resulted in musical and dramatic works and in recordings, exhibitions and installations centring on language and sound. Morten Søndergard’s most recent publication is Processen og det halve kongerige (The Process and Half the Kingdom) (2010).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 6th, 2011.