Inger Christensen

Inger Christensen was born in Vejle, Denmark in 1935. She initially studied medicine but then trained to be a teacher, and from 1963 to 1964 she worked at the College for Arts in Holbæk. After that she opted for the life of a freelance writer. Although she has also written a novel, short stories, essays, radio plays, a drama and a libretto, Christensen is best known for her powerful lyric poetry. She has also produced excellent Danish translations of the works of authors such as Paul Celan and Max Frisch.

Christensen made her debut as an author in 1962 with her poetry volume »Lys« (t: Light), followed a year later by »Græs« (t: Grass). The flat, monotonous landscape of her homeland, its flora and fauna, the beach, the sea, and the snowy winters imbued the topography of many of her poems. The hypothesis of language being an innate structure in human beings, as proposed by the American linguist Noam Chomsky in the nineteen sixties, gave Christensen another decisive impulse for her poetic works. She attracted international attention with two long poems: »Det« (t: It), published in 1969, and »Alfabet« (Eng. »Alphabet«, 2000) in 1981, which were based on a mathematical system of numbers. Her volume of poetry »Brev i April« (t: Letter in April) is another example of »systematic poetry«.

Christensen is considered of one the most important European poets in the 20th century. In her poems and in her essays about poetry, she persistently questioned the relationship between the world and the self. She perceived her poetry as reflections on the universe, linguistic approaches to the ideal harmony between the self, language, and the cosmos. She was particularly interested in Romantic ideas of a fusion of word and phenomenon. In her work, the opposition between legibility and illegibility, oneself and the world, language and the individual, is not resolved by the acquisition of a fixed perspective on the world from outside, but rather is maintained as the productive »fever« of a »native, who can never gain an external impression of the world in which he or she lives«. »And my poetry has the same relationship to outer space as the eye to its own retina, which it cannot see.« Christensen’s poems and essays are closely related: As lyrical figures and motives contribute to make her poems characteristically compact, so do configurations of thoughts and concepts return in her poems, being rather organic parts of them than foreign matter.

After the volume of essays »Hemmelighedstilstanden« (2000; t: The state of secrecy) her radio play »Masser af sne til de traengende får« (1971; t: Loads of snow for the starving sheep) was lately translated into German. Her work captured several laurels such as the Austrian State Prize for European Literature and the Nordic Prize of the Swedish Academy. The poet died in Copenhagen on January 2nd, in 2009.

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