Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments.
Ulrikka S. Gernes. Translated by Patrick Friesen & Per Brask. Brick Books. London, Ontario. 2015.
Today's book of poetry has never read Ulrikka S. Gernes in Danish because I'm a uni-lingual fool, I can only imagine how fine that would be because she is a pistol all the way through Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments. Patrick Friesen and Per Brask have given Gernes an English voice full of humour, wisdom, wit and some serious chops, her timing is all jazz.
K WAS SUPPOSED TO COME WITH THE KEY, I WAS
to wait outside the gate. I arrived on time,
the time we had agreed on and waited, as agreed,
outside the gate. I waited a long time, waited
and waited, waited a very long time. I stood
next to the security guard from Securitas, who also
stood outside the gate. I waited, the security guard
from Securitas just stood there, he wasn't waiting,
it was his job to stand there, he didn't take
any breaks, he just stood there, keeping an eye
on what he was supposed to keep an eye on. K
didn't show up. I waited. When the security guard
from Securitas finished his shift I went home
with him, sat down across from him at the kitchen
table, ate spicy meatballs on rice, summer cabbage
followed by green tea and mango from Brazil.
In the night he laid his human hand between
my shoulder blades before we both stumbled
across the threshold into a brand new now.
Ulrikka S. Gernes has almost certainly read Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I say that because Gernes has found the same light to shine into corners that illuminated Kundera's opus. These poems are great songs about the details of ordinary life - writ large and modest at the same time.
What Gernes is suggesting is that "the world is magical and dangerous," she says so in her very helpful and enlightening Afterword: Notes on a Collection of Poems Considered at a Distance.
I HAVE TO FIND F. I DON'T KNOW WHY AND I DON'T KNOW
where, but if I find F I'll get the answer to an important
question. I don't know the question, but at some
point I'll be told. It's something to do with an
envelope. And a parrot feather. I'm in London.
I have a photo of an English row house, the kind of house
there are a million of in London. I have no address.
I only know that it's in London and that F is in the house
in the photo. I must find that house. I have two large
suitcases that are very heavy. In addition I have a rucksack
on my back. It too is heavy. I can barely carry my luggage.
I also have a dog. A small, black and white dog which is
very lively. I have it on a leash but it constantly runs
away from me. Its name is Ziggy. I call and call after it.
It leaps and jumps and barks. It's impossible to control it.
We walk through dark, narrow passages and alleys that
dead-end and we have to walk back. It seems hopeless,
but I mustn't give up. I yell and yell after the dog that
constantly skips away from me. In my pocket I have
the photo of the house, I have to stop continually, put
the suitcases down, take the photo from my pocket
and compare the house in the photo with the houses
we pass. In this way seventeen years go by.
Gernes asks "have I loved, have I loved, have I loved enough." in her poem On H. C. Anderson Boulevard During Rush Hour and it may be the most important question any of us ever ask of ourselves. I think it is the main discussion taking place in Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments. Gernes gets to these difficult places where our hearts hide and harvest those secrets we think we need.
These poems start off with a possible lightness, they are crystal clear, so easy to access and inhabit, but Gernes is no lightweight, she owns a hammer. Once you're inside these delightful and assassin deadly poems - she has you. Then the fireworks ensue, time and again, her precise knowledge of where to apply gentle pressure determines how the reader's heart beats.
REMEMBER, LONGING DOESN'T DIMINISH OVER THE YEARS,
rather it grows, he says, and I know that the allusion
isn't directed at me as we both grow quiet at the sight
of tradesmen with naked torsos in the midday heat
in the square in front of the church, both of us marvelling
at a neat pattern of body hair across a chest, down along
the navel, the play of muscles in the network of drops
of sweat, the bird-like flight of an upper lip's arch; arms, hands,
the bend in the neck and its toss, to be a man, to be a man,
to be a woman, love knows no age and no gender,
love is a window, and maybe it's because the air shimmers
short of breath from heat, death and lavender
that all at once I wish for nothing else but for him
to hold me on a discarded mattress in the parking lot beneath
the Tears of St. Lawrence, he can fuck me in the ass, if he wants,
for a moment the both of us can abandon who we are.
Controlled abandon, precise as tacks on a map, this translation is slick in the very best way. Ulrikka S. Gernes should be very happy about her treatment at the hands of Friesen and Brask. Today's book of poetry will be raving about Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments, we'll tell anyone who listens that we think Gernes is the Danish Susan Musgrave.
Today's book of poetry can offer no higher praise.
Ulrikka S. Gernes
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ulrikka S. Gernes was born in 1965 in Sweden of Danish parents. At the age of twenty-two she moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, already a published and highly acclaimed poet. Her first collection, Natsværmer (Moth), was published in Denmark in 1984, when she was eighteen years old. Since then she has published an additional ten collections, all of them received gratefully in the Danish press. She is also the author of two books for children, as well as many short stories, songs, and various contributions to literary anthologies, art catalogues, magazines, newspapers and Danish National radio.
In 2001 A Sudden Sky: Selected Poems, translated into English by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen, was published by Brick Books. Over the decades, poetry has put her on several flights across the Atlantic ocean to read at festivals in Canada as well as sending her on missions to numerous other locations across the planet. She manages the estate and artistic legacy of her father, the internationally known visual artist Poul Gernes, and lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with her daughter Perle. Frayed Opus for String & Wind Instruments is the second translation of Ulrikka’s work published by Brick Books (2015).
Ulrikka S. Germes
reads from Frayed Opus For Strings
& Wind Instruments
video: Brick Books
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