Trash and the Albatross

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Shuddhashar: What is it that you strive to explore and convey through your poetry? 

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: Poetry springs from a common source. In my poetry, I try to explore our common ground and convey a strength to identify with those who are reduced to numbers, threats, or excluded from belonging to “us.”  I try to unmask current political rhetoric. I also use tools such as laughter and the music of language.


Shuddhashar: How do you interpret the present world, and how have current events spurred you to write? 

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: “Trash. Transferrals in the dirty fullnes of time” was written during the USA invasion of Iraq and the “surgical” bombing of Bagdad. My concern was the loss and reduction of humans and their cultural heritage to garbage, how the news was and continue to be rigged, how both victims and watchers are made unreal.  Strangely, the poem may look like a fairy-tale.

In other parts of the book, I explore Europe’s conquering, colonization and exploitation of the so called “New World,” how the gods and gold of Mexico were stolen and exported to build the new European banking system. Watching this, the monk and mystical poet San Juan de la Cruz feared for Europe’s soul. I try to explore the connection between his vision of the world at a turning point in the 16th century and ours. How the veiling of the consequences of our actions, how our mode to produce history, disconnects us both from our past and our future.


Shuddhashar: What literary pieces – poetry, fiction or non-fiction – and writers have informed and inspired your own writing? How have they done so? 

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: Poetry can cross all kinds of borders, so I am inspired by the 500 year old mystical and erotic poems of San Juan, as well as the avant garde agitation poems of Cesar Vallejo. I am inspired by ancient holy books like the Ecclesiastes in the Bible, the Mayan Popol Vuh, and Sumerian ritual poems. I use them as echoes, to build bridges of communication in all my poetry. I am also inspired by our daily media: what kind of world they report and produce.


Shuddhashar: In what way do your personal identity and experiences shape your poetry? 

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: My identity as a Norwegian writer is that of being privileged: I have been lucky; I can write what I want and how I want. The question is how I use this freedom, a question I try to ask in my poetry. My personal identity is that my father was a sailor, grew up poor, without a family, and had to escape to sea to get work and a future. He was an illegal and paperless immigrant in the US in the thirties, during the economic depression. I myself went to work on a cargo vessel, sailing along the west coast of Africa and up the river Niger. This prompted me to study the former colonies of Europe: how we look at them, and how they look at us. And also to search for the beauty and the surprising in the culture and poetry of others.


Shuddhashar: How do you use structure, language and grammar to accentuate the message of your poetry? Do you subscribe to conventions or break them?

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: In poetry there is no either/or. I use conventions, and I break them, both in due time and place. I am part of a borderless choir of poets, all with different voices, but they create music. I always listen to my poems as I write them, what kind of creatures they are, what kind of music they make.


Shuddhashar: What is your opinion about the conflicts and solidarities between political poetry and the literary and artistic values of poetry? 

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: I have written poetry to be used as political protest, activist and agitation poems, poems of solidarity. Anyway, I hope all my poetry is infused with solidarity.


Shuddhashar: Does your poetry transcend national boundaries? Does it appeal to different nationalities or linguistic groups?

Inger Elisabeth Hansen: I think most poetry transcends national boundaries. I have worked with poets and poetry from different nations all over the world. It is a gift I am glad I am able to receive.







(From «TRASH. Transferrals in the dirty fullness of time«

Translated by May Brit Akerholm)


Not a wheel of fortune left, the wheel of fortune is scattered to the four winds,

and the market is scattered to the four winds, not a market left,

the market stalls swept away, and all the cheap garments in the market stalls,

the bastardised folklore, the coarse, fingered and haggled over inheritance

swept away, not a garment left, not even Asias might,

Asias immense sewing machine, not even the marching hordes of needles

and the swift little hands, the swarming Asiatic fingers

which steer the hands under the sewing machine needles,

the swarms of seamstresses with their eyes glued to the pattern,

the globalised incision in the eyes og the sewing girl,

as small as she can be,

a pretty little thing.


Not even the sweetest virgin, not even the purest bride

can sew the blouse in the stall back together again,

not even the smallest fingers can sew it back together again,

blown to pieces is the blouse, and all the other garments in the markets stalls,

blown to pieces are the stalls in the market place, scattered to the four winds

are the trousers and the shirts, the skirts and the shawls,

and all the local names on the shirts and the shawls,

from here the inheritance shall be:

not a thread.




(From «RECYCLING LONGING. Drainage in progress».

Translated by John Irons)



Do not kill an albatross,

allow it to die on the wind.

The transoceanic albatross is not chasing after the wind, it can die on the wind.


If you kill an albatross, it will keep hanging onto you,

it will hang around your neck and pull you down, down,

old mariners know this, they know that it brings bad luck

to kill an albatross, woe to the vessel tha has a killed albatross on board,

woe to that vessel, the albatross will pull it down, down,

for the albatross is to die on the wind,

if the winds change direction, if everything is a chasing after the wind,

the albatross has its pilot, can die on the wind, can land where landing

should be, in the form of just feathers, the feathers left of it,

only the albatross can do this, it has its pilot in place, the best memory pilot,

old mariners know this, even if the winds were to change directions,

if the sea be filled, if the rivers cease to flow

as they formerly have flowed, Atlantis will still be om the map

in the skull of the albatross, it circles over Atlantis,

where it has its time and season,

as only the albatross is able to do.


When did the albatross cease

to be able to do what only albatrosses can?

When did the albatross start to rise to the bait, to wear itself out

in the lines and become a waste product of profitable line fishing? The question

is: when did the albatross in the albatross disappear? When did the albatross

start to die in the wrong ways? When did it start to go wrong?

When did it start to mistake plastic for food, when did it tip over

and become saprophagous with a morbid urge to devour plastic?

How many metres of plastic can one pull out of the intestines of an albatross?

Have you looked inside the intestines of an albatross?

When did it become a waste-addicted, self-destructive crashed carcass

with no pilot? When did the albatross tip over and become saprophagous,

spinning around out there above the seas of plastic that spin around

and around out there without a memory pilot

where Atlantis, where Atlantis


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