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This review is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

THAT'S IT Inger Christensen, it, translated by Susanna Nied (Carcanet) £14.95
Friederike Mayröcker, Raving Language: Selected Poems 1946-2006, translated by Richard Dove (Carcanet) £18.95

Inger Christensen's det appeared in her native Denmark in the heady days of 1969 to meet a reception that few works of poetry achieve: her English translator tells us that it was quoted by politicians, rock-bands, and graffiti-artists, and has since achieved a firm place in Scandinavian literature. It is unclear why we have had to wait so long for an English translation, and there is naturally the fear that its moment has passed: after all, being 'naked as John and Yoko' and references to flowers in the hair inevitably have a somewhat dated feel. In fact it has aged well, and in Susanna Nied's lucid translation still makes a tremendous impact.

The work is one of extraordinary - not to say extravagant - ambition, and it is hard to say what it is about except that it involves a sort of ontological delirium: to say of everything how and what 'it' is. The means employed are equally extraordinary. The work is organised numerologically - each line of the PRO-LOGOS section has 66 characters in the original - and linguistically according to categories such as variabilities, symmetries, extensions, and transitivities. The material is subject to multiple variations, parallelisms, and transformations. If all this sounds impossibly recondite - reminding one of the then fashionable musical idiom of total serialism - the result is unexpectedly exhilarating. One might wonder whether such an elaborate scaffolding is necessary, and indeed one feels that the procedures ...


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