In Defense of Poets

 

What are we to do about the poets?

Life’s rough on them

they look so pitiful dressed in black

their skin blue from internal blizzards.

 

Poetry is a horrible disease,

the infected walk about complaining

their screams pollute the atmosphere like leaks

from atomic power stations of the mind. It’s so psychotic

Poetry is a tyrant

it keeps people awake at night and destroys marriages

it draws people out to desolate cottages in mid-winter

where they sit in pain wearing earmuffs and thick scarves.

Imagine the torture.

 

Poetry is a pest –

worse than gonorrhea, a terrible abomination.

But consider poets it’s hard for them

bear with them!

They are hysterical as if they are expecting twins

they gnash their teeth while sleeping, they eat dirt

and grass. They stay out in the howling wind for hours

tormented by astounding metaphors.

Every day is a holy day for them.

 

Oh please, take pity on the poets

they are deaf and blind

help them through traffic where they stagger about

with their invisible handicap

remembering all sorts of stuff. Now and then one of them stops

to listen for a distant siren. Show consideration for them.

 

Poets are like insane children

who’ve been chased from their homes by the entire family.

Pray for them

they are born unhappy

their mothers have cried for them

sought the assistance of doctors and lawyers,

until they had to give up

for fear of loosing their own minds.

Oh, cry for the poets!

 

Nothing can save them.

Infested with poetry like secret lepers

they are incarcerated in their own fantasy world

a gruesome ghetto filled with demons

and vindictive ghosts.

 

When on a clear summer’s day the sun shining brightly

you see a poor poet

come wobbling out of the apartment block, looking pale

like a cadaver and disfigured by speculations

then walk up and help him.

Tie his shoelaces, lead him to the park

and help him sit down on a bench

in the sun. Sing to him a little

buy him an ice cream and tell him a story

because he’s so sad.

He’s completely ruined by poetry.

 

 

My Fantastic Pen

 

I prefer writing

with a used pen found in the street

or with a promotional pen, gladly one from the electricians,

the gas station or the bank.

Not just because they are cheap (free),

but I imagine that such an implement

will fuse my writing with industry

the sweat of skilled labourers, administrative offices

and the mystery of all existence.

 

Once I wrote meticulous poems with a fountain pen

pure poetry about purely nothing

but now I like shit on my paper

tears and snot.

 

Poetry is not for sissies!

A poem must be just as honest as the Dow Jones index

– a mixture of reality and sheer bluff.

What has one grown too sensitive for?

Not much.

 

That’s why I keep my eye on the bond market

and serious pieces of paper.  The stock exchange

belongs to reality – just like poetry.

And that’s why I’m so happy about this ball point pen

from the bank, which I found one dark night

in front of a closed convenience store.  It smells

faintly of dog piss, and it writes fantastically.

 

 

Women of Copenhagen

 

I have once again fallen in love

this time with five different women during a ride

on the number 40 bus from Njalsgade to Østerbro.

How is one to gain control of one’s life under such conditions?

One wore a fur coat, another red wellingtons.

One of them was reading a newspaper, the other Heidegger

–and the streets were flooded with rain.

At Amager Boulevard a drenched princess entered,

euphoric and furious, and I fell for her utterly.

But she jumped off at the police station

and was replaced by two sirens with flaming kerchiefs,

who spoke shrilly with each other in Pakistani

all the way to the Municipal Hospital while the bus boiled

in poetry.  They were sisters and equally beautiful,

so I lost my heart to both of them and immediately planned

a new life in a village near Rawalpindi

where children grow up in the scent of hibiscus

while their desperate mothers sing heartbreaking songs

as dusk settles over the Pakistani plains.

 

But they didn’t see me!

And the one wearing a fur coat cried beneath

her glove when she got off at Farimagsgade.

The girl reading Heidegger suddenly shut her book

and looked directly at me with a scornfully smile,

as if she’d suddenly caught a glimpse of Mr. Nobody

in his very own insignificance.

And that’s how my heart broke for the fifth time,

when she got up and left the bus with all the others.

Life is so brutal!

I continued for two more stops before giving up.

It always ends like that:  You stand alone

on the kerb, sucking on a cigarette,

wound up and mildly unhappy.

 

 

The Cigar Cutter

 

As a confirmation gift, my grandfather gave me

a cigar cutter; the finest quality, mahogany and stainless steel.

He had great plans for me.

He himself was on the county council and the board of the bank;

he chaired the cooperative and was in the national guard —

always fond of a good cigar. He built his house in the middle of town;

there he sat in his office with a window facing the street

and kept an eye on traffic while he took care of business

and smoked his cigars.

High or low, people were greeted with even affability

and offered a cigar from the sturdy box by the telephone.

For him the cigar cutter was a useful tool.

 

No doubt, I’ve disappointed him. I never became really important;

as a rule I was too unambitious with my tobacco and was never a member

of the bank’s board. I left the village with my head full of wild plans

and became one of the verbose windbags in Copenhagen.

Words are easy, but where do they lead?

The only form of love and respect worth the effort

comes from those back home.

Which, for good reasons, is never achieved.

My grandfather died without seeing me accomplish anything at all.

 

The cigar cutter still lying about here. With a little practice

you can also use it to uncap beer bottles — I’m better at that.

But, in private moments, I may, at times, feel shame.

There’s no use in saying, “Dear Grandfather, they’ve changed the world,

smoking is no longer allowed, even the bank director stands outside

in the rain now and smokes on the sly like a schoolboy.”

It won’t do. So silly an excuse is worth nothing,

because that’s not my business. I’m my own failure.

 

My grandfather looks skeptically at me from his high heaven above,

he cuts the tip of a Cuban, then he wets it with his lips

and lights it with a table lighter molded in granite.

Mercifully he buries my confused chatter in massive clouds

of first class smoke. He doesn’t say anything,

but I know what he’s thinking and deep inside myself

I have to agree with him.

 

 

 

The Einstein-machine

 

 

The wind sedated us mildly

as we strolled along the beach, three brothers

adults in adult clothes and taking long

adult strides

 

That’s why we turned around and walked back

through the dunes, calling each other’s names

which we still remembered. It was October

and the meadows were under water

 

But there at the edge of embankment stood God’s

blue Morris forgotten in the lyme grass

like a suicide caught in his own doubts.

A wreck without engine or wheels

 

The doors were open as if someone

had just left. But it was only the wind

drifting sand in to arrange

an exhibition beneath the seat

 

Rust had eaten at the car, the physics of wind

and rain drove knives beneath the paint.

Then the present arrived. We had to turn around

and recognize each other over the worn roof

 

Destroyed by memories and desire, adult and childish

faces against the slow moving time of the beach.

We crept into this Einstein-machine to kill time

or to allow our transformation

 

 

With Charlie Chaplin in Yulin

 

 

It is said the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon –

complicated and expensive to verify

But certainly the moon can be seen from the Great Wall

When Charlie Chaplin meets Genghis Khan some day in Yulin

they can stand on the Great Wall studying the moon as they exchange values

“The greatest happiness is to triumph over your enemies,

rob them and take their wives and daughters in your arms”, says Genghis Khan

“I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor”, Chaplin replies,

“that’s not my business, I want to live by others’ happiness”

When the moon is a metaphor for love and longing

the Great Wall a metaphor for the empire-builders’ powerlessness,

all empires grind to a halt

Today Genghis Khan is a Mongolian barbecue and Charlie Chaplin is dead.

Most of our glorious history is a big joke.

So let’s not forget how to laugh

God created this world with a good sense of humour

 

(poems Translated by P. K. Brask & Patrick Friesen)

 

 

About the Poet

Niels Hav - reading

Niels Hav is a full time poet and short story writer living in Copenhagen. He has already established himself as a contemporary Nordic voice with poetry and fiction published in numerous journals and anthologies in e.g. English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Dutch, Chinese. But it is in Canada in particular that he has made his mark outside Denmark. An English collection of his poetry, God’s Blue Morris, was published by Crane Editions in 1993, with a second collection, entitled We Are Here, put out by Book Thug of Toronto in 2006. Both of them translated con amore by Patrick Friesen and Per K. Brask. Most recently a selection of Niels Hav’s poetry, U Odbranu Pesnika, has appeared in Serbian translation, published by RAD, Belgrade 2008. Raised on a farm in western Denmark, Niels Hav today resides in the most colourful and multiethnic part of the Danish capital. He has travelled widely in Europe, Asia, North and South America. In his native Danish he is the author of three books of short fiction and five collections of poetry, most recently Grundstof, Gyldendal 2004. Niels Hav has received a number of prestigious awards from The Danish Arts Council.