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?
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 wind sedated us mildly
as we strolled along the beach, three brothers
adults in adult clothes and taking long
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 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.