Inger Christensen

Inger Christensen (Danish, 1935-2009) was one of Scandinavia’s most powerful literary voices. Her work earned not only critical respect but unusually exuberant public acclaim (“Make Her Prime Minister!” urged one reviewer). Her ingeniously crafted poetry and prose have been variously labeled as naturalist, experimental, formalist, and structuralist; essentially, her work defies labels. Each of her volumes resembles nothing else, including her own other volumes. Yet each is imbued with her characteristic visionary clarity and deep human sensibility. Christensen won numerous major European literary awards, including the Grand Prix des Biennales Internationales de Poésie, the Nordic Prize of the Swedish Academy, and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature. During her final decade she was consistently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Born in the small Danish town of Vejle, Christensen grew up in a blue-collar family. She lived most of her adult life in Copenhagen, thriving on its liveliness, but she once said that if she had not spent her childhood exploring rural Vejle’s forests, fields, and fjord, she doubted that she could have written poetry. She was a formidable intellect, fluent in four languages and knowledgeable about such diverse areas as art history, quantum mechanics, mathematics, semiotics, natural history, and music theory. At the same time, she was by nature eminently down-to-earth. After winning one prestigious literary prize, she hung the honorary laurel wreath in her kitchen, gradually using up its leaves in soups and stews. Christensen edited avant-garde literary journals, collaborated with musicians and visual artists, and was a lifelong advocate for political and social change. Her work has been translated into over 30 languages. Her entire poetic oeuvre, plus selected prose, is published in the U.S. by New Directions.

The Condition of Secrecy

Nonfiction by Inger Christensen

Translated by Susanna Nied

The Condition of Secrecy is a poignant collection of essays by Inger Christensen, widely regarded as one of the most influential Scandinavian writers of the twentieth century. As the New York Times proclaimed, “Despite the rigorous structure that undergirds her work—or more likely, because of it—Ms. Christensen’s style was lyrical, even playful.” The same could be said of Christensen’s essays. Here, she formulates with electric clarity the basis of her approach to writing, and provides insights into how she composed her poetry.…
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Light, Grass, and Letter in April

Poetry by Inger Christensen

Translated from the Portuguese by Susanna Nied

Light, Grass, and Letter in April is the first book in English to appear since the great Danish poet’s death in January 2009. Light (1962) and Grass (1963), her first published works, introduce her genius for the music of everyday speech, and her approaches to the themes she’d pursue throughout her life: the primacy of nature, the enigmatic boundaries between the self and the other, and the role of language as a mediator between human experience and reality.…
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Fiction by Inger Christensen

Translated by Denise Newman

Set in modern Europe, Azorno is a kind of logic puzzle or house of mirrors, concerning five women and two men. One of the men is a writer named Sampel, the other is the main character of his novel, Azorno. All the women are pregnant by Sampel, but which of them is really the narrator? Has someone been killed? Is someone insane? Is the whole story part of Sampel’s book, or Inger Christensen’s?…
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Poetry by Inger Christensen

Translated by Susanna Nied

With a contribution by Anne Carson

It is the masterwork by Danish poet Inger Christensen (“a true singer of the syllables,” said C. D. Wright), often cited as a Nobel contender and one of Europe’s most revered poets. On its publication in 1969, it took Denmark by storm, winning critical praise and becoming a huge popular favorite. Translated into many languages, it won international acclaim and is now a classic of modern Scandinavian poetry. it is both a collection of poems and a single poetic epic, forming a philosophical statement on the nature of language, perception, and reality.…
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Butterfly Valley

Poetry by Inger Christensen

Translated by Susanna Nied

Inger Christensen, often cited as a Nobel contender, is one of Europe’s most revered poets. Winner of the Nordic Prize of the Swedish Academy and the Austrian State Prize for Literature, she is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking work Det (It), a cycle of poems published in 1969. Her first book published in the U.S., alphabet (New Directions, 2001), met with a tremendous response: “Seductive,” said Boston Review; “A visionary reincarnation of the natural world in the atomic age,” wrote Chicago Review.…
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Poetry by Inger Christensen

Translated from the Danish by Susanna Nied

Finally available in English translation, alphabet is a startling and gorgeous work by Denmark’s most admired poet, Inger Christensen. Susanna Nied’s remarkably beautiful translation was awarded the American-Scandinavian PEN Translation Prize by Michael Hamburger. alphabet is based structurally on Fibonacci’s mathematical sequence, in which each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. The poetry herein reflects a complex philosophical background, but also has a visionary quality, each line discovering the metaphysical in the simple stuff of everyday life.…
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She whispers to me in my own writing, a brilliant, fierce literary mother whom I will read and reread again and again.
—Siri Hustvedt
Christensen is at her most intriguing when posing questions, as when she wonders, ‘Does art originate from the same necessity that gives rise to beehives, the songs of larks, and the dances of cranes?’ These profoundly imaginative questions make for a thought-provoking reading experience.
Publishers Weekly
Christensen’s probing, questioning, hopeful voice was an important one and is missed, but we can still hear it in this provocative book.
Kirkus Reviews
Inger Christensen manages to make wit, passion and questioning, and astonishing design serve each other’s ends as one, and she does it in a way that is utterly her own.
—W. S. Merwin
Despite the rigorous structure that undergirded her work – or, more likely, because of it – Ms. Christensen’s style was lyrical, even playful.
New York Times
Famous in Europe, unknown here, Inger Christensen is a formalist who makes her own rules, then turns the game around with another rule.
—Eliot Weinberger
One of Scandinavia’s most honored poets.
Publisher’s Weekly
[Christensen] manages to make wit, passion and questioning and astonishing design serve each other’s ends as one, and she does it in a way that is utterly her own.
—W.S. Merwin
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