Inger Christensen (1935-2009) was one of Denmark’s most distinguished writers, and 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 labelled as naturalist, experimental, formalist and structuralist, but 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 in Literature.
Born in the small Danish town of Vejle, she lived mostly in Copenhagen for most of her adult life, 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 had 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.
Susanna Nied has translated four of Inger Christensen's books, alphabet (Bloodaxe Books, UK, 2000; New Directions, USA, 2001), Butterfly Valley (Dedalus Press, Ireland, 2000; New Directions, USA, 2004), it (Carcanet Press, UK; New Directions, USA, 2007), and Light, Grass, and Letter in April (New Directions, 2011). Her translation of alphabet won the ASF/PEN Translation Prize for poetry (given by the American-Scandinavian Foundation and Scandinavian Review).
In February 2020 the Irish poet Ailbhe Darcy presented a half-hour Radio 4 feature on Inger Christensen's book-length poem alphabet, the work which Ailbhe pays homage to in the final sequence of her multi-award-winning second collection Insistence.
Books by Inger Christensen