Inger Christensen

1935 - 2009

Inger Christensen (16 January 1935 – 2 January 2009) was a Danish poet, novelist, and essayist considered the foremost Danish poetic experimentalist of her generation.

Born in the town of Vejle, on the eastern, Jutland coast of Denmark, Christensen's father was a tailor, her mother a cook before her marriage. After graduating from Vejle Gymnasium, she moved to Copenhagen and, later, to Århus, studying at the Teachers’ College there. She received her certificate in 1958. During this same period, Christensen began publishing poems in the journal Hvedekorn, and was guided by the noted Danish poet and critic Poul Borum (1934–1995), whom she married in 1959 and divorced in 1976.

After teaching at the College for Arts in Holbæk from 1963 to 1964, she turned to writing full time, producing two of her major early collections, Lys (Light, 1962) and Græs (Grass, 1963), both examining the limits of self-knowledge and the role of language in perception. Her major work of the 1960s, however, was the highly acclaimed masterwork det (It), which, on one level, explored social, political and aesthetic issues, but more deeply probed large philosophical questions of meaning. The work, almost incantatory in tone, opposes issues such as fear and love and power and powerlessness.

In these years Christensen also published two novels, Evighedsmaskinen (1964) and Azorno (1967), as well as a shorter fiction on the Italian Renaissance painter Mantegna, presented from the viewpoint of various narrators (Mantegna's secretary Marsilio, the Turkish princess Farfalla, and Mantagena's young son), Det malede Værelse (1976, translated into English as The Painted Room by Harvill Press in 2000).

Much of Christensen's work was organized upon “systemic” structures in accordance with her belief that poetry is not truth and not even the “dream” of truth, but “is a game, maybe a tragic game—the game we play with a world that plays its own game with us.”

In the 1981 masterpiece, alfabet, Christensen used the alphabet (from a [“apricots”] to n [“nights”]) along with the Fibonacci mathematical sequence in which the next number is the sum of the two previous ones (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…). As she explained: “The numerical ratios exist in nature: the way a leek wraps around itself from the inside, and the head of a snowflower, are both based on this series.” Her system ends on the n, suggesting many possible meanings including “n’s” significance as any whole number. As with det, however, despite its highly structured elements this work is a poetically evocative series concerned with oppositions such as an outpouring of the joy of the world counterposed with the fears for and forces poised for its destruction.

Sommerfugledalen of 1991 (Butterfly Valley: A Requiem, 2004) explores through the sonnet structure the fragility of life and mortality, ending in a kind of transformation.

Christensen also wrote works for children, plays, radio pieces, and numerous essays, the most notable of which were collected in her book Hemmelighedstilstanden (The State of Secrecy) in 2000.

Works performed by Ars Nova