It has been said that poetry is the purest form of art because nobody makes any money by writing it. And whenever there is a gathering of poets, the most frequently asked question from the audience is “Why poetry?” The poet will generally respond with “Why not?”
Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt in Shanghai. (Photos: Shine.cn)
Rather than giving the counter question at the third Shanghai International Poetry Festival, Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt, who delivered a speech at the opening ceremony, said: “I was pushed to writing poetry because this mad woman approached me. She was so mad that I didn’t know how to start. Despite her madness, I wrote about a seahorse and later a sea dragon.
“Normally as a poet, you don’t write a poem about poetry. And this is the only poem I have done on poetry. This mad lady is me indeed. And the seahorse is a real poem I wrote for my friend. The inspiration came from this friend of mine who became so obsessed with a beautiful seahorse on the cover of the National Geographic magazine that he even had an idea of marrying her.”
Born in Denmark, but spending most of his adult life in the Mediterranean, the 73-year-old has written novels, essays, over 20 collections of poetry and won every literary award offered in his home country.
He is recently given the Golden Magnolia poetry award at the Shanghai International Poetry Festival for his work and influence in Europe and the world over.
“His poetry inherits the profound and wonderful Danish literary tradition and integrates the rich and colorful world cultural elements to form its own unique style,” Zhao Lihong, chief director of the Shanghai International Poetry Festival, said at the award presentation ceremony.
“He observes the world with calmly poise, listens to the sounds of nature and dialyzes human nature in his seemingly quiet words. Yet they contain huge power, which makes readers feel the tidal waves rolling upon the shore of mind."
Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt (third left) in a group photo with fellow Chinese poets (from left) Yang Ke, Zhai Yongming, Zhao Lihong, Chen Xianfa, and Singaporean poet Koh Hock Kiat at the Zhao Lihong Study in Jiang'an Library.
Nordbrandt’s poems cover a wide range of details of everyday life. He has created a collection of poems that is truly inspiring. With the clarity of words, beauty of images and eloquence of thoughts, he has presented to us a wonderful richness of the world, as well as the seclusion of the human heart.
“I’m always the sensitive kind to the things around. I’m afraid of enclosed space. I even got mocked by the peers at school for my weird awareness,” said the poet. Then he recalled the bombing of Copenhagen on March 21, 1945, when he was just a newborn baby.
The incident had such a bad psychological affect on him that he suffered from a nervous breakdown after a long flight to Costa Rica. Consequently, he was hospitalized for a year-and-a-half with a ringing noise in his ears.
“My psychiatrist told me the sound of bombing must have caused some injuries to my ears when I was little. Since I realized the cause, I have managed to cope with it. Now I can even fall asleep when flying business class,” said Nordbrandt.
The Danish writer has a wonderful outlook on the world, love, and life and death. A master of arts, Nordbrandt manages to retain a moment of banality in the passage of time and space.
He published his first poetry book “Digte” in 1966. It was an overwhelming success. And as soon as he became economically independent, he began to travel and live for shorter or longer periods in various countries. He has spent many years in Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain.
Proud father has a moment of delight with his foster daughter Anna Helena, 12, at the beach in Copenhagen.
“Wherever I go, I study the country’s language and at the same time read its literature. I love cooking, the local food and women who help me a lot in the daily communication of things. But when I get inspired, Danish speaks to me,” said Nordbrandt.
A number of his works has been published in several other languages and a translation of a book on selected poems from Danish to Chinese is also underway.
“Expecting the unexpectable, indeed, I think can be described as the essence of writing poetry. There was a time when I studied Chinese in Greece,” the award-winning author said. “Every afternoon, I would go to the beach and practice writing Chinese characters in the wet sand. And when the tide rose, the sea water washed them away.”
Though there isn’t a Chinese reference in Nordbrandt’s poems, deep down in his heart, he said, “I know the Chinese classic poems gave me the dream about China.”
In his poems, he writes about what he has learned. He recited his poem “China Observed Through Greek Rain in Café Turque” at the closing ceremony of the Shanghai International Poetry Festival.
“The poem was written during my days in Turkey," the writer said. “At that time China was too far away for me to reach. I looked at the mountains of Turkey, thinking it might be going further on, through the mysterious, misty countries of the Middle East, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, India, all the way to the clearness of China.”
It is Nordbrandt’s first time in Shanghai.
“Normally I don’t like big cities and Shanghai is one of the biggest metropolises in the world,” Nordbrandt admitted. “But when I came here, I fell in love with it within a couple of hours. When I saw the characters in the street, all the learning of Chinese in my youth awoke from the dark corner of the brain. I cannot say how happy I am to see the lost characters again. And for the first time in my life, all around me, here where they belong. Thank you so much.”
Cover image: The Danish writer is the second Golden Magnolia award winner at the Shanghai International Poetry Festival, inaugurated in 2016, now in its third year.