Swift

Bird of delight

Screaming joy and soaring on the updrift

Predicting sun and spring and clement weather

Building nests of clay and filling them with yellow beaks

Open for insects and feed.

Fast as lightning the black wings arch through warm air

Its tail flickers and the world changes.

What aspirations needs a bird?

Elegant in black and white

It’s only goal is the next meal,

The next flight.

Sky-high ecstasy

Has simple expressions

 

Bird of sorrow.

High in the evening sky

The black birds circle,

Crying out their grief.

And the watcher,

The listener

Shudders.

Is this an omen of pain?

It may just be darkness coming.

But, more than that,

At the source is a manifestation

Collective and dire:

A premonition

Of loss

 

 

© HMH, 2018

 

 

Foreign Languages in Literature

Recently, somebody complimented me for my English. That’s always a boost, but on the other hand, it would be a terrible idea to write in a language one doesn’t master. It gave me food for thought though. What makes any writer chose to write in a language different from his or her native tongue? For me, it was a matter of routine. I’d lived in England for several years and hardly spoke Danish with anybody. It felt natural for me to write in the language I used on a daily basis.

This is one of the issues that crop up unexpectedly when you go to live abroad. It comes slowly, the change. At first, you struggle to express the simplest thought. You have an issue with pronunciation and often feel embarrassed, when failing to convey what you want to say. You feel alienated. For me, it became an obsession to get it right. I ditched reading in any other language for a while. I practised enunciation — I found it particularly difficult to catch the difference e.g. between ‘s’ and ‘th’. It may sound strange to somebody who’s used English since they started talking. But imagine having to use a soft d or swallowing half a word, if you’re trying to pronounce Danish.

The differences don’t stop there. In every language, one must learn the idioms. Things you’d express in a certain way in one language wouldn’t make sense in another. There are loads of examples. Here I’ll resort to German: who but a German would understand the expression ‘Tomaten auf den Augen’ (‘tomatoes on the eyes’)? And it just means — you (or I) must be blind.

Should I mention that a lot of people know and speak more than one language? It is hardly a surprise in today’s multifarious society. We’re in the midst of another migration period, multiple languages abound, and you hear them on the street wherever you go. When I was a kid, living in Denmark, I hardly ever saw or heard anybody speaking anything but Danish. Hence, my first experience with foreign languages merely came out of a book. I found it lifeless and — boring. Especially because of the teaching methods.

Once I lived in London, over time, I found that I’d lost my roots in spoken Danish. I could still speak it, but I searched for words and often mixed in English words when I couldn’t think of the equivalent in Danish. It was frustrating, especially because English has words for everything. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my native tongue, just that it has dropped out of focus.

That was the situation when I decided to become serious about writing.

What strikes me now, is that it can be an advantage to know multiple languages. If the plot brings the protagonist to a foreign location, the benefit is that one can add local colour, using language. I don’t believe that only literary fiction can sport this feature: it’s easy to explain the meaning of a few German, Danish of French words in actions or subtexts. No need for foot-notes or fears about the readers’ language skills.

 

 

© HMH, 2018

Witch

Bent with age and surly with pain

She lives in a respectable area

Surrounded by gardens and high hedges

Her old sprawling house,

Resplendent with dogs and magical paraphernalia,

Invites clients to leave money on the window sill.

Groups clustered to hear and follow

Instructions and curses

Patiently lying on tables or

Balancing on odd balls

Come and go by the hour.

The dogs breathe rapidly

Their sour smell of rain permeates the halls.

This temple, without rhyme or reason,

Draws the easily lead and wondering public

To waste sweet hours lifting imaginary tools

And cough up tickly hairs for weeks to come.

 

 

© HMH, 2012

Procrastination

A Writer’s Worst Enemy

It’s late. After a long day of washing, I’d like to rest, but it won’t do. I’ve got to write, even if there isn’t much to say about laundry. There isn’t much to say about television in Germany either, so what do I do now?

I must think of something, anything to fill my pages. Isn’t writing always about filling pages? Not really. On a good day, with plenty of time to concentrate on the essentials, there’s no need to think about filling pages. That’s when writing is a self-runner. There’s nothing like free-wheeling down a page: it beats any roller-coaster. I suppose that is why writers write.

When I think about what it was like when I first started writing, I’m astounded how easy it can be. I was in such awe of everything concerning writing. Always an avid reader, for me, it was like trying to eat cherries with the greats. I was afraid of getting the stones hailing down on my forlorn head. I read and read, but the wish to write grew proportionately to my writing. Then I started asking myself what I’d write if I dared. That was the worst threshold to cross. In desperation, I started writing about hedonism, and God, and food, and philosophy. It was a mess, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. To do something, I quoted all my most beloved authors, until I realized that I wrote more quotes than anything of my own. That was embarrassing. I scrapped it all. But I kept the papers and notebooks as a memento and a warning. If you want to write, you must write. You must dare to reveal your soul and your ideas. That was a hard realisation. From then on, I prevaricated. It went on for years, but slowly it dawned on me what I had to write about.

Armed with my idea, I started writing. It was still difficult, and I still spent more time staring ahead trying to find out how to write the narrative I wanted to write. I read and read, but it was difficult to take that final plunge and simply ― write. In my fear of not being able to write, not being able to produce a full-scale novel, I fell into another trap: I forced myself to invent the most complicated way to say the simplest things. In other words, I made all the mistakes I could possibly make. But I did one thing right: I persevered. I finished my first draft.

Then I made the next big mistake: I thought my first draft was the finished product and started writing to agencies. Naturally, I got nothing but rejections. Then I heard about a friend who’d written a book too, and who’d sent it to a literary consultant. Ah, I thought, such a one could be my saviour. Well, I realized that saviours come at a price. I received good advice and some encouragement. That was a real lifeline, but I didn’t understand that at first. It took a long time before I dared attempt another revision, but I still hadn’t learned to be severe.

I felt insecure, but it didn’t matter. I had to write.

So, I persevered. Thankfully, I became fed up with praise. I wanted real feedback, but I couldn’t afford to pay for it. That’s when I made my big discovery: online author groups. It was difficult to choose, but I did go for one, connected to a large publishing house. It was a revelation. It was inspiring and maddening: I thrived. I wrote and received critiques. It was a learning experience that brought me far ahead. I realized that there’s a difference between reading and reading with intent. Exactly as there are differences in approaching writing. I made friends ― and surely ―  a few enemies. The group closed, and for a short while I was devastated, but then something happened. I started my umpteenth revision, and this time I was brutal. I rewrote and cut and mutilated my ‘baby’. It became an obsession, but it was worth it. I also decided that traditional publishing wasn’t for me. I’d never thought I’d go down that path, but it suddenly seemed right. It was my choice: my way. I haven’t regretted that decision. Now, I’m revising my second novel. I surprised myself: I finished the first draft a few months after publishing my first. Prevarication and doubt is a thing of the past. May it stay that way.

© HMH, 2018

Blarney

 

Did you kiss the Blarney?

Stone of eloquence?

Hanging upside down

Like Odin on Yggdrasil:

Tree of the world

Giver of runes,

Before Ask and Embla

Set the world right

Or put it out of its misery.

 

Ragnarok and minor upheavals

Never stopped someone with

Something to say for himself

From chattering on while

Kingdoms faltered, or victories slipped away.

 

Beware of silver tongues

Whether the gift was bestowed or

Won through feats of athletics

 

From Ireland

 

© HMH, 2013