Danish Northwest: Hygge Poems from The Outskirts |
Author: Peter Graarup Westergaard |
Leicestershire: Matador (Troubadour Publishing House). 2019 |
ISBN: 9781838590390 | Pages: 54 |
Paperback | Price: £9.99) / E-edition: 352 |
Danish Northwest by Peter Graarup Westergaard is a celebration of Danish folk culture presented in the practice of ‘hygge’. The Danish word ‘hygge’ is exemplifies the merriment and involvement of the simple pleasures of life. As an art form, it spreads the spirit of kinship, harvesting, contentment and togetherness. The poet visualizes the country life in its purity and freshness.
The collection is a journey through the Danish cultural plains, beginning from the ruminants of past to the existing reality and finally, to a perplexing future. As the poet remarks, the poems were originally published in the Danish dialect called ‘thybomal’. The recent translation in English is remarkably supple and imaginable to the readers of all outlook. The poems expressively take the readers to the peripheries of Danish moorlands and introduces us to some familiar faces and scenarios of ordinary life. The poems are about childhood, memories, joy, grief and above all being together. Comprised of over thirty-four poems, the collection is categorized into the past, present and future.
The major poems in this collection are placed in the category ‘Past’, which evidently states the poet’s longing for the bygone grandeur of Danish culture. The poems are recounted by a narrator who takes up diverse personae in narrating the history of Danish culture. The pastness is presented by the description of narrator’s ancestral farm, “On Oster Skaarup, in Thy, my father’s thirty-nine hectares / divided almost equally between good and bad soil:”. This poem ‘My Father’s Farm’ throws light on how the key mood of ‘hygge’ culture is introduced with the illustration of harvest and countryside. Harry (narrator’s grandfather), Hans Fisker (neighbor) and Trolborg Man (milk collector) are the major characters presented to the readers and they appear to be relatively familiar. The Great War is a pertinent event mentioned in many of these poems. In the poem ‘Time Moves’, the poet’s nostalgia is intensified through the inheritance of his uncle’s timepiece, which according to his mother “things survive if we tend to them with love”. In the poem “Farmhand at Nordenfjord University in Skyum”, the poet emphasis on his headmasters’ love for nature: “The headmaster at Nordenfjord World University / told me to go outside and milk the cows, /because I would understand so much more”.
The childlike narrative later takes a shift to youthful flair, where romance and lost love are the key imageries. The unembellished realities of life start to heap during this stage of life. The prose poem ‘Foolishness Exists’ expounds how destiny cannot be redrafted and therefore fighting against it is “the worst foolishness of all”. Nature and its elements are truly appreciated in this collection and most of the poems are in tune with rhythm of natural world around us:
The whole of Vilsbol Plantation stood
and chuckled knowing it was leading me
astray, leading me so far I would never
be able to figure my way out
of this murky green anxiety.
Some of the poems in the ‘Present’ category throws light on the poet’s immediate surroundings and queries as to how modernity effected the Danish culture. The present scenario starts with a tribute to the Kristen Kjar Museum and a painting of a toad. In the poem ‘Handel’s Mentality’, the poet addresses to the unpolluted Thy district. When we go far into the outskirts of Denmark, to the rural areas of Thy, one can see agricultural fields untouched with chemical fertilizers. There is no hind of lavishness. They lead simple lives. One can witness abandoned cars, “rusted”, implying the area is unpolluted. The animals too are healthy. Their lives are less interfered by the artificiality of modern life and everything is “hyper genuine, organic, authentic” and Godsend (“gefundenes Fressen”). The poem concludes with a referring to the unpredictable future of this simple land. A capitalist intervention can change the course of the whole game.
Intertextuality is also an important practice engaged for the resourcefulness of the collection. Quotations from many other poems are incorporated to enhance the beauty of the respected poems. The poet shifts his attention to ‘Thisted Antiquarian Bookstore’, a poem that introduces us to the Chinese poet Po Chu- I:
and although there is more
than a millennium between
Po Chu- I and I, it feels like
We are connected, floating
Untethered like timber
On the endless oceans of time
The Vilsund market and Thy national park also comes into the observation of the poet’s present reality. The longing for his roots is clearly depicted in the poem ‘Refugee from the Homeland’:
Here I am behind
these years, a shadow
in a garden, in a storm
Far from home
a refugee starts
As a poet, the narrator in the poem ‘Church- going’ believes that, thorough his poems, he will be ‘redeemed’, thereby, his vocation as a poet will be justified. Analyzing the poems in the present category proclaims that, the poet has outlived his world of reality and has a prophetic insight for the upcoming future.
There are only three poems that constitute the ‘Future’ category. In ‘Losing Hygee’, remembrance of the past is intensified to a great extent: “rooted still to this sandy Danish soil”. For the poet, life has come to an end like the closing remarks of a circus show: “Maybe it is time to close the show?”. The concluding poem ‘EU Elegy’ dives into the stark recess of human reality. The world is no more concealed. Everything is conspicuous and still a scream turns out to be a whisper. Voices are silenced. Igniting the fear for foreign, the world is made to listen. Westergaard here sympathizes with the impuissance of man. He then brings the image of a ‘devil out of a machine’ (“diabolus ex machine”). The poet subtly points to the war between ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’; ‘the powerful’ and ‘the powerless’. Humanity is clueless and seldom understands itself. But still the poet holds on to hope and believes that we will wake up from the present hypnotized state. Our pride and greed ‘quite certainly’ (“ganz sicher”) infix horror and terror but with time and forgiveness, the ‘clash of cultures’ can be overcome. “An outreaching hand of a wounded hope” hopes for a better eclipse, a united one filled with love and compassion.
The collection is a composed and contented journey through the Danish cultural moorlands. The act of poetry reading is paralleled with the deed of short story rendering. The joy for the little things of the world around us is incessantly reverberated in this poetic journey. Overall, the collection presents a lively atmosphere to the reader providing an interactive gathering of ‘Hygge’ practice. With all its simplicity and purity, this collection propels the reader to newer and greener lands populated with solace and peace.
Issue 91 (May-Jun 2020)