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Dialogues in Poetry: An Essay on Eldrid Lunden (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 84, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 115-120 | 10.1353/scd.2012.0008

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Given the rigors of translating poetry and the obstacles to getting it published, few poets survive export beyond their linguistic borders. Eldrid Lunden, one of Norway's leading female writers and mentor to many others, has been translated into English only sporadically and deserves a wider international audition. Dialogues in Poetry: An Essay on Eldrid Lunden by Unni Langås, professor of Nordic literature at the University of Agder in Kristiansand, aims to introduce this nynorsk poet to an English-speaking public. Based on her more extensive 2007 version in Norwegian (Dialog: Eldrid Lundens dikt 1968-2005), Professor Langås offers an erudite and often compelling analysis of the shaping and workings of Lunden's poetic imagination. Since it is a scholarly treatise, however, it privileges detailed critical readings over exposure to the poems themselves and may have difficulty in finding an appropriate audience.

For readers unfamiliar with Norwegian literary history, Langås starts with a section she calls "Presentation." Here she provides essential background on the aesthetic and intellectual climate of the mid- to late-twentieth century with special reference to the milieu surrounding the radical literary journal Profil, in which Lunden published her first poems in 1966. Langås makes clear, however, that Lunden's unique feminist sensibility is not merely the result of ideological influences from her contact with the journal, but also owes much to the strong tradition of female poets, especially other nynorsk writers like Halldis Moren Vesaas, as well as to Lunden's own subjective encounters with nature, the body, language, art, and philosophy.

Langås gives the non-Nordic audience a succinct overview of Lunden's stylistic evolution from the debut collection f.eks. juli [1968; e.g. July] through the three career-anchoring collections Inneringa (1975; Circumvented); Hard, mjuk (1976; Hard, soft); and Mammy, blue (1977); and the later works Gjenkjennelsen (1982; The Recognition) and Det omvendt avhengige (1989; The Opposite Dependent) with particular attention to the development of her poetic voice and its shifting rhetorical modes. Characteristic themes of Lunden's work, such as water and landscapes, gender consciousness and interpersonal relations, and the formation of an authentic self emerge briefly in this initial discussion in order to resurface in detail in the chapters that follow. Langås hints at the mixed reception of Lunden's work in Scandinavia through reference to selected reviews and includes personal testimonies of former students in the creative writing program at Telemark University College in Bø, which she established and directs. The description of her influence on many well-known alumni, including popular prose writers, is witness to Lunden's versatility as both poet and teacher.

Continuing her chronological presentation of Lunden's collections, including Slik sett (1996; Seen That Way), which was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, and Noen må ha vore her før (1990; Someone Must Have Been Here Before), Langås emphasizes the complex intertextuality of Lunden's poetic project, and in characterizing the 2005 collection Flokken og skuggen (The Flock and the Shadow), she notes the blurring of perceptual categories and the fusion of the philosophical, aesthetic, and political that has secured Lunden's reputation in Norway as an enigmatic but engaging poet. While this quick introduction to the entire oeuvre might prove confusing to the newcomer, it stakes out the contours of Lunden's development and prepares the reader for the coming chapters on politics, places, pictures, perception, and parody.

The discussion of "Politics: Feminism and Female Identities" establishes Lunden as a verbal performance artist with a focus on the more existential dimensions of gender awareness in contrast to many of the propagandizing feminist writers of the 1970s. Langås commences here on a journey of helpful, if tentative, close readings beginning with Mammy, blue, which she explores in both its cultural and emotional contexts. Unafraid to question her own interpretations, Langås works boldly and speculatively to construct meaning from the impressionistic images while carefully sifting the linguistic clues for supporting evidence. Annabelle Despard's consistently accurate and occasionally inspired translations are essential to this process. In her analysis of Gjenkjennelsen, Langås shows how the poet challenges the powerfully constitutive function of language in shaping...


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