About the author's work

Steinar Sivertsen: The essay: “Via the local to the global” in: Ofte, Vigdis and Sivertsen, Steinar (eds.): Voices from the North. New writing from Norway. Maia Press, London 2008.

A prose poem is often defined as a non-metrical text with full lines, divided into paragraphs rather than verses. The modern prose poem can be dated back to Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Petits poèmes en prose’, published posthumously in 1869. In a Norwegian context, however, Sigbjørn Obstfelder is often referred to as a precursor, having written a distinctive prose poem in the 1890s. Torild Wardenær, born in Stavanger in 1951, operates within the same tradition. She made her debut in 1994 with a prize-winning collection of poems, I pionertiden (In the Pioneer Age), in which she demonstrates consummate mastery not only of the descriptive prose poem and the imagist short poem, but also of more pathos-filled texts that take a metaphysical angle. Effortlessly, often with a wry little smile, she makes language sound mysterious, roving through everyday life, nature, geography, history, philosophy, imagination and the dream. Wardenær is often seized with the Metaphysical poets’ desire to employ vocabulary from different disciplines – physics, astronomy, biology, physiology – with highly surprising insights as a result. 

The title null komma to lux (zero point two lux, 1995) refers to the light intensity of a full moon: Wardenær, it seems, remains reluctant to switch on the floodlights and let all her secrets be revealed. Her aim in this collection is poetry that appears clear and bright but has dark corners; poems that offer resistance and rouse curiosity, following René Char’s advice that ‘the poet must leave traces of his passage, not proof’. Even more clearly than earlier works, this collection establishes Wardenær as an eruptive, painterly poet with an unconventional viewpoint. 

The title of Wardenær’s next collection, Houdini til minne (In memory of Houdini, 1997) alludes to the legendary American escapologist an illusionist. The uniting theme of the forty poems is the feeling of being bound – by the body, by language, in the straitjacket between birth and death – and the will to escape from what holds one back. Everyday episodes broaden out into universal, staggering questions; different spheres of life merge into each other. After this came Døgndrift (The Drift of Days and Nights, 1998), the allusive title pointing towards the core of Wardenær’s writing in terms of its themes and motifs. The first section has connotations of cyclic time – the hours roll by, the days pass, the seasons change. The concept of ‘drift’ is mainly connected to the body and desire; to something dynamic, fluid, unstable. 

The ambiguous, portentous title Titanporten (The Titan Gate, 2001) refers to Greek mythology, in which the Titans are demi-gods who combat Zeus for world supremacy. ‘Titan’ is also the name of one of Saturn’s moons; and evokes the light, almost unbreakable, metal titanium. A ‘gate(way)’ can be open or shut; it can represent a barrier or lead one into new spaces, new landscapes, new spheres. Most of the 56 pieces in this collection are in the form of prose poems, with long, image-packed sentences that challenge normal language, forcing the reader to think anew. A lovelorn individual once more commutes between earth, sky, body and soul; between everyday, sensual observations, metaphysical insight and visionary conceptions, incorporating contrasting emotions, surrealist dream sequences and a recurring fascination with numbers and highly diverse disciplines. Taken as a whole, the poetry in this collection is boldly demanding, full of different viewpoints and not unexpectedly making open references to other artists; ‘time’ is the thematic focal point. Pathos merges with sober statement; gravity with self-deprecation and sardonic humour. The tone fluctuates constantly, never remaining at a fixed, predictable pitch. 

Paradiseffekten (The Paradise Effect, 2004) emphasizes again Wardenær’s robust writing style. She retains the prose poem and the single voice, conveying an avalanche of experiences, fantasies and thoughts. As in much of her work, she employs a vocabulary that at times is linked to the sensory, at times to more intellectual deliberations, but in which the conflict between the subdued and the exuberant is ever-present, and the awareness of death is a corrective to hallelujah-tinged vitalism. The title, as always, has been chosen with care. In the idea of ‘paradise’ lie religious connotations, announcing the poet’s metaphysical concerns and the magical-utopian experiences or conceptions that are embedded in many of the poems. In contrast, an ‘effect’ refers to a more scientific cast of mind and to the rationality she alternately relies on and dismisses. Paradiseffekten comprises a variety of rhythmic and close-knit texts, including an anti-war poem and reflections on the mysterious world of figures and complex images that accompany man during his sojourn on earth. The poems travel up and down like a lift between various levels of meaning, without coming to rest in an individual line or formulation. Wardenær works like Pablo Neruda in Canto General, piling up words, building and embroidering, attaining a massive block-like effect via a powerful, unorthodox discharge of the imagination. 

The title of Wardenær’s most recent 2007 collection, psi, refers to the penultimate letter of the Greek alphabet an is also a symbol used in mathematics and logic; more specifically, it is the symbol of the quantum physicist Schrödinger’s wave equation. Via a bundle of numbered prose poems – all with the same initial word, ‘Arvestykke’ (something inherited), in the title – the collection builds on Wardenær’s ambitious project, switching between the languages of science, mathematics and metaphysics to achieve new insights. Unsurprisingly, it deals with ideas associated with both material and aesthetic inheritance. 

Torild Wardenær has also translated work by the American poet James Tate and has written plays for various Norwegian theaters.

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Philip Brady, An Introduction to Torild Wardenær's "The Drift of Days and Nights"

I FIRST MET Torild Wardenær at Fundacion Valparaiso, a writers and artists colony on the coast of Andalusia in Spain. In fact, it was there in that brilliant swath of desert between the Mediterranean and the white cliffs of the town of Mojacar that Torild composed "The Drift of Days and Nights," which Artful Dodge now has the privilege to offer to American readers. Though she and I spent a few languorous afternoons transposing her Norwegian into English, it wasn't until a year later, when Torild sent me John Irons' translations, that I saw laid out before me a landscape as magical as the Andalusian desert where these poems were conceived.

But the landscape of "The Drift of Days and Nights" is not one a tourist of Spain or Norway would recognize. Nor is it solely an internal landscape, a map of the mind at play, though it is that too. These poems instead explore the space where the sublunary and eternal touch. That sounds like rarefied air, but here it's a recognizable, even intimate space, teeming with the quotidian and the cosmic: fennel, car mirrors and nebula. It is a stratum created from the aura of named things; no, not the aura; the fever, a vitality threatening to implode. Whether Wardenær describes traffic in a city tunnel, or the contents of her refrigerator, or "toes that feel squeezed even in the best shoes," always these poems spiral out from a force inside the enclosed space.

Their power derives not only from the plenitude of things seen and named, but from the reassortment of the great and small; the world shaken and reassembled slightly off the mark so that we almost see the fault lines. "All of it," Wardenær reminds us, is "caused by a friction, a movement which I begin." But friction here does not sand the world down to the merely ironic; we are not asked to choose between alternative realities. Rather, "The Drift of Days and Nights" is just that; a permeation, a drift, a fabric made from striations of light and dark.

Much has been made of the question of form in prose poems; whether such a thing isn't an oxymoron. These prose poems address that question; not directly; these are not reflexive or rhetorical pieces. But they address the question by revealing one source of poetic form: the need to make something that feels as liberating and as pressured as the life of a human form. With relaxed speed, in a voice that shifts from comic to elegiac, Wardenær shows us that poetry is never a matter of scale, that its gift is to make us see Blake's "eternity in a grain of sand, infinity in an hour." Ultimately, the form of these poems derives from the tension they maintain; gracefully, elegantly; between poetry and prose, day and night, air and space, identity and anonymity, life and death. This is their form-though not perhaps immediately apprehended. It is a form that comes to us slowly, by accretion, and it asks more from us than our attention: it asks our participation, asks us to enter the in-betweenness and feel the consequences of "the small movements [we] perform: a rolling of the neck, nails across a slightly shaky surface, the decision to add extra weight to the short day."

This issue of Artful Dodge is the first I've had the good fortune to be involved in as Poetry Editor. I'm especially proud to facilitate Torild Wardenær's first appearance in print in the United States-grateful for the chance to revisit and share, in English, in Ohio, the inspiring landscapes of "The Drift of Days and Nights."--Youngstown, Ohio, December 21, 2000

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© Torild Wardenær 2013