A review of

it

by Inger Christensen

Central question: If it is what it is, what is it?
Format: 237 pp., paperback; Size: 9" x 7"; Price: $17.95; Publisher: New Directions; Print run: 3,000; Book designer: Sylvia Frezzolini Severance; Translated by: Susanna Nied; Introduced by: Anne Carson; Danish title: det; Christensen’s advice to her translator: “If my music comes across naturally, well, let it. If it doesn’t, that’s OK.” Susanna Nied’s day job: editor for the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California at San Diego; Prizes author has won: the Swedish Academy’s Nordic Prize, Austrian State Prize for Literature, European Poetry Prize; Representative line: “Life is holy.”

Plato is disingenuous when he infamously has Socrates pit poetry against philosophy in Book Ten of The Republic. He aspired to be a verse-dramatist before becoming a philosophical one and was familiar with the work of Hesiod, the ancient philosopher-poet whose work stands with Homeric tradition at the origins of Western poetry. In introducing Susanna Nied’s stunning translation of Danish poet Inger Christensen’s it, Anne Carson recalls Hesiod and the tradition of philosophical poetry, saying: “Inger Christensen combines Hesiod’s purposes into one pronoun.”

Hesiod’s poems do not ignore the Homeric subjects of war, passion, and history, but his titles look to more intimate processes: The Birth of the Gods, Works and Days. These poems are fundamentally somatic, poems of the body (human and divine), of the relationship between the body and the universe; poems of birth, school, worship, work, death; poems of life’s significant blip as part of the universe. This indelible sense that life matters is the “it” of Christensen’s long philosophical poem. At it’s heart is a view of human life interwoven into galactic, social, sexual, economic, and linguistic experience. it is both a brilliant philosophical reflection on the forces (biological, physical, political) that organize life, and an equally brilliant poetic invocation of the drives (emotional, sexual, subjective), so much a part of living.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Milton L. Welch

Milton L. Welch teaches at North Carolina State and lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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