Morten Søndergaard  (trans. from Danish  Barbara Haveland)



more and more Danes are finding work

more and more Danes are now millionaires

more and more Danes are having children with Dannebrog-shaped moles

more and more Danes are expressing concern for the environment

more and more Danes have a feeling of inadequacy

more and more Danes take the car to Vienna

more and more Danes make little sounds with their mouths

more and more Danes are also eating their apple cores

more and more Danes are committing suicide

more and more Danes are googling their own names

more and more Danes are born left-handed

more and more Danes are going to poetry readings

more and more Danes suffer from winter depression and stop short in traffic, at a loss

more and more Danes speak German

more and more Danes are playing poker

more and more Danes no longer feel Danish

more and more Danes have their teeth fixed south of the border

more and more Danes are licking the mirrors in public toilets

more and more Danes describe themselves as happy

more and more Danes drive round the country at night, experimenting on cows’ eyes

more and more Danes enjoy moving very, very slowly when they are alone.


I awake in a land where the lovers have seized power.  They have introduced laws decreeing

that no one will ever again have to look away, and that orgasms need never come to an end. 

Roses function as currency, the insane are worshipped as gods, and the gods are considered

insane.  The postal service has been reinstated and the words ’you’ and ’I’ are now

synonymous.  After the revolution it was decided that broken-hearted lovers should be

eliminated for the safety of those happy in love.  When they track me down I immediately

surrender.  The executioner is a woman and it is quickly done.  It is winter and I have not met

you yet.


An ornithologist is a person with a powerful urge to watch birds.  If two ornithologists catch

sight of one another, one of them will mention a figure.  It might be a high figure, let’s say

267, or a somewhat lower figure, 113 for example.  The ornithologist who has cited the lower

figure will eye the other ornithologist, the one who has cited the higher figure, appreciatively

and possibly give a whistle of admiration.  The ornithologist with the high figure will shrug

his shoulders.  They will then part and go their separate ways.  The reason for this is that the

figures 267 or 113 refer to the number of different species of bird which the ornithologist in

question has crossed off in his copy of The Colour Guide to Birds of the World, a book by

Swede Gunnar Fahlström.  Gunnar Fahlström is the ornithologist who has cited the highest

figure.  The number of crosses can vary widely, depending on the ornithologist’s age and

keenness.  It should be added that ornithologists are honest souls.  In general they wear

clothes in simple, natural colours, and some carry small pairs of binoculars on leather straps

around their necks.  The Colour Guide to Birds of the World comes in a handy pocket format. 

To save a lot of unnecessary flicking back and forth through The Colour Guide to Birds of the

World when an ornithologist spots a new, non-crossed-off species, ornithologists have

introduced the practice of gluing together those pages on which every bird has been crossed

off.  It is said that all the pages of Gunnar Fahlström’s own copy of The Colour Guide to

Birds of the World are glued together, and that this book, which is nothing but an unreadable,

glued-up clump, is wedged under a table leg in a mountain hut in north-east Lapland, to

prevent the table from wobbling.



The night is here again.

Someone has let me in to the control tower and thrown the keys

away.  Words request permission to land.  Come in.

I believe in the conspiracies of the words behind the back

of the syntax.

You just have to keep going.

Full throttle.  Hope it goes okay.  Even though we’ve nowhere

to go.  Write like the evening light that rips open chasms

in all the colours.  A spectrum from violet to phosphorescent green.

A light falls on the words inscribed here.  I walk

up into the mountains with an invisible dog and write a poem.


The floors say: Hello, feet.

We go by names: counterpoint, breaking point, melting point.

Time runs its programme, it goes by, it passes, it stands


The body tips forward in its figure One, for everything is

sloping, everything

comes down to blind faith in floors, faith in you,

I walk back, step

by step, I sit on the toilet in my grandmother’s bathroom, a ground of brown,

yellow and blue rectangular tiles, tiles, a way of

falling into a brown study, studying brown and yellow and blue oblongs of tile

and there in the toilet in my thoughts cut the tiles free and lay them out again

on the floor, in new patterns,

far more satisfying patterns, in the beginning was the pattern,

the brown and yellow and blue sensation on the soles of the feet,

random formulations, run-up to figuration, here and there hints

of a flower with petals, a face, a cockroach, a knife

or a screwdriver would do it,

prise them loose, the tiles, but it can’t be done, these feet


accept all sorts of floors, all negotiable surfaces.

We search for places.  The floor is a starting point.

The place is the walker’s

fixed abode.  A sense of place.  This place: We.

We let the air out of this place, as if from a beach toy,

and take it with us.


Ready?  Each word is another word.

Each tongue another tongue.  From now on face is ’snow’.

One is friends with one’s toes.  A sentence to get hold of.

Hold up.  Giddy-up.

My white horses.  As a child I played the mouth organ

and regularly rode off into the sunset.

I set.  Sorry: I said, I’m Lucky Luke.  The palefaces of words

turn among the birch trunks.

Face ought to be face.

Step by step.

So and so many steps.  Shanks’s pony.


My vanity is veritably enormous.  Postcard from

Pound: Rid yourself of it, pull it down.  I take a walk along

the pedestrian street, ciao.  A walk can begin and end anywhere

at all.  There is fire on the mountain.  Luckily.  Poets on

exercise bikes supply the language with electricity.  Keep it

going, as they say.

Poetry is so eco-friendly.  High-voltage sentences keep whole cities

up and running.  I roam at random around the town.  Go all


I must wean myself of this weird habit of counting


I truly cannot tell which foot took

the first, but

I remember my playpen was exactly 3 steps long,

there I paced under a

stripy jaguar sun, back and forth, it is 27 steps from the kitchen

over to my desk,

it is 513 to the post office

and 6989 to the football ground down by the motorway, I begin

to go out in the sun, like a babbling fool

suddenly realizing

that life is not one long descent towards death, but a series of

complicated steps

in unforeseen directions,

it is 3124 steps up to the artichokes in the olive grove,

423 steps

down to the bar.  It could be 1 step to the moment

of concurrence that occurs

when the poem is written and I am allowed

to be in the world, one on one,

there it is, looking so utterly

convincing with artichokes and Glenn Gould, ossicles

and dogs and chili and

you.  I walk up

to the olive grove to see to the artichokes,


of the artist as vegetable, the artichokes, we cook them,

we pluck off

their petals,

we work our way in to the delicious heart, that’s what we’re after.

Find your patch

of chaos and tend it, get it to flourish with stray shoots


from every branch,

25367 steps in one direction, 25367 in another,

like when

as children we

counted our steps on the way to school

and had to start from scratch if we trod on a crack, now we make

strokes on paper like bartenders counting beers, four down

and one

across, so and so many days to go, will you, will you, will you come

out in the woods with me.  Out there

a copper beech counts its leaves backwards and somewhere the sun is blabbing


in an old fountain.

You could

go crazy with all this counting, counting giro forms, counting girlfriends,

counting brown and yellow and blue cars, counting steps, but

digits deaden

the pain and shift it slightly

from the told to the telling.  We do not count

on our fingers now,

most of it is done

in the head.   

Morten Søndergaard (born 1964) is one of the foremost of the younger generation of Danish poets to emerge onto the scene in the early Nineties.  Søndergaard’s first collection of poetry, Sahara i mine hænder (Sahara In My Hands) was published in 1992.  This debut collection has been followed by a succession of works which have won him both critical acclaim and a number of literary awards.  Language is Morten Søndergaard’s medium and his métier, one which he practises not only as a poet, but also as a translator, sound artist and literary editor.  And while his craft is solidly rooted in the classic poetic tradition he is constantly intent on exploring the possibilities of language and new ways in which these can be presented.  Over the years, alongside his written publications, this has resulted in musical and dramatic works and in recordings, exhibitions and installations centring on language and sound.  Morten Søndergard’s most recent publication is Processen og det halve kongerige (The Process and Half the Kingdom) (2010).

Bibliography (selected works)

Sahara i mine hænder (Sahara In My Hands), poems, Borgen, 1992

Ild og tal (Fire and Number), poems, Borgen, 1994

Ubestemmelsessteder (Indeterminuses), prose-poetry, Brøndums Forlag, 1996

Bier dør sovende (Bees Die Sleeping), poems, Borgen, 1998

Tingenes orden (The Order of Things), novel, 2000

Hypoteser for to stemmer, (Hypotheses for Two Voices) (with Tomas Thøfner), prose, in the literary magazine Øverste Kirurgiske, 1998; Borgen, 2002

Vinci, senere (Vinci, later), poems, Borgen, 2002 (nominated for the Nordic Council Prize for Literature 2003)

At holde havet tilbage med en kost (To Hold the Sea Back with a Broom), prose, Borgen, 2004

Et skridt i den rigtige retning (A Step in the Right Direction), poems, Borgen, 2005 (nominated for the Nordic Council Prize for Literature 2007)

Hjertets abe sparker sig fri (The Monkey of the Heart Kicks Loose), CD (with Jakob Schweppenhäuser and Emil Thomsen), 2007

Må sort dreng dø ren (May Black Boy Die Clean), poems, 2009.

LOVE (LAWS/LOVE) – an exhibition about language (together with WeArePopular), Nikolaj Kunsthal, 2010.

Processen og det halve kongerige (The Process and Half the Kingdom), prose-poetry, Gyldendal, 2010

Barbara J. Haveland (born 1951). Scots-born literary translator living in Denmark.  Translates fiction, poetry and drama from Danish and Norwegian to English.   Her lengthy C.V. features works by many leading Danish and Norwegian writers including Peter Høeg, Ib Michael, Jan Kjærstad and Linn Ullmann.  She has also translated poetry by other Danish poets such as Pia Juul and Nicolaj Stochholm and by the young Bosnian-born writer Alen Mešković.  Recent projects include new translations of three plays by Henrik Ibsen: The Master Builder, Little Eyolf and A Doll’s House.