December 5, 2008

Thomas Boberg

Thomas Boberg [Denmark]

Born in Roskilde, Denmark in 1960, Thomas Boberg moved at the age of two with his mother and smaller sister to Copenhagen. He did not meet his real father, now a painter in northern Italy, until he was 14. The father he knew remarried and divorced his mother, who became a social worker, several times over the next years. His mother died at the age of 58.

For much of Boberg’s life he has enjoyed traveling. As a high school exchange student in 1977-1978, he lived in Aberdeen, South Dakota, an experience he describes in his book Americas. He also worked on a Wisconsin farm when he as 21 years old.

After finishing high school in Denmark, he traveled to Southern Europe, North Africa (Egypt and Sudan) and India. In 1986 he moved to Barcelona for four years, where he met his wife Patricia, a filmmaker. Their son, Mateo, was born in Copenhagen in 1990. But the family soon moved on to Lima, Peru, where they lived for twelve years and where they still have an apartment.
Boberg started writing poetry when he was 19, publishing his first book, Hvæsende på mit øjekast (The Hissing of My Glance), in 1984. Since then, he has published ten new books of poetry; his selected poems, Digte på vejen—et udvalg (Poems on the Road—A Selection) appeared in 2004. Boberg also writes prose works, which he views as the “other side of the coin,” so to speak. Besides Americas, he has written travel journals and diaries such as Sølvtråden (The Silverthread) and a travel diary following the journeys of Ernesto Che Guevara, and, most recently, Invitation til at rejse (An Invitation to Travel).

As well as embedding his poems in the several locations of his travels, Boberg has an eye for the surreal and ultra-real in his poetry. He is particularly fond of classic writers such as Fernando Pessoa, César Vallejo, Franz Kakfa, and modern Scandinavian authors such as Gunnar Ekelöf [see PIP, volume 1], Edith Södergran [PIP, volume 2], Karen Blixen, and Hans Christian Andersen. In 2000, Boberg was nominated for the Nordic Literary Prize.

Quoting from Boberg’s poetry, critic Carsten Jensen has written: “‘Nothing is possible here where I am / but nothing is impossible either.’ Let Thomas Boberg’s words stand as [my] conclusion…of a poet who has the rare ability to burst apart the provincialism of Danish poetry and straddle the continents.”


Hvæsende på mit øjekast (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1984); Ud af mit liv (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1985); Hvid glød (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1986); Slaggedyret (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1987); Vor tids historie (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1989); Digte 1990 (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1990); Marionetdrømme (Copenhagen: Glydendal, 1991); Vandbærere (Copenhagen: Lindhardt & Ringhof, 1993); Pelikanens flught (Copenhagen: Lindhardt & Ringhof, 1993); I firserne (Copenhagen: Lindhart & Ringhof, 1996); Under hundestjernen (Copenhagen: Lindhart & Ringhof, 1997); En stående aftale (Copenhagen: Lindhart & Ringhof, 2002); Dighte på vejen—et udvalg (Copenhagen: Lindhardt & Ringhof, 2004)

On a Curbstone Out of the Sun

On a curbstone out of the sun
I sit, dreamless, swigging a Pepsi
With sluggish eye I follow the big river
swing into town between tinny shacks and peeling minarets
It springs from the continent’s reddened center
and flows slumbering through the deadened land
Alongside the wall to God’s mighty house
rest the refugees of a forgotten civil war
naked babies inhale the dust
the flies drink from their eyes
the sun and the earth breed these aggressive insects
which the starving don’t manage to scare away
What does the dust think of the dead
how much death does the day demand

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Hvæsende på mit øjekast, 1984)

Last Stop


I slipped through the world looking out on the shifting
scene from a reflecting pane where the lamps rushed through
when evening fell upon the landscapes
One moment I lay stretched out in a vacuum while the sound of
the machines’ distant rumble round way in my eardrums
No recall. All dreams were absent. Just noticed
the rushing in as the speed picked up and sleep spun around
into a screw boring itself into my skull. Then I woke up


Everything moves in swirls out and in. The cerebellum’s
quadrant fields slice each other up. There is a heaving and
shooshing in the giant steel structure beneath which the sound
of the stranger’s steps is lost. The universe is expanding
or the world is shrinking. The earth is now no bigger than
the head of a pin rotating about the burning fist of the sun


I stand in the midst of distance. The flats spread out before me
running together into a point at which infinity balances
I go, therefore I become, wait and listen. I am a
lamp shining down into itself so as to find the base of darkness.

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Vor tids historie, 1989)

When Clearness

When clearness rises
down there where a thousand wishes
love’s toothpicks through each other
I am lifted
to the space the tongue blew out
ripped-up, freed fatality

May only slowly passes between the tired
frozen trunks
urging them to issue shoots
Life only slowly drives the nail up through the bone
so it crumbles, tugging the skin off
till the grin is bared
and I thrust, am filled and sated
in my rattling between ruble and bottle caps
traces I suppress ardently
as if it were love

The lust city stretches, breaking the ice
Vessels moor among the city piers
torsos rolling toward the dawn
and the sullied clouds of redundancy chase
the smoke from long-since incinerated flags beside
the toppled emblems
of a gasping century

In flaming yarn unwound by a bandaged

the sun slips off the edge and is hurled up
to the end of my recollection
a faint sound that steadily rises in volume and
sails its warning by blood through the flesh to
the brain which speaks

And whips the year to froth
the monotony of hardy beaten breakers
again and again against the rugged rocks
and the sea we can’t be without sees us again
expands with the unfathomable speed
of imagination
there where we come from
where my thoughts like newly hatched sea turtles
desperately feel their way back
in flight from hunger’s screeching birds

—Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Vandbærerne, 1993)

They Search for Water

We demand and demand the greater In uncertainty
our motifs flow
Hurry at bottom We do not know them and yet it is us
Only time is marked and it flows
like water between fingers we search we do not find it
for the earth has turned to salt
who knows the force I stand in it
cold as a lamp I burn
I searched the corners far out in time and the shame floated
bridges to the sea
Black dogs dash over roves The houses are coffins of
glass I flee
They go in flocks searching for water
They go in flocks following death to the door
Earth was enmeshed in itself, flat as an elongated
eye it’s spinning
They come with buckets of tin and plastic
They search for water they do not find
Not even death did we believe
And if anybody wanted the pleasure, then…
My bones stick out everywhere
monstrous as gothic is beauty but nowhere it’s
going dark
I bent down over the starry thistle
checked out all the angles it was late
They stand outside the doors
They do not knock
They search for grass they do not find

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Vandbærerne, 1993)

While I Cry with One Eye

I have now become the thief I always denied
cold, not like the calculating
like the kleptomaniac, hot…
and I do not wait, I take
not only the silence of the cadaver, not only the bell
in the chapel, but the tower on the church, the doorway and the beggar
on the stars, his bowl, his coin
I steal
and the flock of sheep that rings of dust, of sheer
I steal blood, I steal light and skin at the bottom of
the lungs
far down in the rattling chambers of sleep
My prayer, my plunder
is the day itself, and all it brings
the night itself, and all it holds
I steal sparks from the campfire tonight by a rickety
where those who gather coal along the tracks
warm their roughened hands
I take what they don’t even have
I have finally now become the thief I always was
and I cry with one eye
while I snatch with the other
now where the fire goes out at the hands of the poor
and they rise up
depart like smoke across the rails
I also snatch the ashes from their life
from their paltry campfire
which never gives a bone to a whining cur
I also take it
snatching with one eye
while I cry with the other

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Vandbærerne, 1993)

The String

Tied to the string that binds
dream to reality
I stand with one eye on both
The resonant string which is fine as the spider’s
They say if you clip it off
that one eye stays behind
lying there like a dead fish
while the other helplessly disappears
into the nightmare’s endless stars

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Pelikanens flught, 1994)



The wind from a darkening planet scuttles a tin box
across cement slabs
Doesn’t it sound like a goodbye verse?
but the green circle lay in the turnabout shining
like a metal sheet
rolled out of a different room
dreamed by a faint breeze that made the tall treetops
whisper distant as glass
in this circle of perfect remembrance
and I knew that I had been here before


I waited for you at a lace between afternoon and dusk
and inside me I was a long road
where I heard your step like words that wanted to be said
a voice approaching our arrival


There was always joy, constant as energy, as your
love, as the sorrow you said
that had lain a fine porous layer on the gray buildings
that bore so many mute reminders
of the violence that had brought the blocks here
left them as monuments to an age
no gaze would clearly see
before it had grown accustomed to itself


The sun casts warm rays down through the atmosphere
strikes an antenna that flashes like a javelin
that was hurled
and landed quivering in the midst of perfect recollection
and I know the blue by your love
your love that has taken me in and taken me in again
and I know that joy is constant
that it is precisely this separating me from joy


When you came the dream coincided with memory
and became reality
your name became your mouth, your face
and your face the moment
fused by the glow of your voice, your joy
that illuminated the whole house
and I knew that I had been here before

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Pelikanens flught, 1994)

Letter from a Tourist

I seek
the perfect place in the house
running incessantly around the block
after the white room with the cool wind
I’ve been hunting for my whole life

I am free to board a barrel
and get smashed up under the bloom of the Southern Cross against
plundered guano isle in the ember-beaming ocean…

Bound this in a dilemma
that merely augments the tension of the sphere
between the basic conditions of the cell
and the blue space of the bird;

and with all we know today silence
naturally comes closest.

If the arrow doesn’t
aim at the farthest point,
and there is no center
but air and earth, essences, water
and moreover people
when someone learns he has a cut above the brow
and a sentence between the bars and infinity
the fall is hardly avoided
down in a spectacular drawing of the shoulders
just as it wasn’t worth it
for the shame would survive us?

and the swans when they float past The French Café

and the elephant on the way out of the picture, the impala, the giraffe,
the ostrich,
and the word
when it no longer airs our unbelief?

Someplace in Zimbabwe there is a person about to
rouse a sleeping spirit.
A whirl of banshees over the Kalahari of Cataconia
dancing dust devils
and the rhinoceros rises in a swarm of egrets,
while the air is pierced by bullets
the baobob tree rips itself up by the roots,
for now it wants to leave.

But I am also an alien
and you in your own land fleeing something evil on the earth
under the sun
that every morning squanders its letters of light
seen from freedom’s high view
and all day through
in under the iron doors
making the tin bowls warp in the heat.

Down here
we begin dreaming

especially when twilight comes creeping
especially we fantasize in winter
especially when it gets later
and we notice it is too late for all that fantasizing
here with the rope around our neck
and the bag over our head
and the earth in a moment
being heaved away beneath our feet.

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Under hundestjernen,1997)


A woman who doesn’t have a say
gets dressed naked and leaps into the fountain;
and we discuss her age and insanity.
Up behind the cross they’re shooting live ammo
so the splinters fly.

You say you cannot make it with your woman
and in a different way I say
the same of the solitude we worship
and cannot bear.
Someone’s set fire to a pile of garbage.
It’s as if the lie
were the third thing standing between us.

You who only want the house
emptied of the people you invited
and no longer know how to get ride of.
I dreamed about an executioner
and president,
they said he was a psychiatrist and wrote poetry.
The war going on in my head
no association can check.

The crazy woman runs out onto the street
naked, and terrible
in her nakedness
with a black fire around her wild face
it’s clear she is right:
just smear your body with mud.
Don’t fear the shadow as if it were a dog.
Poverty consumes not only what’s visible
but also the dread of
devouring your heart,
and the people’s glances
doom the yellow woman to the home,
giving you a startle
in the evening at the sight of your shadow
as if it were a dog
fleeing its master who had beaten it.

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Under hundestjernen,1997)


Time’s chain of untraceable accidents
wanted it to wear white.
The young ones still don’t come down at night
but stay aloft on an updraught,
resting on outstretched wings all day.
The flight over the ocean
its natural berth;
and the line between sea and sky
must be the closest the mind can imagine
in finding balance.
No sigh from an earth in constant flux
reaches its ear in the air.
Still the globe appears immutably
blue, green and silent as the sphere it encircles.
The white bird
has been created for a life raised above the surface
and the sucking depths.
When it comes to an island
it lands on a special selected skerry.
We are linked
down here to the cliff.
The one up there with its black gaze
full of wind and space;
and the white garb
that spread out in the world’s largest wingspread,
when it hurls itself out into the sky
further and further from our Alcatraz.

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Under hundestjernen,1997)


Even if Mr. Gloomy’s ragtag pigeon sits on the sill
the coffee perks up.
They speak of cars and women, they bring them champagne.
Also the coffee gets cold like the pigeon on the sill with the tiny blinking
eye. The coffee
is black sea drunk to fathom by the fish mouth’s silence.
When I crawl onshore the men are drive away. And the women
swishing into the private offices; here the scent
of simile and perfume attests
to the absence they were created to incarnate.

The cup and the cup’s bottom they have removed, but at the empty
place is a little card: No grace is granted here.
I hurry in by the glass door, past the receptionist’s pale smile
down, down the corridor. And all the doors
I do not open attest to the rooms I will never get to see;
and the locked rooms to the road I will not know
before it has passed. I step
over the last threshold through a profusion of unscented roses
leading me into a room toward the mirror at the back
and drawing me to it, as if I had been here before,
as if this were the end that had been searching for me just as I for it
on the way down through the vertigo of repetition:
they mumble about money and money’s procreation, they retail organs
and homeless boys.
They exchange codes and bills, they distribute syringes.
They chase tousled birds up to shabby clouds.
they send back the children with cleaning rags and astronomical invoices.
They whisper in wireless telephones,
and the diamond-scented replica with eternity’s nipples
I remember from before, running
running in a wind past all the nooks, past dates and crosses past
skulls and virgins…
They rave about cement and the potency of cement.
They put ads and little urns into circulation.
She runs and runs and I drown in the shouts, run and sink.
They demand gold that can proliferate.
I flee to the crevice in a shower of white rain.
We build citadels that pulverize, cast out
words into dreamed-up hands, listen, continue running and disappear.

Translated from the Danish by Verne Moberg

(from Under hundestjernen,1997)


“On the Curbstone out of the Sun,”
Reprinted from Hvæsende på mit øjekast (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1984). Copyright ©1984 by Gyldendal. English language version copyright ©2006 by Verne Moberg. Reprinted by permission of Gyldendal.

“Last Stop”
Reprinted from Vor tids historie (Copehagen: Gyldendal, 1989). Copyright ©1989 by Gyldendal. English language version copyright ©2006 by Verne Moberg. Reprinted by permission of Gyldendal.

“When Clearness,” “They Search for Water,” and “While I Cry with One Eye”
Reprinted from Vandbærere (Copenhagen: Lindhardt & Ringhof, 1993). Copyright ©1993 by Lindhardt & Ringhof. English language version copyright ©2006 by Verne Moberg. Reprinted by permission of Lindhardt & Ringhof.

“The String” and “Arrival”
Reprinted from Pelikanens flught (Copenhagen: Lindhardt & Ringhof, 1994). Copyright ©1994 by Lindhardt & Ringhof. English language version copyright ©2006 by Verne Moberg. Reprinted by permission of Lindhardt & Ringhof.

“Letter from a Tourist,” “Trinity,” “White,” and “Vertigo”
Reprinted from Under hundestjernen (Copenhagen: Lindhardt & Ringhof, 1997). Copyright ©1997 by Lindhardt & Ringhof. English language version copyright ©2006 by Verne Moberg. Reprinted by permission of Lindhardt & Ringhof.

1 comment:

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