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alphabet (New Directions) Paperback – May 17, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of Scandinavia's most honored poets, veteran Danish writer Christensen originally published her book-length Alphabet 20 years ago to great acclaim; this translation by former San Diego State Univ. English instructor Susanna Nied is the first in English and was awarded the American-Scandinavian PEN translation prize. The lengths in lines of each of this slim volume's 14 poems from "[a]" to "[n]" are based on the Fibonacci sequence. Beginning with zero and one, the sequence runs 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 600; "[a]" begins where (0 + 1 = 1). One assumes the 977 lines "[o]" would have required finally overwhelmed the poet and forced her to stop at ["n"]; Ron Silliman's similar alphabetic project makes no such allowances. As used here with controlled repetitions, the sequence gives the whole an almost medieval sense of restriction, as in the last four lines of "[e]": "afterglow exists; oaks, elms,/ junipers, sameness, loneliness exist;/ eider ducks, spiders, and vinegar/ exist, and the future, the future." Abstracted cold war fears and post-'70s ecological concern and alienation give way to litanies of real world outrages "chemical ghetto guns exist/ with their old-fashioned, peaceable precision// guns and wailing women, full as/ greedy owls exist; the scene of the crime exists" which culminate in a post-nuclear holocaust nightmare, with birds and children somehow having survived in caves. The scenario may seem dated, but the threats remain very real, and Christensen's poetic appeal for sanity and humanity remains an abstracted call to action.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

A brilliant abecedary by...Christensen which sets forth our feckless pressure on the earth's futurity in a comely ancient form. -- C.D. Wright, Ploughshares, Spring 2004

A raw outcrying for the beauty of the world and its continued existence. -- New Review of Literature, Douglas Messerli, Spring 2005

Alphabet: 1
Alphabet: 10
Alphabet: 10
Alphabet: 11
Alphabet: 11
Alphabet: 11
Alphabet: 11
Alphabet: 12
Alphabet: 12
Alphabet: 12
Alphabet: 12
Alphabet: 12
Alphabet: 12
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 13
Alphabet: 14
Alphabet: 14
Alphabet: 14
Alphabet: 14
Alphabet: 14
Alphabet: 2
Alphabet: 3
Alphabet: 4
Alphabet: 5
Alphabet: 6
Alphabet: 7
Alphabet: 8
Alphabet: 9
-- Table of Poems from Poem Finder®

Radically different….a hypnotizing lyric lilt: a singing celebration of the whole of the universe. -- Beloit Poetry Journal, Marion K. Stocking

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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (May 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081121477X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811214773
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 7, 2001
Format: Paperback
Inger Christensen's Alphabet is a modern marvel: within the imposed form of the order of the alphabet, she constructs widely varying images, everyday-ish, fanciful, delicate, startling. "Constructs" may be the wrong verb because the language and the images appear effortlessly produced, as if they were simply evoked, although the most cursory look at the the collection shows the poet's painstaking attention to form and structure. The same quality of effortlessness, naturalness, obviousness, is exhibited by Susanne Nied's superb translation --indeed the kind of translation Gogol termed 'a transparent glass'. The personality, culture and idiosyncracies of the translator are nowhere in evidence. Subtly, skillfully, and imaginatively the Danish is transposed into English without the loss of a breath. Inger Christensen is a well-known poet in Denmark, indeed in Europe. Thanks to Susanna Nied she has been introduced to the American public, and may now at long last receive the recognition she deserves also in the US. It is a pleasure to see such lovingly crafted literature, and all involved in bringing it to the American public are to be congratulated: translator, publisher, distributor.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By mammam on June 24, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book found me while I was beginning a series of works on Jutland, the Danish poet Inger Christensen's birthplace. It is an astonishing work, everfresh, original, and deeply, integrally beautiful. The poem is built upon the Fibonacci sequence of Leonardo of Pisa and Christensen, early trained as a mathematician, has used this cumulative sequence to create an organic, engaged, poetic masterpiece. This is breathing with numbers.
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By Biblibio VINE VOICE on February 4, 2014
Format: Paperback
To describe this short book of poems as "breathtaking" would not be a hyperbole. "alphabet" did not merely impress and enchant me, it left me physically winded, gasping as I mouthed the words aloud and marveled at the beautiful writing and brilliant structure. This is not so much a poetry collection as it is a story-in-poetry - the poems form a clear and perfect whole, one that is quite frankly unlike any other book of poems I've ever read. And it's brilliant.

The basic structure of "alphabet" as based on Fibonacci's sequence may seem like the important gimmick here, but don't be fooled. This concept essentially enables the book to unfold dramatically, with powerful jumps from one piece to the next. The poems aren't don't really start or end according to their official number, but there's still an obvious sense of structure and logic to the cutoffs. More than that, however, is the use of the alphabet as a structural tool. The repeating motifs and repeating sounds and letters for each poem are less obvious than the ever-increasing lengths of the poems, but they too serve as a reminder of an overarching CONCEPT to the book. "alphabet" isn't just another poetry collection. This is a wonderfully original and clever book as well, regardless its magical insides.

And oh the poems themselves. Inger Christensen's use of repeating ideas and motifs builds magnificently towards the greater story, but even more there's the singular beauty of each line. A perfectly clean translation by Susanna Nied only emphasizes the power of Christensen's original prose. These are lines that must be read aloud, quoted, stroked, mulled over. These are poems to be read again and again.

Highly recommended.
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