from Praxis, 8: Album, tumult by Per Højholt
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken

What follows is a random selection from Praksis, 8: Album, tumult [Praxis, 8: Album, tumult] (1989), by Per Højholt. A full and distinct selection of Højholt's prose poems translated by Martin Aitken will be published in CALQUE 5, forthcoming in November, 2008.

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Per Højholt (1928-2004) was one of Denmark’s most influential poets, a philosophical modern master whose work throughout is shaped by playful, often equilibristic linguistics and a simultaneous and astonishing ability to express highly philosophical issues in a colloquial style employing ironical humour as one of its foremost instruments. A trained librarian, Højholt debuted in book form in 1949 with Hesten og Solen (The Horse and the Sun), echoing the predominant Danish modernist style that was coming to expression notably in the Heretica journal. However, Højholt soon discovered a more radical continental modernism as practised by Stephane Mallarmé and his subsequent collection Poetens hoved (The Poet’s Head) (1963) marked the beginning of the authorship proper. The oeuvre spans prose as well as poetry, the latter though predominant, some 40 works in total, overriding themes being the paradox of man’s removed status in relation to the natural world, and language, its nature, function and (lack of) meaning. The so-called Praksis series ran to twelve small volumes published from 1977 through 1996 and provided a laboratory framework for much of the poetic oeuvre. Praksis, 8: Album, tumult (1989) contains 59 short prose pieces, the majority extending no more than half a dozen lines or so, all archetypal Højholt. CALQUE 5 brings an impromptu selection of fifteen of these pieces. The following is a taste of what is to come. The recipient of numerous major literary awards (including the Danish Arts Foundation’s lifetime grant), shortlisted for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2003, Højholt appears here for what may be the first time in English.

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from Praxis, 8: Album, tumult
3. Around the town, even on its more frequented thoroughfares, there are places where no-one or hardly anyone sets foot. Places which have not always been there, brought into existence as they are by the town itself, an architecture with the rectangle and the square as its basic forms. But since people in the main move in curves, these corners and triangles are in surplus, they fall outside the scope, though never on that account approaching nature. They are without growth and innocence and become places of sojourn for children, dogs, leaves, drunks and litter, which here, without inconveniencing more purposeful traffic, are able to play, shit, perish or rot, or move slightly in windy weather.

16. The way across the floor to the door I manage as a matter of course. It is going down the stairs I take exception to, all those steps, one merely referring to the next. If the last only referred to my death, but it refers as a simple matter of course to the floor down here in the kitchen.

26. The lobster. His one hand is large and red and chapped and wet, it severs the head and fins of the fish and tears away the skin with sacking and passes the parcel over the counter. The other is smaller, yellowish, without nails, and is wiped with a cloth.

39. Minor Kafka idyll. The more I spoke to him the larger his head became. Several times I tried falling silent to encourage him to empty himself, but he challenged me each time with new questions demanding detailed replies, and thereby against my will, little by little, I caused his head to take on a quite monstrous proportion. When later we accompanied each other along the street I noticed to my surprise that it was me people were staring at, not him, and when we took leave of each other and I remained standing a moment to watch him manoeuvre his great, egg-shaped head down through the pedestrian street, it was not him, but me they applauded.

© Per Højholt & Gyldendal 1989
Translation © Martin Aitken 2008

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Martin Aitken (born 1961) is a translator of fiction and poetry. He holds a PhD in linguistics and lectures in English language. He lives in rural Denmark and is currently translating a novel for Simon & Schuster in New York.


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