HANNE AGAIN PARTICULAR TO HER LAST COLLECTION, "KRAFTAS: POESI/FORTJELJANDE"
The Norwegian poet Hanne Aga has written 8 books. Her first one was published in 1981, her last one appeared in 1994.
Only 3 of her books can clearly be classified as poetry in a strict sense: the first one, "Skjering med lys" (1981), the second one, "Forsvar håpet" (1983) and the fifth one, "Presis overalt" (1988). The remaining five are supplied with sub-titles such as, in translation, "an open story", "poetic novel", "poetic novel" and "poems/narrative".
Experimentation with genres and literary forms has been common
in European literature since the early 19th century,
and is normally connected with the modernistic movement, and with
the romantic movement.
Hanne Aga has been conceived of as writing in a tradition influenced by both modernism and romanticism. Her poetry is modernistic in the sense that her constant leit-motif is an intense preoccupation with and search for the genuinely poetic, her quest goes through language, to language. Her poetry is romantic in the sense that her aim is order and wholeness. The outstanding features of her poetry, I would say, are her intensely loaded metaphors. Their force is striking.
All trough the eighties the mixture of genres and the concomitant techniques have been in wide use in Norwegian literature, an example of which is the so-called 'punktroman' (literally: a novel of points). in simple terms a 'punktroman' is a fragmentary short text with traits in common with both poetry and prose. The poetry published in Norway during the eighties is often characterized by its cyclical nature, or attempts were made to interconnect its parts by means of an epic element. Reflections on language and writing are also fairly common in Norwegian literature of this decade.
Although she has not written a novel of points, the mixture of genres has been part of Hanne Aga's poetical program since her third book, "Hard, klar rose. Ei open historie" (1985). This shift is related to the specific thematic contents of her later book: they are also always reflections on their own origin, the origin of poetical language. The birth of poetry is for Hanne Aga only possible through a struggle with the medium of language itself. A struggle in language, for language. For creativity.
The narrative element in the works of Hanne Aga partly appears in transitional zones between reflection and poetical language. Or, to put it differently, in the interrelationship of body and language. This means that the reflective activity releases her inner images, enabling them to emerge in language. Or vice versa: The fully formed metaphors spur the reflective level of the text into activity.
This double process is also present in the characters in her books, independent of whether they are tellers, or are being told about. The various characters are at the same time positions, points, stages of language.
In the works of Hanne Aga reflection, narrative and poetry are all integrated into a single artistic whole.
In her first two books the life-denying forces are opposed more directly by a defiant voice. Just as apparent, however, is the joy of creativity, the pleasure and pain of being positioned in the world with a body and with a language. The poetic I here moves in a more clearly defined outer world, rooted in a real topography with localized characters. The defiant voice is also to a certain extent raised against the oppression taking place on our planet. But already in the second book there are clear indications that the text's I is approaching a language where words have the same reality as objects, bodies and incidents of the external world.
From her third book, "Hard, klar rose. Ei open historie", there occurs a definite change, both thematically and formally, in the poetics of Hanne Aga.
The repression as it appears in language itself: that is the growing concern of her poems. One must, as a writer, confront the obvious fact that as repression is present in language, one must fight it through the medium by which it is expressed. A logocentric language, formed by a dominant ideology, not only has an oppressive effect on the individual human being, through laws and rules, it also has a repressive effect on the unconscious and the body, where a more immediate language arises, related to the creative impulse. In this perspective a more reflective, analytical insight into the origin of language is indispensable.
This shift in her concerns also affects her metaphors. The poetic I turns inwards. Images arise, condensed and novel images, linking words, people and the external world in an unbreakable chain.
The transitions between poetry, narrative and reflection occur not only within a single book, there are also modulations from book to book. The third book of Hanne Aga may be characterized as mainly a reflective book, and contains an emerging poetics, while the next one, "Bror Sorg" (1986) is a more densely poetical work, a more homogenous unity of poetry and reflection.
"Bror Sorg" is in résumé a book about Karin and her way to language, through language.
Karin lives in a house by the sea, by the foot of the mountain, together with her mother and brother. Her world consists of fish and gulls, boat and boat-sheds, house with loft and local chapel. She has to define her position to religion, and to her own lack of an authentic language. The poetic subject, the I of the book, writes about Karin who is laid up in bed. She, too, is writing, on the wall. There are several layers in "Bror Sorg", one of them is the story of Karin and her brother, another one is the story of finding/becoming a language. The poetry is beautiful, as it is in the next book. "Utan bevis" (1988), where, however, her tone has become a bit tougher.
The development from "Bror Sorg", to "Utan bevis" and finally to "Kraftas" is an organic one, and might be called a quest for the center of gravity of language, the center of its force ("kraft" in Norwegian means "force", and the title "Kraftas" might be interpreted as "of the force"). Getting in touch with a forgotten force. What we perceive, we perceive by difference, but our words are no more different from our bodies than a foot is different from a hand, or more different from the world than the sky is different from the earth, our shirt is different from our shoe, red is different from green. Our vital force is inextricably bound up with the word. To get in touch with this center, we have to listen, either to our own, or other people's words. indeed there exists in the very nature of language a basic ambiguity, and one can both communicate and stop communication by its means, one can both release and repress another language.
There is a double struggle going on in "Utan bevis", a struggle against those who refuse to listen, against those who approach poetry with a negative, repressive language, but at
same time a struggle on the part of the poetic I to oppose the inherent resistance of language itself. A struggle for the ability to handle the force of language, conquering the language which is life.
In the last book of Hanne Aga, "Kraftas", this aspect is very prominent: a struggle in language, for language. KRAFTAS: POESI/FORTELJANDE. The three elements in the title are important indications as to the nature of the book. The main title, "Kraftas", indicates something of the essential concern of the project. This is not only a book about force, it further manifests the play of creative and linguistic forces. But "Krafta" might also be a personal name, the name of the "she" in the text. The sub-title "poesi/forteljande", in English: poetry/narrative, indicates the genre of the book, i.e. its mixtures of genres.
"Kraftas" is a poetic narrative both about itself, and about the "she" and the "I" of the text, as well as about the force of language. Reflections as to what constitutes poetry, and the poetry itself of "Kraftas" cannot be clearly distinguished. On the contrary, a point is made about the interrelationship of these two aspects.
There is no longer a question of contradiction between a repressive and a repressed language. Language exists here, eternal and whole, but it possesses forces that can only be released through a hard struggle.
In the poetical world of Hanne Aga, words are part of a living, and death-bringing, reality. It is no longer possible to distinguish between the activity of language and the experiences undergone by the book's characters. The words possess physical reality in relation to the body and to consciousness in the same way as other aspects of human reality do. Body and consciousness are one.
It may look as if the language of "Kraftas" manifests a measure of divine force. Force appears through struggle, a struggle between life and death in language, and is embodied in the "she" (Krafta) in the book. "She" (and "I") has a brother whose name is Johannes, presumably the same brother as in "Bror Sorg". "Johannes" is the Norwegian version of
"John". This name, as well as the embodiment of a divine force in language, may give rise to associations in the direction of The Gospel according to John: "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "Kraftas" is dedicated to "my eternal brother Johannes". It seems almost superfluous to add that the poetry, the expansive poetry in "Kraftas" is brilliantly beautiful and sows a new seed . The issue here is reality, coordination, wholeness. And transcendence:
Language, I rise you, scorching, celestial. Night comes / galloping. Black force to our mouth. The slates break, I / pass the stone wherever it wants. Mouth above mouth flowing altar. My will tightens its drum. Melting God, / focal, undulating, swaddling. The emptiness of the universe. Vacuum bursts. Between all. I hear, I hear, / I hear you force. I hear you forth.