Henrik Nordbrandt Interview: A Poet's Odyssey

“I am what is around me.”

Henrik Nordbrandt is widely regarded as one of the most important and celebrated poets in Scandinavia. In this video portrait he speaks about childhood, ghosts and his life with poetry, shaped by the many years he lived in Mediterranean countries, where “departures and arrivals are very existential,” as he says.

One of Henrik Nordbrandt’s earliest memories goes back to when he was only three months old and his grandmother washed him with cold water in the sink after having shit in the bed. He was born on the day when the allies bombed the Shell House in Copenhagen and – according to the poet himself – part of his nervousness comes from the fact that he “was born with shell shock.” He was “bullied and beaten and teased” in school, which influenced his childhood very much.

When he was 14, he saw a documentary about concentration camps leaving him with the feeling that “you can’t bear to live with that. You can’t be a human being when human beings have done this. You can only die. You can’t be a human.” Nordbrandt became anorexic and his psychiatrist told him that he was committing suicide – “It’s fine if you want to, but in your present condition I have to interfere,” said the psychiatrist. “It was the first time someone spoke to me like an adult,” Nordbrandt concludes. He became interested in Oriental languages through a girlfriend and they visited Greece during the military coup in 1967, forcing them to travel on to Istanbul where Nordbrandt had a nervous breakdown. These experiences made him want to study Turkish “and get away from Denmark.” In Greece he was struck with the fantastic light but in Turkey he sensed “a darkness under the surface.” Later, he discovered “that it has to do with their religion.” Moreover, Nordbrandt was fascinated by the melancholy of the Turkish music. Scandinavia, which is known for its melancholy, “can’t hold a candle to the Turkish,” Nordbrandt says.

Living in Turkey and reading their poets has shaped Nordbrandt’s poems, he says. He was interested in Nazim Hikmet, Orhan Veli, and Yunus Emre due to his “mystical approach to God.” But reading Omar Khayyam “you get the impression that God is an excuse for drinking wine.”

For Nordbrandt “writing poetry is a mixture of working on a very conscious and very unconscious level. Poetry is alive and each poem requires its own form. They make their own rules and forms.” “Being in a landscape you like and actually love is fantastic. When I am somewhere I’m not me, but I am what is around me. And I like that feeling,” Henrik Nordbrandt concludes.

Henrik Nordbrandt was born in 1945. He made his literary debut in 1966 with ‘Digte’ (Poems) and has published more than 30 collections of poetry, translated to many languages. In 1990 Nordbrandt was awarded the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize, also labelled ‘the little Nobel’.
In 2000 he was awarded the Nordic Council’s literature prize for the poetry collection ‘Drømmebroer’ (Dream Bridges).

Henrik Nordbrandt’s poems read aloud in this video are all translated by Jordy Findanis.

Henrik Nordbrandt was interviewed by Christian Lund in September 2020 at Henrik Nordbrandt’s house at the island of Møn, Denmark.

Camera: Klaus Elmer & David Schweiger

Edit: Kasper Bech Dyg

Produced by Christian Lund

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2020

Supported by C.L. Davids Fond og Samling

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