All night long I participate in a quiz show, wake up

by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen, translating from the Danish by Ulrikka S. Gernes



ALL NIGHT LONG I PARTICIPATE IN A QUIZ SHOW, WAKE UP
before it airs, live, exhausted as if having just run
a marathon I must yet again reconsider
my life, moored to the rainbow; a little later
I’m on the train to Herlev as though that’s the solution;
the woman on the seat across from mine speaks Uzbek
loudly into her cellphone; outside the station an older
couple is handing out The Watchtower, for free they say
and refuse to take my coin; concrete, graffiti, a heavy
puff of hawthorn, I kick a fir cone quite a ways
down Violinvej, I’m travelling through space,
Earth’s rules of play appear to me immensely
provincial, especially regulations concerning
parking; my vessel has been confiscated, and I’m
lost without you.

Notes on the Poem

Over the next seven weeks, our Poem of the Week choices will be taken from the just announced 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. The first poem is "All night long I participate in a quiz show, wake up", which is the first line of a poem originally composed in Danish by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated into English by collaborating Canadian poet/translators Per Brask and Patrick Friesen. The judges' citation for Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, the collection from which this poem comes, makes observations perfectly suited to this specific poem: "[the poems] have gathered an extra layer of strangeness which suits their dream-like, mutable, almost anonymous voice ... The world of the poems is twilit, borderless, melancholy, associative, seeping ... Full of arresting detail and quiet everyday language ..." This poem is indeed surreal, yet delivered in a weary ("exhausted as if having just run / a marathon"), matter-of-fact manner that makes details individually seem straightforward enough, but in sequence and cumulatively very odd. Intriguingly, this is strikingly consistent with this discussion of Surrealism from a compendium of information on artistic movements: "Although the dream is a very strange phenomenon and an inexplicable mystery, far more inexplicable is the mystery and aspect our minds confer on certain objects and aspects of life." The arrangement of those seemingly mundane "objects and aspects of life" holds incongruous surprises, from someone on the train talking on her phone to glimpses of concrete and graffiti to ... oh my ... all of a sudden, we're travelling through space. However circuitously, though, we're always brought back to something fundamental, as we're brought up with our heart pounding to the plaintive, touching last line of this poem.

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