by Jae, August 10, 2010 3:50 PM
My engagement with Danish poet Inger Christensen's work was pretty limited prior to her death last year — I liked the few poems I'd read and had the recurrent recognition that I'd do well to read more. Then I encountered her 1981 work Alphabet, comprised of 14 sections, each one corresponding to the first 14 letters of the alphabet and ending pointedly on n (as in number n). Christensen structured it further by determining the length of each section according to the Fibonacci sequence, a pattern in which the next number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers (this occurs widely in nature, such as the arrangement of pine cones and sunflower heads). Under such constraints, Alphabet risks losing its lyricism, but it never does. Instead, what unfolds is an exquisite symmetry of idea and content, by way of its surprising, tactile, and ranging language and a luminously specific imagery ("cicadas exist; chicory, chromium, / citrus trees; cicadas exist; / cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum"). Beautifully realized in Susanna Nied's award-winning translation, Alphabet is an expansive but precise vision of the accreting, refracting world.