Thursday, February 16, 2012


Dag T. Straumsvåg 

I have recently discovered the fascinating poetry of the Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåg, author of A Bumpy Ride to the Slaughterhouse and The Lure-Maker from Posio.  It is such a pleasure to welcome Dag and thank him for generously agreeing to answer a few questions... 

Dear Dag, reading your work I had the feeling that your poems oscillate between painting and poetry—how do they appear to you as you create them?

I like to start a new poem with something ordinary, something familiar, a man eating breakfast in his kitchen, for instance—and then give it a nudge. Suddenly the man is mystified, confused, trapped in something he doesn't know what is. What happens now? At this point I am as confused as he is, I don’t know where the poem is going. It is my favorite part of the writing process. Anything can happen, and you think that you may be able to lift this ordinary scene into something extraordinary. A moment later the poem usually collapses in front of my eyes, of course. On the few occasions it doesn't, I try to finish the first draft as fast as I can. Then I start revising it, working on the language, the colors, filling in details, etc. So, yes, I think you are right, there is a resemblance between this way of writing and the way a painter works, and that it also may show in the finished poem.

What has been your trajectory as a poet/writer?

I started writing poems around 1990. My brother gave me a little book with ancient Chinese poems, and I was hooked. So I started reading and writing incessantly, and to my surprise, got a book of verse poems published in 1999. I wasn’t happy with it, though, and kept looking for other ways and forms of writing. When I discovered the prose poem, things just “clicked.” Its mix of poetry and prose was just what I was looking for. It is also a form that is often frowned upon in literary circles, which suits me fine. It gives me a feeling of freedom to be on the outside of what is considered good taste. The prose poem is still in many ways unknown territory, it hasn’t been surveyed like the verse poem has been, it hasn’t been institutionalized yet. It is a good place to be, there is a lot more exploring to do, I hope. That keeps me moving forward. Also, the prose poem is a good place to re-introduce the fable, the story, the short narrative, to poetry. In modern times, academia seems to have built an artificial wall between the poem and the story. Maybe the prose poem can help tearing down that wall. Probably not, but wouldn’t it be nice if it did?

Who is your ideal reader?

The one who doesn’t run away at the sight of a book of poems!

What other writers inspire you?

The Scandinavian poets Olav H. Hauge and Tomas Tranströmer have been very important to me, and still are. I love the work of Russell Edson, James Tate, the short prose pieces of Kafka, Daniil Kharms, the prose poems of Jean Follain and Max Jacob. Just to mention a few. And I always go back to the ancient Chinese poets.

Tell us a funny story from your school years.

I can’t think of any particular story that stands out. Bits and pieces from my childhood are scattered around in my poems, though. In general, my life has been quite uneventful. I guess that’s why I make up stories for my poems.

Your poems stopped me in my tracks because although they are highly original and so pure, they reminded me violently of Daniil Kharms. What is your relationship with his work?

I hadn’t read anything by Kharms at the time I wrote the Bumpy Ride poems. Believe it or not. However, I have always been attracted to the absurd realism of East European writing, the dark humor, the close relationship between tragedy and comedy. So there is a connection there. When I started reading Kharms a couple of years later, he blew my mind. A truly original writer, one of the great ones. I think there are a couple of poems directly inspired by Kharms in my new book, The Lure-Maker from Posio.

What was the inspiration for the stories in A Bumpy Ride to the Slaughterhouse?

Nothing in particular, but in general I get inspired by everyday events. It can be anything, bits of conversations I overhear, the contents of a drawer I haven’t opened in years, fables, folk tales. Nature, and especially the landscape where I grew up, is always a source of inspiration. I love poems that start with something funny and end with something heartbreaking—or vice versa. As I get older, I am starting to realize that pretty much anything can be heartbreaking and funny, so I am not looking for it anymore. I trust that if I keep on writing, it will appear by itself.

Tell us about Dag the person... who are you, what amuses you?

There isn’t much to tell. I lead a boring and uneventful life. I get up in the morning to write and go to bed at night, frustrated with what I have written... That’s about it. As for what amuses me, I have to say people. All the silly things we do and say during the cause of a day.

How do you promote your work?

Like most poets, I hardly promote my work at all, except for the occasional reading here and there. It is embarrassing how little I do to promote my work. Luckily for me, Robert Hedin and Louis Jenkins, who have translated my poems into English, keep sending my work to journals all over the US, as well as publishing my poems in books. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

Many thanks, Dag!  Thank you for generously sharing with your readers two poems (Dr. Alfred and Urho Sariainen) from your latest book, The Lure-Maker from Posio, published by Red Dragonfly Press.     


He came down with this disease, a small disease, but it was all he had. His parents were dead, his friends gone. At first he was reserved. Then he noticed the disease had social skills that he lacked himself. People opened up when they visited, talked more. He cared for the disease with a loving hand, carried it with him wherever he went. He watched it grow into a strain no one had ever seen before, and he blossomed at the attention they got. Then the disease grew stronger, took more and more control. It participated in TV-debates, went out on the town alone. “Only specialists will be there, you wouldn’t understand a thing.” Late one night the disease told him they had to talk. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you and I have grown apart. I’m moving in with Dr. Alfred. You remember Alfred? We’ve been seeing each other secretly for several months. We’re so good together.”

Translated by Robert Hedin
from The Lure-Maker from Posio, Red Dragonfly Press, 2011


“Do you like fishing?” I ask Urho Sariainen, the fabled eighty-year old lure-maker from Posio, who has honored our town this summer with a visit. A pioneer in the field, he began working with traumatized lures in the early 70's—lures with rusty hooks in their mouths, fins all torn off, gills slashed, eyes reflecting advanced paranoia and depression, faces frozen in fear only encounters with death can cause. “Fishing’s no picnic,” the old master says, scratching a one-eyed Rapala on its belly.

Translated by Robert Hedin
from The Lure-Maker from Posio, Red Dragonfly Press, 2011

"Cînd te văd" by Gabriela Popa