• Country in which the text is set
  • Impact

    In an essay published in 1963, the German writer Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, someone well versed in Nordic literature as a result of his years spent in Norway, characterized Rifbjerg as “Gulliver in Copenhagen”, because he had freed himself “from the bonds of the Lilliputians”, from the fussy poetry of 1940s Denmark and its reluctance to engage with reality. Rifbjerg’s work provides a conduit for modernism to enter Danish poetry.  His first book of poetry In Search of Myself (Under vejr med mig selv), published in 1956, presents a poetic voice that is self-confident and forward-looking. The collection represented a clear watershed, a kind of challenge thrown out to what had preceded it. “He has described how he consciously circumvented prevailing tendencies—and carved out his own path with his first book.” (Jørgen Gustava Brandt and Asger Schnack, 80 moderne danske digtere. Præsentation & Portræt, Copenhagen 1988).

    By 1973, when Rifbjerg brought out the volume of poetry Scener fra det daglige liv (Scenes from Daily Life), this path had been clearly established. Nevertheless, in the poem Makrel (Mackerel) his initial boisterousness is still present, perhaps in an even more pronounced form. The elegant schooling fish wants to go higher, out of the underworld.“Mackerel is a dual exposure, both fish and human being, a being functionally formed for escape, lazy, narcissistic, rapacious. The city is experienced as the sea floor with diverse kinds of living nutrition. The mackerel-subjective narrator is always hungry, never replete, the member of a species with bared teeth and a mouth that never closes. The poem moves within a tension between a truculent, cranky lethargy and sudden action (…) Mackerel is a slang word for pimp. Do you recognize him now? He is the poet, who is living in a world of consumption and then suddenly breaks with the feeling of complacent inadequacy, smashes through the mirror, creating himself in a moment of liberation. From the underworld of life to freedom of action. The emptiness, the nothingness down there, is here more closely defined in connection with a type of species.” (Torben Brostrøm, Klaus Rifbjerg. En digter i tiden, Copenhagen 1991.)

    As early as 1960, in the collection Konfrontation, Rifbjerg stated in the poem Life in the Bathroom (Livet i badeværelset), “I want to be needed /am needed”. He goes on to state, “I am not for clinging to./Catch me/and I disappear in the water/slip away like a fish”. In the form of the mackerel he is confronting himself.

  • Balticness

    It is highly unlikely that a school of mackerel would stray into the Baltic Sea, since mackerel live in the North Sea and have their breeding grounds there. When Rifbjerg chooses this fish as the protagonist of his poem in order to reflect himself in it, this is certainly because word in Danish also denotes a pimp. What he means here is a person who lives parasitically from the work of others. However, the poet wants to be integrated, wants his art to be needed. And he is self-confident enough to say: I am needed. Whether in the North Sea or the Baltic Sea is irrelevant.                              

    Lutz Volke

  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    German 1991 Lutz Volke
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication
    Copenhagen: Gyldendal

Baltic Sea Library. All rights Reserved.