Danish Northwest/Hygge Poems from the Outskirts by Peter Graarup Westergaard

By Lynette Esposito
In Peter Graarup Westergaard’s Danish Northwest/Hygge Poems from the Outskirts, the reader is drawn into the forms and themes as easily as reading a folktale.
The volume shows the “hygge” in its various aspects as practiced in the outskirts of Denmark. The poems are a translation from a Danish dialect called thybomal. Westergaard collaborated with the Irish poet,
Mary-Jane Holmes, to bring this volume to fruition.
The tome is divided into three sections: Past, Present, and Future. The preface sets the tone by offering the history of Hygge, and, also, acknowledges English/Irish authors such as William Butler Yates, Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon as well as Danish poets Jens Peter Jacobsen, Johannes V. Jensen, Steen Steensen Blicher and Knud Sorenson. 
Westergaard says the poems in the book are seen through both the lenses of the Danish and English tradition.
The section of Past deals in thirty-four pages of poems, with things remembered such as My Father’s Farm on page three and First Love on page twenty-three.  My Father’s Farm sets a time and place and a poetic tone for this section.  It is a one-stanza poem with twelve lines and no end rhyme.  The poem sections his father’s hectares by good and bad soil and where it lies in the east and west.
            ….my father’s thirty-nine hectares
            divided almost equally between good and bad soil:
            to the west of Vilsbel Plantage lay moorland,
            to the east: dark and loamy earth his own father
The poem details the life of a man tilling infertile soil until his own body gives out and he realizes the truth that the next generation, his children, are making a different choice.  It is a powerful poem of change, not only to the past as the narrator presents it, but to the present and future.
In the second section called Present. Westergaard focuses on what is being experienced currently.  He presents nine poems including Thisted Antiquarian Bookstore on page thirty-nine.  One finds this fifteen-line three- stanza poem set in a narrative voice both engaging and sincere.
           In Thisted Antiquarian Bookstore
           in Storegade, I found some poems
           by the Chinese poet Po Chu-I.
           In his poems you don’t need
           to consider our differences.
           All over the planet you can
          watch the same sunrise–
The chosen poem from the bookstore suggests unity and equality from a simple observation/image offered to all on
a daily basis.  In this poem and in this section, the focus is on time and place as well as the disbursement and displacement of time.
In the final section, Future, Westergaard uses three poems to depict the possible loss of Hygge.  In the poem,
Losing Hygge on page 49, the reader senses the anticipation of loss.
        We can no longer avoid the white
         crepe of snow building the night
         or the way ivy twists away from itself.
         Only the right constellation of stars
         Can unbind the fog that grips us.
The images, although a bit on the negative side, work well with the concern of change.  The two-stanza poem turns into a love poem as the narrator beseeches his lover to revisit remembered and beloved locations on the Danish sandy soil.  The poem succeeds both as a suggestion of the future and a remembrance of the past.
This small volume could work well in any language.  The varied themes and images reach out and embrace the reader.
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

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