HUTS AND SNOW-HOUSES by OLAV H. HAUGE, translated by ROBIN FULTON
[144pp, £9.95, Anvil, Neptune House, 70 Royal Hill, London SE10 8RF]
The Norwegian that Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994) wrote in was Nynorsk, as opposed
to the establishment-approved Bokmäl. The closest English equivalent between
Nynorsk and Bokmäl, I suppose, would be between BBC standard English and
Geordie; Geordie being nearest kin to the English of Caedmon. As to the
translator, Robin Fulton is the English translator of Olav H. Hauge, his own lyric/earthy
work being very much in tune with that of the celebrated Olav H. Hauge.
Indeed so celebrated is Olav H. Hauge in his native Norway that he has
his own biannual festival.
As to the poetry, it is rooted, like the language, in the one place, an orchard
in a Hardanger fjord. This makes it by no means, however, parochial. As with
John Clare, Emily Dickinson, et al; by means of the particular he plumbs the
universal. Nor was Olav H. Hauge an isolationist fruit-farming versifier: having
taught himself English, French and German, he translated Hlderlin, Trakl,
Brecht, Rimbaud, along with several other 20th century poetic luminaries.
Actually the root of his poetry, with its limpid emphasis on the natural, lies
more in various forms of Chinese and Japanese poetry. Which has one immediately
liken his work to that of William Carlos Williams. And he easily bears comparison.
Take this opening stanza from an early poem, 'Beneath the Crag':
live beneath a crag,
you sow your acre
make your roofs fast
let your children play
you lie down at night
if it wasn't there...
What makes Olav H. Hauge more than just an observational poet is that, in the
two succeeding stanzas, he speculates further on the mind-set required to go
on living beneath that crag.
Because he was a fruit farmer one has to resist the temptation to use words
like 'nurture,' 'growth' and 'pruning' in regard to his writing. What struck
me most here was the sincerity that he appeared to bring - judging by the results
- to the process of writing. And what makes this selection particularly valuable
is that it allows one to chart the development of that sincere attempt at poetry
throughout the latter half of the last century, with all the influences both
literary and political upon it. It has been difficult for me, however, to be that objective
over this selection. Many of the poems are old favourites: 'Back Home,' 'I
Have Lived Here,' 'New Year 1970', 'I Chopped Down The Big Apple Tree By The
Window,' 'How Long Have You Been Sleeping'... Some I published in The Journal
of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry. I even had Robin Fulton correct
the title of 'The Briar.' Standing
back as far as I can, though, I have to say that some of the poems are transparently
writing-for-writing's sake and can thus be off-putting. An animism, only to
be expected from a solitary life working the land, does lead occasionally to
a coy anthropomorphism. Which could easily deter the uncommitted. 'Erratic
Boulder' for instance:
most remarkable place
settle on, a bare rocky
you appreciate your success?
What does invite is the openness of the poems: one can read into them what
one will; and, often, that reading-in will differ with each reading. Many,
their very brevity not forcing a narrative, allow one to dwell contemplatively
on that one small area of print.
Of the longer, many of the better poems detail a search for metaphor; and give
up to simply report the natural, the what is, but which has included his perception
of it. There's humour too. 'Old Poet Has A Go At Being A Modernist':
too had a mind to try
got himself up,
warily like a stork.
can even count his neighbour's sheep.
The Ulvik Poesifest will be held again next year. Contact the Norwegian Embassy
for details. In the meantime acquaint yourself with Olav H. Hauge's life's