Niels Hav: In Defense of Poets [poetry from Denmark]

Hunting Lizards in the Dark

During the killings unaware
we walked along the lakes.
You spoke of Szymanowski,
I studied a rook
picking at dog shit.
Each of us caught up in ourselves
surrounded by a shell of ignorance
that protects our prejudices.

The holists believe that a butterfly in the Himalayas
with the flap of a wing can influence the climate
in Antarctica. It may be true.
But where the tanks roll in
and flesh and blood drip from the trees
that is no comfort.

Searching for truth is like hunting lizards
in the dark. The grapes are from South Africa,
the rice from Pakistan, the dates grown in Iran.
We support the idea of open borders
for fruit and vegetables,
but however we twist and turn
the ass is at the back.

The dead are buried deep inside the newspaper,
so that we, unaffected, can sit on a bench
on the outskirts of paradise
and dream of butterflies. 
© Niels Hav
Translated by P. K. Brask & Patrick Friesen

Women of Copenhagen

I have once again fallen in love
this time with five different women during a ride
on the number 40 bus from Njalsgade to Østerbro.
How is one to gain control of one’s life under such conditions?
One wore a fur coat, another red wellingtons.
One of them was reading a newspaper, the other Heidegger
- and the streets were flooded with rain.
At Amager Boulevard a drenched princess entered,
euphoric and furious, and I fell for her utterly.
But she jumped off at the police station
and was replaced by two sirens with flaming kerchiefs,
who spoke shrilly with each other in Pakistani
all the way to the Municipal Hospital while the bus boiled
in poetry. They were sisters and equally beautiful,
so I lost my heart to both of them and immediately planned
a new life in a village near Rawalpindi
where children grow up in the scent of hibiscus
while their desperate mothers sing heartbreaking songs
as dusk settles over the Pakistani plains.

But they didn’t see me!
And the one wearing a fur coat cried beneath
her glove when she got off at Farimagsgade.
The girl reading Heidegger suddenly shut her book
and looked directly at me with a scornfully smile,
as if she’d suddenly caught a glimpse of Mr. Nobody
in his very own insignificance.
And that’s how my heart broke for the fifth time,
when she got up and left the bus with all the others.
                                                   Life is so brutal!
I continued for two more stops before giving up.
It always ends like that: You stand alone
on the kerb, sucking on a cigarette,
wound up and mildly unhappy.

© Niels Hav
Translated by P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen

In Defense of Poets

What are we to do about the poets?
Life's rough on them
they look so pitiful dressed in black
their skin blue from internal blizzards.

Poetry is a horrible disease,
the infected walk about complaining
their screams pollute the atmosphere like leaks
from atomic power stations of the mind. It's so psychotic
Poetry is a tyrant
it keeps people awake at night and destroys marriages  
it draws people out to desolate cottages in mid-winter
where they sit in pain wearing earmuffs and thick scarves.
Imagine the torture.

Poetry is a pest -
worse than gonorrhea, a terrible abomination.
But consider poets it's hard for them
bear with them!
They are hysterical as if they are expecting twins
they gnash their teeth while sleeping, they eat dirt 
and grass. They stay out in the howling wind for hours
tormented by astounding metaphors.
Every day is a holy day for them.

Oh please, take pity on the poets
they are deaf and blind
help them through traffic where they stagger about
with their invisible handicap
remembering all sorts of stuff. Now and then one of them stops
to listen for a distant siren. Show consideration for them.

Poets are like insane children
who've been chased from their homes by the entire family.
Pray for them
they are born unhappy
their mothers have cried for them
sought the assistance of doctors and lawyers,
until they had to give up
for fear of loosing their own minds.
Oh, cry for the poets!

Nothing can save them.
Infested with poetry like secret lepers
they are incarcerated in their own fantasy world
a gruesome ghetto filled with demons
and vindictive ghosts.

When on a clear summer's day the sun shining brightly
you see a poor poet
come wobbling out of the apartment block, looking pale
like a cadaver and disfigured by speculations
then walk up and help him.
Tie his shoelaces, lead him to the park
and help him sit down on a bench
in the sun. Sing to him a little
buy him an ice cream and tell him a story
because he's so sad.
He's completely ruined by poetry.

Translated by P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen
© Niels Hav


You can spend an entire life
in the company of words
not ever finding
the right one.

Just like a wretched fish
wrapped in Hungarian newspapers.
For one thing it is dead,
for another it doesn't understand
© Niels Hav
Translation: P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen

My Fantastic Pen

I prefer writing
with a used pen found in the street
or with a promotional pen, gladly one from the electricians,
the gas station or the bank.
Not just because they are cheap (free),
but I imagine that such an implement
will fuse my writing with industry
the sweat of skilled labourers, administrative offices
and the mystery of all existence.

Once I wrote meticulous poems with a fountain pen
- pure poetry about purely nothing
but now I like shit on my paper
tears and snot.

Poetry is not for sissies!
A poem must be just as honest as the Dow Jones index
- a mixture of reality and sheer bluff.
What has one grown too sensitive for?
Not much.

That’s why I keep my eye on the bond market
and serious pieces of paper. The stock exchange
belongs to reality – just like poetry.
And that’s why I’m so happy about this ball point pen
from the bank, which I found one dark night
in front of a closed convenience store. It smells
faintly of dog piss, and it writes fantastically.

© Niels Hav
Translation: P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen

When I Go Blind

Love makes blind –
and every single day as the blind man
shuffles along with his cane
traffic comes to a complete stop
while God’s angels ascend and descend –
and the eye specialist closes his clinic.

Love makes blind, but sex is harmless;
there’s nothing wrong with my eyesight
I can see everything.

That’s why my love poems are such failures.
Eyes closed I whisper into the phone
and outside the train station the blind man stands,
a holy evangelist
humming in the rain
– crippled by love.

The new lovers kiss each other’s fingertips
I do know that. 
© Niels Hav - Translated by P.K. Brask

On His Blindness

Is it cheaper now, I wonder,
to write in ink, since Borges dictated
his labyrinthine tales in Buenos Aires?
The Homer of the Argentine considered words to be
symbols we share with others. “I believe abstract
aesthetics to be a vain illusion,” he wrote
in one of his prefaces, where he delighted in renouncing
originality. Almost without affectation. Only after going
blind did he make eye-contact with John Milton
in his Paradise Lost.

Love makes blind. But it took forty years!
Forty years of preliminary studies, imitation and outbursts
of rage when the dreamtiger escaped. Now and then he’d
consult oculists, each time a disappointment. He studied
Joyce, who must have loved Nora, though he never went
completely blind. Only when Alonso Quixano lost his
mind and called himself Don Quixote did he leave his
father’s library; and not until forty years after finding
love in Geneva did Borges go blind –
as blind as Beethoven was deaf!

He worked in the dark and polished his sentences
in memory until they sparkled from sheer metaphysics.
“If one is a poet, one is always a poet, and all the time
assailed by poetry.” Borges absorbed nourishment
from his misfortune and replaced the visible world
with sagas and Old English verse, thereby transforming
blindness into a gift: Only now did he come eye-level
with Homer, and only now was he able to see deep
into the dark, wide world and into the dizzying
moment that is eternity. 
© Niels Hav
Translation Martin Aitken


Isn’t it an uplifting thought
that in a few decades we
and this whole confused epoch
with its cynical presidents,
wornout arguments,
mawkish TV hosts, dim journalists,
and the complete crapitalistic jubilant choir
will be gone?    For all time!
We will disappear.
They will disappear.
I will disappear.
You will disappear.
It will all disappear.
© Niels Hav
Translated by P. K. Brask & Patrick Friesen

Sunrise in Bucharest

Blue and cloudy Sunday morning, Bucharest
6 o'clock. Will it rain or not?
The sun is burning far away in God's big factory,
no one in the streets
only that big queue waiting for sunrise or for some heavy
fantasy-newspapers filled with hope & glory
(we badly need them).
On a green motorbike Humphrey Bogart riding along
Şoseaua Kiseleff under those green tree-crowns.

Yes, I like this movie
without a leading part - only we subordinate characters
working hard on our own destiny.
At night when everything is perfectly clear
our brains are shinning, but at dawn they are almost empty,
as in those few expensive minutes in a taxi
driving through Bucharest, where I was completely lost
and at home for a few days.
If you exchange a daydream for reality
you have lost a good daydream.
And so what! Some day you will get another one
like this singular Sunday-morning-movie
shot in Bucharest, daybreak.
Everything can happen now, and it will!
From now on that filmstrip will run in my head
every time I see the weather forecast on TV.
Will it rain or not? I don't know,
but God really has to make up his mind!

© Niels Hav 

We Are Here

I got lost in a strange part of town.
All streets ran steeply upward, quick-footed people
ran by me dressed in light-coloured clothes
and looking as though they were carrying light things in their bags.
I stopped someone for directions
and immediately I stood in the middle of a clump
of friendly faces. - Where do you want to go?
I began explaining. They listened,
smiling, as if for the first time
they were hearing a dead dialect.
Then they began speaking one on top of another
and pointing in all directions.
I pulled out my map. Eagerly it was opened
and studied with interest. - Where are we?
I asked with a finger on the map.
They looked at me and as a chorus repeated my question.
Then they all broke into hearty laughter,
I laughed too, we were witnessing high
comedy. – Here, said one of them and pointed
to the ground where we stood. – We are here!

© Niels Hav
Translated by P.K. Brask & Patrick Friesen

Wittgensteins Cat

For two years Wittgenstein sat in Vienna
drawing up a house plan for his sister.
‘Whereof one cannot speak,
thereof one must be silent.’      

He tried to draw it!
And silence took the shape of a house.
So he went off to Cambridge to teach
and puzzle over the pleonasm of language.

Plagued by nonsense. ‘In this world
everything is what it is,
and everything happens as it happens.’
The cat miaows at the door.

He lets her in. 
© Niels Hav
Translated by Heather Spears

The anesthetists discuss Astronomy

The anesthetists discuss astronomy
elevating in the lift
while patients arrive in taxis
accompanied or not by family.

The universe
consists of 100 billion galaxies.
If there are sentient civilizations
on just a millionth of those planets
we are far from alone.

Outside: cold rain,

A sick person
sitting in the waiting room
among frayed magazines
with his threadbare life
has only one single prayer.

© Niels Hav - translated by P. K. Brask

* First published in A New Ulster Magazine

Niels Hav is a full time poet and short story writer living in Copenhagen with awards from The Danish Arts Council. In English he has We Are Here, published by Book Thug, and poetry and fiction in numerous magazines. In his native Danish the author of six collections of poetry and three books of short fiction. His books have been translated into several languages such as English, Arabic, Turkish, Dutch, Farsi and Chinese.
Raised on a farm in western Denmark, Niels Hav today resides in the most colourful and multiethnic part of the capital. He has travelled widely in Europe, Asia, North and South America.

In an interview Niels Hav recently says:
I'm trapped in the Latin alphabet. Even if I communicate in English, I'm still isolated from half of the world. How many alphabets are there on our planet? Nobody knows for sure, but alone Chinese, Hindi, Bengali and other Asian alphabets are used by more than one third of the planet's population. And then there is the Arabic alphabet used by a billion. Many Arab and Chinese writers have the advantage over European colleagues, they are able to handle two alphabets. I wish my ignorance wasn't so extensive.”

“... Niels Hav's We Are Here, ... brings to us a selection from the works of one of Denmark's most talented living poets and is all the more welcome for that reason...” - Frank Hugus, The Literary Review.


Shpirti vallzon në djep, Shtëpia Botuese OMSCA-1, Tirana, Albania 2016.
Şî'ri bo trisnokekan nîye (Kurdish translation), Ktebxanai Andesha, Sulaymaniyah, Irak 2016.
Al-Rooh Tarqos Fee Mahdiha, Jordanian Writers Association, Amman, Jordan 2015.
Zanhaa dar kopenhag, Botimar Publishing, Tehran 2015.
Kopenhag Kadinlari, Yasakmeyve, Turkey 2013.
GrondstofPoetry translated by Jan Baptist, Holland 2012.
Udate žene u Kopenhagenu, Bosnia 2012.
De Iraanse zomerShort stories translated by Jan Baptist, Holland 2011.
Ḥı̄na aṣı̄ru aʻmá. Poetry, Arab Scientific Publishers, Beirut 2010.
Als ik blind word, Holland 2010
De gifte koner i KøbenhavnPoetry – Jorinde & Joringel, 2009.
We Are HerePoetry translated by Patrick Friesen & P.K. Brask, Toronto 2006.
U Odbranu PesnikaPoetry translated by Tatjana Simonović & Milena Rudež, Belgrade 2008.
Grundstof. Poetry - Gyldendal, 2004.
Nenadeina Sreka. Poetry translated by Zoja Drunova. Spektar Press, Macedonia1997.
Når jeg bliver blindPoetry - Gyldendal, 1995.
God's blue MorrisPoetry translated by Patrick Friesen & P.K. Brask, Crane Editions, 1993.
Den iranske sommer. Short stories - Gyldendal, 1990.
Ildfuglen, okayPoetry - Hekla, 1987.
Sjælens Geografi. Poetry - Hekla, 1984.
Øjeblikket er en åbningShort stories - Hekla, 1983.
Glæden sidder i kroppenPoetry – Jorinde & Joringel, 1982
Afmægtighed forbudt. Short stories - Hekla, 1981.