Finding a common ground of human-ness through poetry drives Danish poet Claus Ankersen…
Is poetry the preserve of only the truly gifted? Or, can there be a space in which the performance of poetry draws the poet and the listeners together through shared meaning? Claus Ankersen, active in the world of spoken word poetry in Denmark, speaks of the counter-culture of poetry performance in Denmark, the transcendence of barriers of cultural identity through poetic performance, and more.... ‘For me it has been humbling to meet people here in India; the level of education is incredibly high. In the West we know so little about India; there is very little idea about the diversity of cultures here,' he says.
Have you always been fascinated with ancient cultures?
Mystery, insight…wisdom…basically intense curiosity….the desire, I wouldn't say for knowledge, but for insight, draw me to ancient civilisations, I think. The desire to understand another place…what are we doing here? Do we know each other? When we talk to other writers about what inspires us, we discover that we're all the same…it's from the same palette of wondering that we all spring from.
But how does this instinct translate into poetry, into words?
Karl Popper speaks of contexts of discovery …it helps to be as less reflective as you possibly can in order for the channelling to take place; to have a distance from your work. Sometimes it just flows, and in this way I think the poetry has a life of its own. Sometimes it takes minutes, seconds, or even hours.
Can you give an instance when poetry came pouring out…
Well, no…I don't memorise my poems …I had to write ‘Cats' when I was in Egypt because there were cats everywhere…in the streets, in homes, in the temples…a bit like the temple monkeys in India. And I have a mask fetish; I try on a variety of animal masks … a cat mask, I tried a pig, sheep, tiger...and I found that an elephant mask suited me the most! When you put on the mask, you are an animal with a human body, instead of the other way round. That is the power of the animal.
What's your take on the democratisation of poetry?
Yes ...people seem to enjoy the experience of literature and sharing poetry is not the same as reading in your room; on the other hand reading in your room is not the same as sharing poetry. The performance of live literature...this direct meeting between the artist and the audience and the interaction in which the text is also formed anew every time...that's a dynamic and perspective that is unparalleled. This exchange of energy and flow is part of the charm and for me, as a performance artist, is a very...giving thing. A lot of times you get an intense response from the audience which you don't get when you write crime novels for instance...
You are actively involved in Poetry Slam in Denmark. Can you say a little about what it's all about?
I am not. I am actively involved in the Danish spoken word scene. But I can tell you about poetry slam.
Poetry slam is spoken word in a competitive form...it's a competition with strict rules about how long you can perform what you can and cannot do on stage, it is a competitive sport, it is about winning. The whole notion of spoken word or performance poetry as such has got rules that you can trace to the oral tradition basically; but more recently in the beat generation it was more a rebellion against a form. In Denmark, the performance of poetry was against this very modernist way of reciting poetry, where it was believed that it was as intonation-less as possible, which created an environment that was boring and pushed people away from it. Poetry can be appreciated by everybody and is not only an exchange between the extremely gifted. The other good thing about the spoken word scene that is getting more and more popular, I think, is that it attracts an audience that would probably not read or write poetry otherwise. Perhaps some of them will start to read more of it.
You work with other artistic mediums too. What other projects have you worked on?
Yes...we should all play with different mediums and expression should yield to intention we cannot limit ourselves with the idea that ( intones) ‘I'm a poet and should do only poetry' ...we are humans, wondrous beings, and can do what we want. ...The act of writing needs a lot of solitude...not loneliness but solitude...as a writer you have to be comfortable in your own company. You go from the extremes of solitude to outward expression. Working in a film was a very nice experience for me...I've also been doing some radio and visual exhibits. We created a paraphrase of the urban experience by installing tableaus, and on the other side there were mirrors... so you would see reflections of yourself as you walked passed. So I had different projects like that.