This is a small, vital book. It is slight yet heavy, yet uplifting. It is important. It takes something horrific and creates a peaceful beauty from it.
Harry Man and Endre Ruset have created / curated a response to the two Norwegian attacks of 22nd July 2011 – the bomb attack on government buildings in Oslo and the subsequent shootings on Utoya island, which jointly resulted in 77 deaths.
There are other texts in the book – an introduction by Ingqvild Folkvard, a Professor of Language and Literature in Norway, which helps set a social and political context to the time of the events, their aftermath, and how Norway has tried to cope with the events – as well as a conversation between Man and Ruset, on the inception and realisation of the book. Folkvard’s section includes the following:
“Endre Ruset’s Norwegian poem “Projectile”…first published as a little black book with silver letters that mark the title on the cover. Like a holy text, I thought, when I first received it and tried to relate to it. It focusses on the act of violence, but significantly…does so without letting the perpetrator come to the fore. The clinical description of how a fired bullet or “projectile” travels through body tissue, bones and organs is based on the forensic reports from the trial…(it) is confrontational, the poem goes to the core of what such violence is, the destruction of one person by another.“
Later, we are told that this poem is now a standard text at Norwegian Universities.
Here Ruset’s poem is placed in the centre of the book, flanked on either side by a selection from the 69 so-called “face poems” by Man. There is something about these poems – the words are arranged to resemble faces…they are almost poetic daguerreotypes, and given the context I can’t help thinking of the Hiroshima shadows. These poems contrast with Ruset’s brutal confrontation; some are gentle, considering the lives of the victims, others discuss butterflies and moths that live in the area, a fairground ride, and the gunfire is sometimes whispered – but they never hide the truth of what has been done. There are so many quotable lines (see below for a few), the only sadness is that I can’t reproduce how they are arranged on the page – you’ll have to buy the book.
“Meanwhile a burnet moth, a ribbon of blood, travels from flower to flower.”
“In a drenched pullover. Trying / to be still. Flecks of rain dew a / crushed mobile screen, crushed glass / es. We hide behind a rock.“
“Grief is a clock.“
“…and I could have sworn I / could hear the creak of a swan manoeuvring / through the fog, calling sharply / through the mist like an amb / ulance siren…“
While one of the most hard-hitting poems simply lists the places “she was…”, and finishes:
“She was in the woods east of Skolestua. She was at Stoltenberg Rock. She was at Bolsjevika. She was in the area by the Pump House. She was at the water’s edge.”
The book deploys quiet grace and dignity as it lands its punch. It is a fitting response in that it does not ask for revenge, or changes to legislation, but instead asks us to reflect on what has been lost, these (mainly) young individuals, while not being shy about the violence unleashed.
Available from Hercules Editions: https://www.herculeseditions.com (which I notice is having a 50% sale at the moment)