At first it was the windows of French, German and Danish books that intimidated me. I was not about to go in to any store and ask for an all-access-pass to the metropolitan literary scene.
I spent my first couple of trips nervously pacing around the shops. Placing my fingers on books with vague covers and words I didn’t understand on them. Eyeing all the walls, I realized after one trip, that I didn’t know the words for “writing” “poetry” or “meeting” in Danish. My resourcefulness led me to the reference section of one international book store, where I picked out a dictionary to assist me.
None of the posters were advertising for any meet ups in most places I went to. Lots of “Learn this language, now!” and “Book Sale next weekend” but no poesi. It was hard-pressed to get any information out of store clerks either. Most knew of some, but they were small and mostly in Danish, or had already passed/were at an unaccesible time.
One place I found a glimmer of hope was a poetry reading on a Thursday night at the infamous Copenhagen Jazz house. Although I was hesitant to pay the 50DKK (approx 10 USD) entry fee (shouldn’t art be free!?) I did anyway, and walked in. Again, intimidated by everything that was European and sophisticated, and the sheer history of this place, I sat down, alone. Ordered a drink, took out my notebook, and sat back to listen.
The attendance was small, and the readings were dramatic. While poetry has some affect based solely on it’s cadence, a lot of it is in the language and word choice. Listening to Danish poetry is like how some people describe astrophysics. You have an object behind a curtain, and you have a semi-automatic in your hand. You can’t see the object, but you can shoot at it until you think you have a clue.
I was shooting at what I understood, and not really hitting anything. Basic things I could grasp were what I was grabbing from the audience: if the laughed, it was funny. If they sighed, it was poignant. If the clapped, it was good (I think.) Never in my life have I been disinterested by poetry, but this just felt so disconnected. I felt so distant, I had to leave.
From what I heard and saw, it didn’t seem that different from what is going on the U.S. People who have written a few personal poems, suddenly think they’re the next Neal Cassady, and present their writing as such. Maybe I was being judgemental and ignorant, but the room felt stifled with names, egos and stigma. The Jazz house is a world famous venue, and all the celebrity face lining the walls would tell you so.
I don’t think I found anything real or revolutionary that night in Copenhagen. I’m not sure if there is a burgeoning writing community at all. What I did find, was a funny connection to everything else: the collective consciousnessof poets and the lingering influence of berets, bongos and Buicks driving across the countries. That even thousands of miles away, the “American Cool” is still the standard.