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LEAF 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 Hšlderlin, 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':

                  You live beneath a crag,
                  knowing you do.
                  But you sow your acre
                  and make your roofs fast
                  and let your children play
                  and you lie down at night
                  as 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:

                  A most remarkable place
                  to settle on, a bare rocky
                  slope, poised over
                  the cliff-drop.
                  Don't 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':

                  He too had a mind to try
                  these new stilts.
                  He's got himself up,
                  steps warily like a stork.
                  Remarkable, how far-sighted.
                  He 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 work.

                  © Sam Smith 2003