What Does Poetry Mean To Me?

All my life I’ve been struck by two things:

  1. How poetry can bring people together through the power of shared experiences, and express terribly difficult things in an easy to understand way.
  2. How little people care about poetry.

Quite often, when I’ve tried to talk to people about my poetry, I’ve been met with reactions ranging from: “Get a life” to “Aargh!” The latter was my mother, one time I asked her to proofread one of my collections.

Poetry – one of the oldest and proudest forms of art as well as written communication – is being sneered at and ignored by the majority population these days.

It saddens me deeply. And it does sometimes hurt, to hear something with such deep and ancient roots being written off as a “hobby”. I don’t see it as a hobby. I’ve always seen myself as simply one small link in a very long chain of poets going all the way back to antiquity. Passing on a proud, old tradition. But I’ve also learnt the hard way, that most people barely even know that poetry exists today, and certainly don’t care to either hear or read any.

How I Discovered Poetry

It was my first year in high school, and I was sitting through the boring, endless Danish lessons with a very dry and boring teacher. Who insisted that we should read certain modernist poets as part of the curriculum.

I’ve always been an avid reader, but usually didn’t have any interest in the stuff we were asked to read at school. It was as if teachers were all afflicted with terrible taste. And I always kind of felt that the over-analyzing of every detail of a text was ridiculous. If the writers had thought all the thoughts that we were asked to think during the analysis, they would’ve never had time to write the text in the first place! So why even bother?

However, this particular day, I encountered two poems that would change my world forever.

The first was Gustaf Munch-Petersen’s “to my parents”. It spoke to me directly. Everything I had dimly thought about how my life was, compared to the lives of my parents, and how much had changed since they were my age, and how little use I had for their well-meant but worthless advice, was laid out right there on the paper. Expressed a lot better than I ever could have. And about 80 years before my time.

I couldn’t believe it. And to this day, Gustaf Munch-Petersen is a huge source of inspiration for me. I’ve translated all of his poems into English (starting with “to my parents”), and through him, I also encountered Edith Södergran who is perhaps my favourite poet of all time, and whose influence on my writing is undeniable.

Gustaf Munch-Petersen taught me that poetry transcends time and place. That poetry can speak through time, and communicate universal truths in a form that can be understood by everybody. That poetry can bring people together who are otherwise far apart in either time or location.

And perhaps it was that newfound understanding that brought the next significant poem directly into my heart as well. It was Tove Ditlevsen, one of the most well-known Danish poets. Her poem was like a snapshot in time, and a time I hadn’t live in, and therefore had no feelings for. It was deeply personal, detailing her childhood and the deterioration of her parents’ relationship. Nothing I had any personal experience with. And yet it brought me to tears. Her choice of words, and the simple ballad form in which it was presented. The rhymes. The images it brought to my head.

I can still recite that poem, despite not having read it since. It just imprinted itself on my brain that day.

Tove Ditlevsen taught me, that poetry doesn’t have to communicate something universal. That poetry can be deeply personal, and sharing the emotion and the specific place and time and the feelings surrounding it, so that someone else far removed from it can feel the same, and share in the moment.

And since that day, I have been writing poetry. It just seemed inevitable. I had – after all – discovered that every human had the potential for communicative super powers. And I certainly wanted in on that.

It did take some years before I became even remotely able to harness those powers myself of course, but that doesn’t matter. Writing poetry always felt more meaningful to me than anything else I could have spent my time on. And even to this day it remains at the top of my priority list. My favourite means of working through tough times, conversing with my history and pondering my future – reaching out to people long gone or yet to exist – exploring places and times I could never reach otherwise – and just, generelly speaking, sharing my knowledge and experience with the world.

Finding Readers in the 21st Century

I did meet some quite serious obstacles right from the outset though. Nobody else seemed to realize that they had the collective knowledge of humanity, and the ability to communicate them, right at their fingertips.

And nobody wanted to read anything I wrote.

I reached out to a couple of friends on Facebook, asking them if they could proofread my first poetry collection (that has long since been minced and sliced and mixed up in newer collections). The results were terrifying. I got unfriended by several, and the rest “didn’t have time”.

I asked my mother if she would read it. She said: “Argh!” and turned away.

I cried a little.

It was very difficult for me, at the time, as an emotionally vulnerable teenager, to understand why nobody seemed to care about something that was so paramount to me.

And technically speaking, I still don’t get it. 😂

But I resorted to my final option: The Internet! The beautiful place, where all of humanity’s knowledge is shareable – hidden beneath a thick cloak of cat videos and conspiracy theories. Since nobody I actually knew seemed interested in reading my poetry, perhaps I could find readers online.

I started out submitting a few poems at forums and author websites. I got an OK response. Certainly better than the quality of my then poetry merited. But it was very welcome, considering how disheartened I had been by the reactions from friends and family.

And the next logical step was to make a website for myself. Obviously. So this website (yes, the one you’re currently on) became a reality in September 2011. I will always remember that month. I was going through a very rough time in my life, and the creation of the first verion of Fjordscene Poetry was literally the only good thing going on in my life at the time. As an added bonus, my difficulties also made me write a lot of poetry, and thereby generate a lot of content for the site, which again brought readers. So for once, I came into contact with a readership like I’d always wanted. People read my poems, commented on them. Told me how deeply moved they’d felt by them. What in particular they’d been touched by, and why.

It was a glorious time. But it was not to last.

The internet very quickly disappeared behind social media giants like Facebook. And all other content became Second Class. My readers disappeared – for the most part. And writing poetry felt lonelier than ever. But it was also at this time that my translations of Gustaf Munch-Petersen and (especially) Edith Södergran were starting to get noticed. I was approached by several companies who wanted to use them for advertising, voiceover and the likes. And finally, I received an email from the London Philharmonic Choir, who wanted to use my Edith Södergran translations in their World War I memorial concert.

It was probably the crowning moment of my poetic aspirations. I couldn’t believe it.

And here I am. At the end of it all. This website is still going strong. With a newer design and a better server infrastructure and more secure than it was when it started out in 2011. But with the same content history. With the same agenda. And a very determined poet at the helm.

Poetry is not dead. It is just not being shown the respect it deserves at this time in history. But I feel positive for the future of poetry. I’ve said from the outset, that the format of poetry is perfect for eBooks, and for online publishing in general. I still think that is the case. And combining that with spoken word festivals and Poetry Slam… Well, I think we’re just starting to see the contours of a poetic rennaisance. I don’t normally consider myself optimistic, but this is one thing I’m fairly positive about.

Poetry has a place in the world – and will continue to have one in the future. It has changed shape, content and meaning over time, and it will continue to do so, but it is definitely not going anywhere.

And neither am I.

After all, the world needs more poetry. It just doesn’t realize it. 😉

I am happy to finally have the time to work on this site again, and provide you with some quality content – both poetry, translations and articles. I am excited to finally be able to do that. Trust me, I’ve longed for the opportunity.

I hope you’ll tag along for the ride.

Comments and suggestions are appreciated – as always. So let me know if there’s any content you’d especially like me to add to this site, and I’ll take it into consideration.

Published By: K-M Skalkenæs

Danish poet, writer and painter. Writings include her own original poetry in English and Danish, and translations of poetry from the Scandinavian languages and German into English.

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