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Nanna Storr-Hansen LYNGTARM (2019)


‘Lyngtarm’ means nothing in Danish. Literally translated, ‘heather bowel’; readers of Danish literature may recall Olga Ravn’s ’Jeg æder mig selv som lyng’ (‘I eat myself like heather’), but would do better to think of Ravn’s ‘Den hvide rose’, a story of illness and ambiguous recovery figured only through the transformations of the ‘white rose’ motif. With compliments to the publisher, at first sight, ‘Lyngtarm’ has the charm of a cheap school exercise book. Brief Skeltonic columns list down otherwise bare double page spreads; it’s the kind of thing a young woman might use to write her thoughts in as she convalesces on a hospital ward, while the thin card cover, heather-pink, is discreetly wrapped into the volume, and once spotted, can be unwound and slipped free. ‘Lyngtarm’ is Nanna Storr-Hansen’s expression for a medical condition known in English as volvulus, where an abnormal twisting of the intestines can snag and stop the flow of matter. Not reducible to metaphor or analogy, if the Earth is heather, we are both its consumers and that which is consumed. In ‘Lyngtarm’, the sharp lines of institutional architecture arise from the landscape like an embossed scar, while our bodies are just ‘cradles of organs’ for the medical staff. And volvulus? …et organ som snor sig en knyttet hånd en hård hånd en sno som vil ud med galden tårne sig op bygge en arm af tarme […an organ which winds itself into a knotted fist a hard hand a coil which wants to get out with the bile towering up building an arm of intestine] Post-Romantic, nature is the alien substrate we can’t live without; but no good pretending it’s our friend, and hubris to imagine that the operational scars won’t show. Every bed is a deathbed if you think about it hard enough, and that goes for our bodies too. Why then do we want our poet to have suffered? ‘Lyngtarm’ is written in an ingenuous everyday register and its deft literary effects never step out of a young woman’s point of view. A mawkish line about getting married is sharply undercut by our knowledge that she’s being anesthetised; and the horror and shame a young woman might feel for her body once an invasive operation has left its mark evokes genuine pathos: Jeg vil ikke vise mig for nogen Jeg vil aldrig åbne mig igen Jeg skal blive en forbandet skal [I won’t show myself to anyone I will never open myself again I shall be a cursed shell’] Will she be a shell (‘skal’), fragile, empty, but within which life grows, or a bowl ('skål'), tough, containing, un-pierceable and defiant? Like love itself, whatever that is, we are wrapped around bodies whose filth we would prefer not to see. But life doesn’t give us that choice. In ‘Lyngtarm’, Nanna Storr-Hansen meditates on the role of blindness in nature, which, like Blake's invisible worm, bores into our destiny without much thought or eloquence. In the process, she finds both beauty and suffering in unlikely sources, a urine bag held aloft on its stand like a battle-flag, a tangle of caring hands like a hail of nails. Who can recover more? From what's gathered here, Nanna Storr-Hansen is in great health.


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