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The three novels «Innsirkling» (2007), «Innsirkling 2» (2010) and «Innsirkling 3» (2014) by Carl-Frode Tiller form a trilogy. «Innsirkling» presents the story of David told by his stepfather and two childhood friends, after David himself has lost his memory and been institutionalised. In «Innsirkling 2» there are three new persons who tell us about David. In the last book the reader meets David himself. An intense drama from rural Norway. Tiller does not present a glamorised picture of life in the country, but a family drama and a traumatic childhood. Village life can also be challenging.
The three novels «Innsirkling» (2007), «Innsirkling 2» (2010) and «Innsirkling 3» (2014) by Carl-Frode Tiller form a trilogy. «Innsirkling» presents the story of David told by his stepfather and two childhood friends, after David himself has lost his memory and been institutionalised. In «Innsirkling 2» there are three new persons who tell us about David. In the last book the reader meets David himself. An intense drama from rural Norway. Tiller does not present a glamorised picture of life in the country, but a family drama and a traumatic childhood. Village life can also be challenging.

Norwegian Nynorsk fiction 2000–2015: It’s possible to write in the everyday as well (English)

In the early 21 century the writers attempt to make their novel characters, their lyrical poetry and the ideas in the essayism free of the successful everyday. The body, media and society and “happyland” Norway are themes that recur.

Norwegian version

Feeling of alienation in everyday life

In much of the lyrical poetry in the 2000s, attention is turned to life histories, biographical elements and actual events, where for example Olav Gisle Øvrebø writes in Barn som leikar (2011) about the two young boys in Liverpool who murdered a two-year-old, or when Hildegunn Dale in Armane mine handlingar (2011) writes about a wave power station that has been destroyed. In Vårar seinare (2014) Anna Kleiva describes how her home place Vinstra was affected by the deaths in road accidents of two children within a short space of time in 2003. Ruth Lillegraven writes in Manilahallen (2014) about the first woman in Norway who publically spoke about her problems with anorexia. This is documentary and biographical poetry that touches very closely on everyday life.  

The literature seems to point in two directions: towards the world one is writing about and towards the written work itself. When one orientates oneself in the direction of the language, one becomes preoccupied with other literature, with the meta-level in one’s own texts, with films one has seen, with social media, with the whole force of the media world. And then it changes direction; exactly that insight into the fact that there is and always will be a gap between language and reality creates a hunger for a new reality. The authors get tired of the meta-perspective and seek something genuine and authentic.

Exactly that question about a good or an evil everyday life has become an important theme in the most recent literature. Norwegian authors are without a doubt part of a humdrum grey Norwegian daily routine. Literature provides a framework for this tension: the literary project often involves liberating yourself from the comfortable everyday life, which has become a cage or a form of anaesthetic for the characters. Even the actual language that describes the familiar has become fake.

The linguistic change of direction in academia brought with it criticism of advertising, ideologies and power-governed discourses of various types. The secure daily routine coincides with the clichés about life. There are elements in this that are reminiscent of the 1950s’ criticism of the empty superficial life of the suburbs, what Marie Takvam calls an «eighty square metres life». Many of the most highly profiled writers since the millennium focus on these issues.

Updates from «happyland»

Bergljot Kaslegard. Photo: Magnus Kaslegard, used as portrait of the author by publishers Tiden Norsk Forlag. Used by agreement with the pubishers.

Bergljot Kaslegard. Photo: Magnus Kaslegard, used as portrait of the author by publishers Tiden Norsk Forlag. Used by agreement with the pubishers.

In the literature from the 2000s there is a tension between the real and unreal. As Rut puts it in Ruts bok (2012, Bergljot Kaslegard, then Nordal): « I want to be something more.» Marta Norheim has published the second edition of «rough guide to contemporary literature» entitled Updates from «happyland» (2017). On several occasions, Norway has been rated the best country in the world to live in, measured by economy, access to education, social security and the like. However, the literature describes a longing away from all this, a feeling that the real life must lie somewhere else.

The «diagnosis» is then that the secure, comfortable life is an unreal life, an 80 or 180-square metre life. An awareness of this comes to us through both the criticism of the language and the experience of everyday life.

This search for something real and valuable in all that is negative seems to characterise contemporary literature. Not simply in the apocalyptic books, which describe a world in the throes of or after its annihilation – like Jan Roar Leikvoll’s Fiolinane (2010) or Kjersti Wøien Håland’s Dommedøgn (2016) – but also in other books there are many examples of attempts to reach reality by way of the extreme.

Agnes Ravatn has made a name for herself both as a novelist and as an essayist. In the latter role she has provided sharp, humorous and original analyses of contemporary society. She writes with insight about Norwegian weekly magazines as well as about the works of Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, and when she switches her focus (and address) from city to countryside, she blithely distances herself from both. In the novel Fugletribunalet (2013) Ravatn experiments with the thriller genre and with clichés about the urban and the rural. TV-star Allis Hagtorn takes a position as housekeeper and gardener for the mysterious Sigurd Bagge. The background story is satirical and comments on contemporary life: Allis runs away from a widely published scandal at Norwegian Broadcasting House (sex with the camera running). The satire, however, is replaced by an increasing uneasiness and foreboding, for Bagge possesses darker secrets than she does. The idyllic fjord landscape is not a framework for a story about how good it is to live in the countryside, but is laden with menace.

Excerpt from Fugletribunalet

Eg lukka porten lydlaust bak meg, gjekk over tunet og opp dei få trinna til ytterdøra. Ingen opna då eg banka på, eit lite søkk gjekk i meg. Eg sette veskene frå meg på trappa, gjekk ned og følgde steinhellene som låg som ein sti rundt huset. På framsida opna landskapet seg. Fiolette fjell med spreidde snøflekker kvilte på andre sida av fjorden. Krattskog omkransa eigedomen på begge sider. 
      Han stod nede i hagen ved nokre slanke tre, ein lang rygg i ein mørkeblå ullgenser. Han kvapp då eg ropte hallo. Snudde seg, helsa med ei hand og gjekk mot meg i tunge støvlar over den gulgrå marka. Eg drog pusten. Eit ansikt og ein kropp i førtiåra ein stad, han såg ikkje ut til å vere det minste pleietrengande. Eg maskerte overraskinga med eit smil og tok nokre steg imot han. Han var grovbygd og mørk. Såg meg ikkje rett inn i augo, men forbi då han strekte ut neven. 
      Sigurd Bagge.
      Allis Hagtorn, sa eg og trykte den store handa hans lett. Ingenting i blikket hans vitna om at han drog kjensel på meg. Kanskje var han berre god til å spele.

Excerpt from Agnes Ravatn: Fugletribunalet. Det Norske Samlaget 2013. 

The body in contemporary literature

One theme that clearly stands in the field of tension between the unreal and the real is contemporary literature’s focus on the body. When the demands of life become too great, the only reality is the body. It is precisely the body that is often the focus for the modern striving for identity. All the media, not least the social media, help to form the ideal image of how the body should look. It is also a fact that young people today spend a great deal of time in the company of their computer and mobile phone, and less with their friends, and there the strict body ideals are communicated unceasingly. But some of those who have experienced this pressure have spoken out on social media. Several young writers who write about the body and performance anxiety first talked about the topic on social media. In these books the problem is not a boring everyday routine; it is often a dramatic struggle for survival.

Mette Karlsvik made her debut with Vindauga i matsalen vender mot fjorden (2005), where she captures the mood of that vulnerable phase in life between child and adult. The main character wants to stop what is happening, does not want to grow up and refuses to eat. The head that does not wish the body to grow does not simply focus attention on illness, but also on what lies beneath: loneliness, fear for the future and a longing to be loved.

Eirik Ingebrigtsen addresses the great existential questions involving family, ageing, illness and death. Ingebrigtsen portrays people in the midst of demanding life situations, in which family members need care and help, and who are not able to tackle this responsibility. The reader is drawn the whole time between sympathy and distance.

 Perhaps this way of writing can be seen as an ethical reaction to the many representations of the family as a prison; an attempt to show that it is precisely in the family that the fundamental questions of life manifest themselves; issues like love, caring and empathy. In no way is it an idyll, all the time it is ambiguous situations that are depicted. A different picture of a family is to be found in the work of Brit Bildøen. She has a distinctive, muted but at the same time astute tone to her language, far removed from the penchant for the melodramatic that characterises some of the family novels written in Norwegian Bokmål around the turn of the century (Knausgård, Renberg). But she is up close to the drama both in the small and larger forma

Excerpt from Sju dagar i august

Berre dei to. Otto og ho. Og spørsmålet ho alltid prøvde å flykte unna. Ho hadde blitt flink til å tenke utan å tenke, ho hadde øvd på det i årevis. Men iblant tvinga spørsmålet seg fram, og i det snikande morgonlyset lista det seg igjen inn på henne. Skulle dei blitt buande i huset der Marie hadde levd saman med dei? Da dei tok valet, stod det heilt klart for Sofie at ho ikkje ville halde ut å leve ein stad med så mange minne. Det betydde at ho måtte flytte frå huset der dotter hennar hadde sprunge, sove, leika, ete, skrike, sunge. Sofie støtta seg mot bokhylla, dunka panna lett mot bokryggane. Framleis ville ho insistere på at ho tok det valet ho måtte ta. Det betydde ikkje at det ikkje var smertefullt. Det betydde ikkje at ikkje såra blei rivne opp, nesten kvar einaste dag. No sist da ho skulle fylle ut eit skjema der eit av spørsmåla var om ho hadde barn. Ho hadde berre blitt ståande og stire på skjemaet, ikkje klart å gjere det ferdig. To rubrikkar å krysse av, nei eller ja. Det var ingen der ho kunne spørje. Og kva skulle ho i tilfelle spørje om? Sei meg, har eg barn? Eller har eg ikkje? 

Excerpt from Brit Bildøen: Sju dagar i august. Det Norske Samlaget 2014. 

Jan Roar Leikvoll found the time to publish four novels during his life, and a fifth appeared after his death. Leikvoll is original and unique, at the same time as he focuses on questions associated with the loss of reality and reorientation that are typical of the different generations. In interviews he has explained how, when he was younger, he wrote about everyday experiences, but that they felt lifeless and untrue.

This feeling of the unreal aspect of what is familiar reappears at the turn of the century and triggers various counter-strategies. One approach is to begin with the body, whose senses allow you to experience the world. If you lose touch with the world, you still have your body. And it is precisely the body that provides access to the real and indisputable in some recent literature. But this does not necessarily help. It was the world one wanted to be in touch with, not the body that meets that world. If the body becomes the entire world, it collapses, a fact that is occasionally borne out in the literature concerning bodily conditions. It is not that the writers lack this insight; on the contrary, they analyse their way to it. What you are allowed to say about the body shifts from period to period. From the Sixties and up until today it has been possible to describe the body erotically and directly. This opening towards desire, eroticism and sex has taken place in parallel with revelations about a darker side, involving contempt for one’s body, disciplining and an unhealthy, destructive fixation with the body. After the turn of the century, we also find the body described as incorporated in nature and ecology. There is an historic irony in the fact that puritanism’s despising of the body did not disappear along with the puritanical contempt, but has reappeared as dissatisfaction with one’s own body, measured against the power of advertising and its images of the ideal body. This tension is to be found in many variations in both Norwegian and international literature.

Depictions of rural life and students from the countryside

Sara (Malin Bjørhovde), Alma (Helene Bergsholm) and Ingrid (Beate Søfring) sitting at the bus station in Skoddeheimen, waiting for life to go on. From «Få meg på for faen!» (film 2011 by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen), based on the book of the same name by Olaug Nilssen (2005). Photo: Norsk filmdistribusjon. Used by agreement with the company.

Sara (Malin Bjørhovde), Alma (Helene Bergsholm) and Ingrid (Beate Søfring) sitting at the bus station in Skoddeheimen, waiting for life to go on. From «Få meg på for faen!» (film 2011 by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen), based on the book of the same name by Olaug Nilssen (2005). Photo: Norsk filmdistribusjon. Used by agreement with the company.

The so-called dirty realism seeks out the more forlorn groups, especially in rural contexts, and attempts to find something real there. Parts of Carl Frode Tiller’s depictions of rural life belong in this category. The dirtiest that has been written in Norwegian Nynorsk would appear to be the accounts of urban life depicted by Arild Rein. His revelations about the oil capital of Norway, Stavanger, are a good example of an update on «happyland». Beneath the wealth he finds a layer of shameful, wicked petty criminals. In Olaug Nilssen’s first novels there is a humorous exaggeration of people’s tragicomic traits, such as when some of the characters in Få meg på, for faen (2005) have as their greatest aim in life to appear on the local TV news from southwestern Norway: «There must be more to life than the turnip factory in Skoddeheimen! I want to be on TV, get me on it, damn you!».

In the time around the turn of the millennium, it is not easy to distinguish between literature written in Norwegian Nynorsk and Norwegian Bokmål, but a central theme in Nynorsk literature lives on in an adapted form: narratives from rural life and small town environments viewed from the perspective of the local inhabitants themselves.

One Norwegian Nynorsk author who builds bridges between old ideals and the new times is Edvard Hoem. Hoem is a storyteller, and he wants to tell the story of Norway. In that sense he continues where Bjørnson left off, and he has included a modernist crisis consciousness that was lacking in Bjørnson. He has written about Norwegian history in many phases, and in particular detail about our contemporary world. That is his idea of the role of the writer: to be the one who relates and interprets the history of his own people. 

Excerpt from Mors og fars historie
– Mamma, elskar du han pappa? spurde eg mor ein gong i min fjerne barndom. Vi var i kjøkkenet heime på garden i ei lita bygd på vestkysten av Norge, det var vinterkveld. 
Kanskje var eg seks år gammal. I så fall var årstalet 1955.
   ; Eg hadde oppdaga at det var noko som heitte å elske, og eg tenkte på kva det kunne vera. Når eg endeleg våga å fritte ut mor, var eg spent, for eg visste ikkje om ho ville bli sint. Men eg ville vita kva som låg i eit så rart ord, og eg ville sjå på ansiktet hennar når eg spurde.
    Eg stilte spørsmålet om kjærleiken til mor med eit flautt smil, og eg var budd på at svaret ville bli knapt. Når kveldsstellet var over, tenkte ho berre på å stupe i seng, for ho stod opp grytidleg kvar morgon. Eg var ikkje ute etter å få eit endeleg svar, eg ville sjå korleis mor tok det. Om spørsmålet ikkje passa, kom ho til å svara at eg fekk høyre med far når han kom heim. Far var reisande predikant i Indremisjonen og borte frå oss sju månader i året.
    Men denne gongen svarte ikkje mor lett og fråverande slik ho nesten alltid gjorde. Ho stansa opp og vart ståande og sjå på meg med eit uttrykk eg aldri hadde sett før. Ho opna munnen og lét han att, to gonger.
    Så sa ho med ei røyst som var ukjenneleg, det som skulle ligge på meg i femti år:
    — Eg var ikkje så glad i far din da eg kom saman med han, men eg vart glad i han, for han var trufast, og truskap er like viktig som kjærleik.
    Det var ei dør til det ukjende som opna seg den kvelden. Det var noko i mors og fars liv som det ikkje skulle snakkast om, men no hadde ho innvigd meg i at det fanst.

Excerpt from Edvard Hoem: Mors og fars historie. Samlaget 2005. 

Also Maria Parr does the same. Few authors have enjoyed such an immediate and widespread breakthrough as she did. Her debut novel Vaffelhjarte (2005) (Waffle Hearts) is the story of two best friends in a tiny rural community, Trille and Lena, who are bubbling over with antics and escapades, just like the children of Rasmus Løland. Nevertheless, she manages to renew the Norwegian Nynorsk narrative tradition: she inverts the traditional role model: the boy Trille is by nature rather anxious and cautious, whereas Lena is fearless and full of energy.

The student from rural Norway is just as urban as other students and can experience the same distance to a life of security in the social democracy as others do. Identities are borrowed from both town and village, or mark a distance to both. Olaug Nilssen, Ragnar Hovland and Gunnhild Øyehaug are modern urbanists who understand both urban and rural codes, and they spread their gentle satire fairly evenly. The modern Norwegian Nynorsk user reflects himself in the media picture and is devoured by the self-reflection to the same degree as the Norwegian Bokmål user. But the Nynorsk collective still has its own language, and just as in Vinje’s time, it would appear that irony is a very useful tool for Norwegian Nynorsk writers. Against a background of social mobility, they often have their own vantage point, a view of life that they exploit to great advantage in their literature. 

From industrialisation to contemporary ruins

Marit Eikemo (right) on her way out of the smelting factory in Odda after appearing at the festival in 2009, the year Eikemo was festival director in the little town, in which heavy industry has quite literally become culture industry. Photographer Helge Skodvin, NPK. Used by agreement with Scanpix.

Marit Eikemo (right) on her way out of the smelting factory in Odda after appearing at the festival in 2009, the year Eikemo was festival director in the little town, in which heavy industry has quite literally become culture industry. Photographer Helge Skodvin, NPK. Used by agreement with Scanpix.

While the industrial small town was modern in the 1950s, it was passé in 2000. In the same way as modernisation has made what is modern old-fashioned, so the political literature has gone from supporting heavy industry to analysing the world from the media and language. In Norwegian Nynorsk literature there are many authors who have investigated this change in the context of the small industrial town of Odda.

In Marit Eikemo’s essay collection entitled Samtidsruinar (2008) we can read an – at times emotionally reluctant – acceptance of this transition. Eikemo looks at buildings that still stand there, but which have lost their original function. The first one is the blast furnace hall in Odda, which has closed down, and where there was an angry debate about whether to demolish it or preserve the buildings as a sort of contemporary museum. The traditional heavy industry that created the modern Odda – and many of the other similar small towns with a cornerstone industry – is facing a huge crisis and many are being wound up. It is an international phenomenon that this type of industry is moving out of western Europe and the USA, seeking cheaper production sites.

Excerpt from Samtidsruinar

Eg er på veg til ein by som allereie er brent ned. Den blå flammen over Smelteverket er slokna, og eg har andre byar og andre folk i tankane. Eg er på veg tilbake, til byen der eg gjekk på barneskule, ungdomsskule, gymnas. Eg skal på klassegjenforeiningsfest, og eg syng av full hals:

I got a life to lead
I got a soul to feed
I got a dream to heed

Og det slår meg på veg gjennom Hardanger, å Hardanger, kor lei eg er av denne reisa.

Rufus Wainwright syng om Dublin. "Going to town" blei ifølgje han sjølv hamra ned på fam minutt då han skulle flytte frå New York til Irlands hovudstad. No sit eg i bilen og syng den same songen, men eg  meiner Odda, for det er dit eg skal. Det minner meg om at Frode Grytten har skrive så mykje om Odda og Dublin at eg nesten trur det er to sider av same sak. Dublin i regn, Odda i regn. Eg har aldri vore i Dublin, men eg er oppvaksen i Odda. Eg skal til ein by som allereie er dikta opp. Eg skal heim, og denne byen er allereie brent ned, dikta opp og brent ned. Det går opp for meg at eg aldri kan skrive om Odda. Dette er berre eit trassig forsøk. 

Excerpt from Marit Eikemo: Samtidsruinar (2008), Det Norske Samlaget.

Eikemo depicts how the former small industrial centres have been transformed into ruins and symbols. If we compare with Kjartan Fløgstad, he starts in the real modernity and always holds onto the values he finds there. But he registers – at times with an intense rage – that this type of modernity has been overtaken by a newer form of society where the trade unions’ arrangements and values play a more minor role. His books oscillate between acceptance and rejection of this more recent modernity. In Eikemo the industrial society is a bygone age.

A number of writers have developed the literature of the Norwegian industrial small towns. And they have registered that industry has moved from production to become a symbol; many factories have closed down, and the premises are instead filled with cultural activities and media enterprises. Odda is a small town that has taken the transition from industrial culture to culture industry so literally that it now arranges its own literary festival. In fact they can also boast an impressive list of writers who have their roots in Odda, from Gro Holm and Clæs Gill (who true enough moved from there in his teens) to Frode Grytten and Lars Ove Seljestad – and of course Eikemo.

One novel about the decline of industry has its background in Høyanger. Kjersti Wøien Håland has in Dommedøgn (2016) woven the end of the industrial society together with mystical ideas about flooding, destruction and Domesday. In Siss og Unn (2008), where the main characters take their names from the novel Is-slottet (1963) by Tarjei Vesaas, Ingrid Bråtveit writes about two girls who live in a stagnant former centre of hydro-electric production with references to popular culture. Frode Grytten writes about the small industrial town of Odda with references to international pop music. A bygone age, and the songs that were modern at the time, are part of the stories of our contemporary times. 

Children’s literature from reality

Norwegian Nynorsk children’s literature has had some highlights since Rasmus Løland lay the foundations for this tradition: the classic «children and animal»-books of the period between the two world wars, the Nynorsk children’s hour voices on the radio and the links between art and quality literature in the 70s. But it may well be that the time after the turn of the millennium, with a number of good authors who write exciting novels and relate the everyday life of children to the media world in a variety of ways, will also be considered a fine period.

Erna Osland is one writer who masters how to make her very simple language rhythmical, well-worked and exciting. One motif that appears time and again in her books is the longing for a father, who has disappeared, never been present or is rarely around. Three examples are the novels Kattespranget (1998), Den farlege reisa (2006) and the drama Rekneprinsen (2007).

While Bjørn Sortland and not least Rune Belsvik, prior to the turn of the 21st century, explore the turbulent period of puberty quite clearly from a boy’s perspective, Ragnhild Trohaug examines the transition to adult life from the point of view of girls. Both Okkupert kjærleik (2000) and Frå null til no (2001) depict this transition. Trohaug succeeds in portraying the whole range of emotions that exist when you break out of your role as a child, experience your first erotic awakening and have to try to establish your own identity. The books can be read both by those who are in the midst of this phase themselves, and by those who feel the need to look back a few years.

Bente Bratlund is also one of those who moves effortlessly between various age groups, and whose aim is also to write books for adults in an easily accessible language. Bratlund focuses on topics like love, relationships, how to tackle painful experiences and has a fundamentally positive philosophy of life, as expressed in the title Plukka gleder (2011). Lars Mæhle writes about what on the face of it are well-known phenomena: football, falling in love, films and music. 

Excerpt from Keeperen til Tunisia

Dei seier at eg bekymrar meg altfor mykje.
Om alt mogleg.
"Dei" er i dette tilfellet foreldra mine, dei tre tyggegummi-tyggande søstrene mine, og sist, men slettes ikkje minst: Bestefar.
Men det er så lett for dei å hevde slikt. Det er trass alt ikkje dei som skal til fylkessjukehuset og få installert plattfotsolar. Om tolv dagar, tretten timar og førtisju minutt. (Og dét berre eit halvt år etter at eg fekk operert inn streng, oppfinninga som truleg kronar serien med mislykka nyvinningar på 1900-talet.)
Så ein ting er i alle fall sikkert:
Der går den karrieren som fotballproff i vasken.
For det kan da ikkje vere mogleg å spele fotball med plattfotsolar? Ikkje på eit visst nivå i alle fall. Ikkje på gutelaget. Og berre så det er sagt: Eg har faktisk ambisjonar om å spele meg til fast plass på gutelaget denne hausten, sjølv om eg skal vere den første til å innrømme at opptakta ikkje har vore den beste. Første bod er vel å møte opp på treningane i det heile, ei oppgåve eg har forsømt så langt. 

Excerpt from Lars Mæhle: Keeperen til Tunisia. Det Norske Samlaget 2010. 

Mæhle also breaks out of the familiar and has a keen eye for what is characteristic of our times: refugees, the climate crisis, an uncertain future. In several of his books he brings together people from different cultural backgrounds. Aino Basso is another author who writes exciting novels with historical material, and like Norwegian Nynorsk authors before her, she writes national minorities, Romani people, migrant groups and Kvens into her historical novels.  

In the enormous field of children’s literature, the huge success of Kari Stai’s illustrated children’s books about Jakob og Neikob, which have appeared from 2008, deserves a mention. The idea is simple: since Jakob always answers yes and Neikob always no, you have to find cunning ways of asking them questions, so that responsibilities and the good things in life are shared as evenly as possible. The books help the reader to reflect both on sharing fairly and on trust and mistrust. At the same time Jakob og Neikob is an example of the way playing with language is also an important aspect of children’s literature. Anna Folkestad does this too, for instance in the books about the penguins Unni and Gunni, where they approach the big and important questions in life, simultaneously having fun with a simple language. 

View the animation produced by Martine Grande based on Jakob og Neikob (2008) by Kari Stai, commissioned by National Centre for Education in Norwegian Nynorsk (Norwegian speech).

Lyric poetry in and about language 

Since the 1980s the tension between language and reality has characterised literature. In lyric poetry the emphasis is always on the language and the way it sounds, but this is expressed in ever different ways. In the most recent lyric poetry, some writers choose a language that is very close to the everyday tongue. Others do the opposite and create an artistic language that represents a break with the standard language. Some poets write about politics, the body or ecology. Others turn their attention consciously towards the form itself.

There are many poetry books in this category in today’s lyric poetry, and there is a demand that one should be self-critical to the form in which one is writing. A young poet who upholds this tradition is Kaisa Aglen, who in the books Kvar i kroppen sit ingenting (2012) and Mellom krig (2016) simply provides a few points that the reader must join up, and where the focus is the language itself. 

Language as material or sound material has been the dominating factor for some writers. The phonetic aspect becomes the main focus, but in the 2000s it is not the traditional rhyme and rhythm patterns, but shifts between speech and writing that dominate. The great pioneer is Øyvind Rimbereid, who exploits and plays with the Stavanger-dialect and creates a language of the future in Solaris korrigert (2004). 

View an excerpt from «Solaris Korrigert» (2015), based on the long poem of the same name from 2004 (Øyvind Rimbereid). Ane Dahl Torp is speaking, and Sjur Miljeteig has composed the music. Video: Det Norske Teatret. 

The fact that the linguistic expression is a part of what the poet creates can bring to mind Norwegian Nynorsk pioneers like Olav Nygard, Henrik Rytter and Olav Aukrust, who had a clearly defined aim of using words that had not appeared in print before; but for them the goal was a standard language norm for everyone. That is not the case now. Rimbereid is creating a language that is only to be used in one book.

Catherine Blaavinge Bjørnevog also made up her own language for her collection Um sakne springe blome (2016). This interest in sculptural language can be seen in several contexts. Cornelius Jakhelln is inspired by the aesthetics of High Norwegian in several of his books. Guri Sørumgård Botheim in Mellom istider (2016) addresses the topic of the feelings of home and of farming traditions, where she alternates between a standardised Norwegian Nynorsk when she writes about her life in her city apartment, and dialect in written form when she depicts life in the mountain village that she calls home. Also Hilde Myklebust writes about home in Berre dagar seinare (2005) about family and inheritance, earth and nature. 

Listen to Guri Sørumgård Botheim read the first poem in the anthology «Heime mellom istidene» in this poetic film by Sigurd Brørs (Norwegian speech).

A new writing profession

In connection with the change in the 1960s we saw that the Norwegian Nynorsk writer chose a new educational path. In the period from 1920 to 1950 it was difficult to find Norwegian Nynorsk authors who had not attended folk high school or teacher training – or both. That was the education you chose if you wanted to be a writer. From the 1960s all this changed, and studies at university or college became the norm. Many budding writers studied languages, history and literature. However, during the 1980s yet another change took place. Today a great many writers have attended a writing academy course, often in addition to other studies. This influences the profession and its self-image.

It is obvious that the teaching profession provided certain normative precepts. In Norwegian Nynorsk literature there has been a constant tension between educational and explorative literature. Garborg and Duun set aside the idea that literature should create good role models, but there were hundreds more teachers who wrote books, and they were concerned with what was best for young people. Moreover, the whole nation was to be educated, for this was a young nation. What was it good for people to read? 

Photo of the class of 1990-1991 at the writing academy Skrivekunstakademiet. Brit Bildøen is standing in the centre of the picture with Finn Øglænd on her right. Jon Fosse, who lectured in writing that year, is second from the right in the front row. Photo: Skrivekunstakademiet.

Photo of the class of 1990-1991 at the writing academy Skrivekunstakademiet. Brit Bildøen is standing in the centre of the picture with Finn Øglænd on her right. Jon Fosse, who lectured in writing that year, is second from the right in the front row. Photo: Skrivekunstakademiet.

The educational courses in writing do not intend to create writers who are alike. On the contrary, they want to help young people to discover their own voices. Nevertheless, they do have elements in common. One thing is that important teachers can leave their mark, like Eldrid Lunden in Bø and Rolf Sagen in Bergen. More important, however, is the fact that fear of the cliché enjoys good conditions in which to thrive when you take an education along with other people. You have to find something that others have not done. You become very aware of the patterns of language and join a battle against them. Authors from earlier generations probably had a greater range of vocational experience too. They lived in a world that was not linked with writing. Out in forest Hans Børli made notes when he came up with some form of inspiration, but he made sure the rest of the loggers did not see what he was doing. Gro Holm was acquainted with both farming and industry. Writers appeared who had experienced life at sea, lumberjacking, large farms and smallholdings and the world of business. Occasionally a petty criminal might even turn up. Today virtually everyone has a high school education and little experience of the job market. The life of the writer is the life of the world. The drama in their lives involves having a manuscript turned down by a publisher or being turned down themselves by their boy-or girlfriend. The joint experience of the world (writing) hones the fear of writing something that is already outdated, at the same time as the life as a writer is the reality they know best. Few have done as Arild Rein: get himself a job doing manual labour in order to live in a totally different place than in a literary milieu. The intense feeling of living in a «bastard city», as T. S. Eliot called it, can be heightened by living on the edge of what is most people’s professional world.  

English translation Howard Medland.

About the article

Read the source list of the period articles on Norwegian Nynorsk fiction.

This text is an excerpt from Jan Inge Sørbø: «Nynorsk litteraturhistorie». Det Norske Samlaget 2018. Edited by Per Magnus Finnanger Sandsmark and published digitally by agreement with the publishers and the author. The project is part of the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the publishers Det Norske Samlaget and the 10th anniversary of The Norwegian Encyclopedia Allkunne, and has been supported financially by The Fritt Ord Foundation and the savings bank Sparebanken Vest.

Først publisert: 20.12.2018
Sist oppdatert: 08.02.2019