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The City and the Writer: In Copenhagen with Martin Glaz Serup

By Nathalie Handal

Special City Series/Copenhagen, Denmark 2015

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.

                                                        —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Editors' note: We continue our series on Copenhagen in solidarity with the city after the attacks of last week.

Can you describe the mood of Copenhagen as you feel/see it?

Copenhagen is an old, beautiful, calm, safe city. I love it in the summer and in the spring—a lot of water, canals, and sea. The bikes, the towers of old buildings, the old pubs, the water, the very relaxed atmosphere, and all the children in the parks create a mood characteristic of the city.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

I really don't know. Lyn Hejinian writes: “What memory is not a gripping thought.” That's true. Now, all of a sudden, everything I can think of concerning my memory of the city seems to be gripping me. But for a few years, I lived on a small island off the coast of Jutland. Whenever I came to Copenhagen for work, I stayed in a hotel and felt like a guest in the city. That was when I think I really saw it. That was when I realized that Copenhagen is a very beautiful city. That moment of realization was a gripping moment.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

I really don't know. Now I’m freaked me out—I'm definitely not going out enough.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Oh, there are so many! But it's difficult to say in which way exactly place affects their writing. For instance, the travel writing and the poetry of Thomas Boberg and Hans Christian Andersen (who is not from Copenhagen, but lived here for quite some time and that goes for most of the following recommendations), the poetry of Inger Christensen, Pia Juul, and Niels Frank, and the poetic prose of Morten Søndergaard. The prose of Christina Hesselholdt and Harald Voetmann. And the children's literature of Jakob Martin Strid, Kim Fupz Aakeson and Hanne Kvist, who lives just outside of Copenhagen. As for fiction that takes place in Copenhagen, I recommend The Copenhagen Quartet by the American writer Thomas E. Kennedy, who has been living here for some forty years, and the pseudo-noir crime stories by the poet Dan Turèll.

Is there a place here you return to often?

I try to go to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, just next to Tivoli, as often as possible. They have a unique collection of French Impressionist and Classical art, artifacts, and sculptures, and a very nice indoor garden. It's a very serene place, especially during work days. But I don't go there often on work days . . . I go to work, of course.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

There are several. The invisible Toftegårds Plads in Valby, where I live, fifteen minutes out of the city center; on the top floor of a house named Valgaard at Vigerslev Allé 23, where a group of artists that became known as Valby Parnasset used to hang out in the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of the Danish literary Expressionists were members of this group: Tom Kristensen, Rudolf Broby Johansen, Emil Bønnelycke, and Hulda Lütken. Here—find photos I took of the house. Apart from Kristensen's Havoc, from 1930, I don’t think much of the literature by members of Valby Parnasset exists in English translation.

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

There are plenty of different neighborhoods, each with their individual identity, atmosphere, mood, ambience.

Where does passion live here?

In the people, clearly.

What is the title of one of your works about Copenhagen and what inspired it exactly?

I never only wrote about one place. What is a place, since it consists of many abstract things such as history, myth, literature, art and personal stories, temperaments, agendas and so on. In my latest collection of poetry, Roman Nights, Rome is very present, but also Florence and Colle di val D'Elsa. And New York and San Francisco and Helsinki and Gothenburg and Berlin and Sarajevo and Costa Brava and Nicaragua, and parts of Copenhagen like Valby and Brønshøj. I believe that all of these places are also a natural and integrated part of “Copenhagen.” That said, I co-wrote, with Hanne Kvistm, a young adult novel set in the near future, If.You.See.Something.Say.Something. It’s about a society that experiences an increasing degree of inequality, surveillance, and terrorism, and it takes place in Copenhagen and Malmø, the third biggest city of Sweden and about forty minutes away from the Danish capital.

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Copenhagen does an outside exist?”

Oh, there's always an outside, without it there wouldn't be an inside. And it's totally necessary (for me) to go OUT in order to come back and appreciate everything that's here, or as Edward Albee said, “Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”


Martin Glaz Serup has published seven children’s books, most recently the illustrated story book Yana and Eliah (and Many Other Kids); four chapbook essays; seven collections of poetry, most recently Roman Nights; and Relational Poetry, a collection of critical essays on (conceptual) poetry, politics, and relational aesthetics. He received the Michael Strunge Prize for Poetry, the Gold Medal from the University of Copenhagen for his dissertation on poetry and relational aesthetichs, and a prestigious grant from the Danish Art’s Council. Serup is the founding editor of the literary journal Apparatur (2001–4) and of the Nordic Web magazine for literary criticism Litlive (2004–8), and was a former assistant editor for the poetry magazine Hvedekorn (2005–7). He teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Denmark and at the writer's school for children's literature at the University of Aarhus. He is also currently finishing his PhD at the University of Copenhagen, and is a blogger for Kornkammer, and a member of the literary collective Promenaden.  

All photographs of Copenhagen in the Special City Series/Copenhagen, Denmark 2015 running January/February 2015 are by the Danish photographer Mathias Olander. His work explores the urban outskirts of the Danish capital. See more: Instagram: fagrenyeverden

Published Feb 16, 2015   Copyright 2015 Nathalie Handal

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