- Norway -
Aina Villanger (1979) grew up in the town of Skien (about 55 k inhabitants) before embarking on studies at the University of Oslo and The Academy of Creative Writing in Bergen. Her debut as an author was with the critically acclaimed long poem Langsang (Long song) in 2012. Her second book, Baugeids bok (Book of Baugeid) was published in 2017 and was nominated for The Adolescent’s critic's prize. Since then, she has published the poems Nattnød (Night need) (2019) and Onkel Arne og månen (Uncle Arne and the moon) (2021), and has also translated Unica Zurn's Witch texts into Norwegian. Villanger has been awarded Tanum’s Women’s stipend and the Stig Sæterbakken Memorial Prize. Villanger is also a scriptwriter, engages in creative collectives performing multimedia stage- or video-pieces – both as a performer and a writer, and is one of the initiators of the so called "ritualistic writing collective", a web-based art space and podcast and zine Blomster & bureau/ Flower & bureau. Villanger is currently based in the peninsula of Nesodden, a 20-minute boat ride from Oslo.
"Through language we can be the other," said Aina Villanger when interviewed by The House of Literature in Oslo in August 2021. This award-winning  author also says she is still asking herself the question: why write literature? How to use this language, with is endless opportunities?
Whether it be so-called prose, so-called libretti, script writing or poetry; all of Villanger’s works have the openness of the poem. There might be a historical-biographical backdrop, like her books based on the history of Baugeid , the head of a monastery, or the history of her uncle . However distant in space, time or sex the objects of her storytelling may be, Villanger writes with the greatest empathy, compassion and imagination. When encountering the white gaps in her source material, Villanger not only applies fantasy and new understanding and knowledge, she takes the leaps of transcendence, thus managing almost impossible linguistic maneuverers of describing bodily sensations and experiences.
Villanger is not only a transcendental author, but also a cross-disciplinary artist whose various expressions include her own body. She has partaken in an artist collective (The Lilithists), engaging in ritualistic practices such as confirmations. For the long-performance Eden, Oslo – A confirmation she embarked on six-month preparation time, before the day of «confirmation»; a larger cross-disciplinary stage art piece. Villanger wrote the libretto, which includes sentences like this is no test/ no tale/ no awakening? politics not a speech/ this is combing and stepping/ the hastening of a hook, the swinging of a rose/ work and masturbation .
Villanger’s practice moves seamlessly and naturally between literary disciplines, such as poetry, prose and script writing, including libretti. Her somewhat laidback and fearless way of approaching genres makes me think of the Norwegian cult tradition of authors known as the Profil generation. The Profil generation were early avantgarde authors affiliated with to the journal Profil (1966-); they did not consider the limitations of genres, as provided by the systems of libraries and booksellers. They did not write poetry or prose, they wrote text.
Another feature of the Profil generation (which included authors such as Jan Erik Vold, Paal-Helge Haugen, Cecilie Løveid) was cultural radicalism. One might call Villanger too a cultural radical, as she, like the above-mentioned 60's avant-gardists, writes texts that can be read as being in opposition to inherited social norms, criticising bourgeois sexual morality. Her texts also display an openness towards cultural and spiritual impulses other than the traditional Norwegian and Western ones, and take an interest in the arts that exceeds books. And even though the texts she writes are not always labelled poetry, they are always open works that the reader or the listener never know fully where to place.
Villanger transcends within her texts as well. The debut Long song has a form that underscores its story, and it is a piece of pure and consistent lyrical text. The next piece was labelled prose, and was called Baugeids bok/ The book of Baugeid. It is not very controversial to claim that the novel is more suited than the poem to be a research laboratory in terms of linguistics and formal explorations. The book of Baugeid substantiates this assertion. This relatively short novel (178 pages) contains a great range of genres – even disciplines – of text. Within it there are recipes as well as poetry; short prose as well as fiction and non-fiction.
As diverse and rich as The book of Baugeid is, as consistent and tight-woven is Villanger’s following book. Nattnød/ Night need is a raw and unromanticising tale of pregnancy, birth and maternity. Formally, it relates to Villanger’s debut, Long song. Night need is a kind of long song, featuring the Villangeresque way of writing one poem in one outbreath. While The book of Baugeid is characterized by its sharp breaks and sudden changes, this collection is stylistically stringent. The form is clean, yet growing organically from a starting point, with variations over the chosen theme.
Two years later, Villanger published Onkel Arne og månen/ Uncle Arne and the moon (2021). In this book, the life ofVillanger’s uncle Arne forms the backdrop. The historical-biographical person Arne committed suicide ten years before Villanger was born. Like Baugeid’s book, Arne’s book challenges genres in a brave and curious way. As a critic put it when the book was selected as one of the best books of the year, it is equal parts documentary, lyrical text, questions and modest guesses.
Whatever subject matter and whatever genre is chosen, Villanger’s works are characterized by a high command of language and the historical material. At a time when all authors are using creative writing as a means of exploring, Villanger offers something tremendously more interesting: In spite of her way of doing "modest guessing", Villanger is beyond exploring. She conveys great knowledge and linguistic maturity: she knows exactly what she is doing:
The formal and stylistic qualities of Villanger’s poetry have awarded her numerous prizes and nominations for "book of the year" and similar. Though in a time of war and terror, and a time when killings more often than not are carried out using high technology, it is also worth pointing to its possible political depth. The French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas' writing comes to mind; it is harder to kill or hurt the man you have looked in the eye.
The empathic prose and poetry of Villanger look strangers in the eye, and provide an opportunity for the reader to get to know the other. That is no less than an achievement.
 Tanums Kvinnestipend (2018), Stig Sæterbakkens Minnepris (2019)
 Baugeids bok/ Book of Baugeid, Oktober forlag 2017
 Onkel Arne og månen/Uncle Arne and the moon, Oktober forlag 2021
 My translation into English. The original:
dette er ingen prøve
det er ikke en fortelling
ikke vekkelse? politikk ikke en tale
dette er kamming og trapping
krokbragd og rosebragd
arbeid og onani
NIGHT NEED / NATTNØD
the child’s cry
the suck of me in bed
the baby hand waves randomly
opens and closes
like finger play
that blind hand
stretches up to take
hold of something
the arm in a straight line up
towards my throat
I want to grasp something too!
I greet you
there you are
here am I? and
that cry is a sword
coming against me
that cry is thick
a thick fog
across my brain
the philospher says
through violence and destruction:
the female womb’s explosion
birth is sovereign
something the woman always
must submit to and
all this belongs of course
in the contract of give and take
between mother and child
the baby cries
and I? fall and fall and fall
in all eternity
all kinds of falling apart
no schism between body and mind
just pains that can be measured
the little fear
of losing everything
the last bit of self? of hope
of the new contract with the child
new contact with
now I’m on the verge
a little pool beneath me in the bed
I must have slept
over an hour
I cry out
climb onto a distant island
disappear down a hole
tighten my tummy
fasten my body
take the child to me
when the cry comes
the eyes look at me
does baby see me? no
baby breathes on me
with its eyes
baby stares at the air
as if the air were its mother
in the way it stares at me
as if I were air
mummy? I don’t say
I say that I
will just go in for a bit to the kitchen
I will just
my body’s unpretentious ancestry
are mothers and now
all my forebears gathered
as though I burn
for them too
the book tells me:
most children react to
the limited gratification
of their needs with
an extreme rage
an extreme rage
that is based on
an understanding that
the mother’s holding back
something that’s in
her reach to give
to contain the rage of an infant!
the child cries
the child suckles
the child cries
the child suckles
the child cries
the night is round
a baby animal?
there are no words
in waking or sleeping
only words about night
I save all my days to nights
say here is your day!
now you can eat in peace and quiet
. . .
The mother’s speech is wakened by a cry:
a child comes to the world
between defecation and urination
writes the philosopher
the only entrance
to dry mechanical
society and to beauty
comes into existence as slime
meets for the first time
the starched clean hospital towels
as nature’s rawness is torn out
of the feathered splendour of rationality and
the shadowy pattern of that cry
makes its fashionable entrance
no the child did not come out by itself
the child was a rod
fourteen hours in all?
my body swung itself
my body billowed
after music from existence’ starting point
an unheard spastic dance
a violent séance
like blows from inside
great and growing body blows
in shorter and shorter sequences
the measuring apparatus’ green pulse line lets me know
a hard ride’s coming
jump into it
through a blood-spattered landscape
a fantastic ride!
just ride and ride and ride and ride
right till the speed lessens
we ride downwards?
what about the child
why doesn’t the child come out
it’s all the way down
But the child sits tight in the canal
the body’s battling goes on standby
only breathing fights on
devouring stomach drags from the
explosive ten centimetre opening
to the crown of the head
breath is a staff to grasp hold of and
the child is all but out
ride on, body!
ride on, bloody hell
but the horse is tired
the work horse snorts
stamps its hooves
stands still resting
the cramps all but still
the ride cancelled
the body’s work lost
and then all the doctors flap into the room
I’m tipped over onto my back
my legs lifted into stirrups and spread
instruments clink and gleam
strict orders about precise breathing and pushing
the suck of a vacuum and
as the child is pulled out
from the birth canal
now the boy is sitting
on the floor and smiling
my eyes can’t get enough
of licking him
I put the boy away
on the lap of his father
the greater the distance the greater the love?
as though I would share my harvest
with all around me
family and strangers
on the train
it’s common sense that makes me weak-willed
my injured womb
that renders me unafraid and
care that pours out
in exaggerated calm
baby gets a tooth
gets two teeth
baby puts the newspaper in its mouth
baby puts a teddy bear in its mouth
a toy bath duck
in its mouth
baby thumps the table with a ladle
baby’s hands reach up
for a cup
for mimicked facial expressions
baby tries its voice
sings in the morning
sings to the ceiling
strange sounds from distant mountains
out of tune and all its own
a made-up composition
never to be heard again
when I turn to the child
a life is blown into its face
a great eternity?
is put between us
now the child grieves
for the lost breast
the rationing of milk
the crying totters
disappears among the trees
into the shadows
the cry invokes the complaint
the complaint takes centre stage
weaning is the heaven of complaint
the complaint’s solo is sentimental and forgettable
the child’s sorrow is my care
my will? no
for the cry stands connected to will
care is saved by the disintegration of will
care is the country where all mothers’ mother instinct
when care wins over will
that cry can grow uncontrollably
that cry is a loner
one lonely horseman!
the cry wanders off to distant lands
forgets its origins
the cry knows no boundaries
to cry is to slaughter
the cry’s eternal fight against being comforted
obviously has a theatrical zenith
when it settles with the lullaby
when the body grows heavy and slack and
the regulated breathing
becomes the nursery’s clockwork
yes, the cry knows its battleground
always at the entrance to sleep
the cry’s pain rests
when the cry dies language comes to life
is this the beautiful reality of infancy?
need soon comes back
secure enough in the hand of night
it’s these that are the conditions of motherhood
the philosopher writes
the mother-child club’s hallelujah
I will protect you!
care’s shadowy alter ego
no this isn’t care
it is necessity
total care does not exist
subjectivity’s superiority fails
and the mother’s instinct’s instinct
mamma is here
am I not?Translated by Kenneth Steven
The First Connector / Den Første Berører
One. It. It’s something. Something it is. Small it is. A small it. Getting bigger and bigger. A small now. A small here. Here it is. It’s here. It’s me. I’m it. Growing bigger and more and longer and lasting and lasting. A small bit of water life. Swimming round. Gaping wide.
Then a clump.
Then flowing out.
I am The First Connector.
The original seed,
the primeval skin cell,
that existed before everything happened,
before the mother cell,
before heaven, before earth, before the gods, before people, and long before there was understanding.
And no-one can take me apart, bit by bit, like some compound personality.
I die and rise again every second.
I have self-existed as long as I can remember.
For I wasn’t born, I was created
as an apple falls to the ground when ripe.
and cellulose veils.
A mucous membrane sheeth enveloped me,
sound and smell were made manifest.
Warmth rose in the redness,
movement in the greenness,
mood in the blackness.
And when these mingled, seed shone out like some grey snake.
When all this had happened, the rest could keep happening;
what was on the outside separated from what was inside.
Someone said what was outside resembled a swamp,
others that colonies had come suddenly from the east,
flagella settling with those from the north.
There was engagement and closeness across shapes and strengths.
Already I had become many,
and our smell was dreadful to begin with.
After three years all the colours bowed to the blue
that had grown into powerful feelings.
And it was then we began to spread in another way from before.
Everything began to lose lucidity.
Colours ceased to have clarity and trembling grew unmotivated,
like a sea of small stings rearing and crashing against one another.
Completely out of control, almost chaotic.
As though we were fighters, as if it really was war?
Many were killed,
eaten dead or alive.
We certainly had no plans or ideas.
We simply kept growing.
Many wished for something, but most only wanted to be with the others,
as close as possible.
Then there was one who got up and said: we haven’t come here to die, surely?
Then another said: don’t touch me!
Yes, there are always some rebels, you know.
We who knew nothing else lumped even closer together;
the viscous slime gurgled around us.
The fatty membrane tightened.
We were afraid all right, but
none of us doubted the genetic material.
It wasn’t easy to withdraw from there.
But those who managed were strong enough to take the nearest with them;
they held the fissure open, took hold of the next hand and helped them out.
And the next one, and the next.
Beyond the slime we saw nothing but an unbearably beautiful light.
Our eyes shrivelled; we knew we didn’t need them.
The membrane was strong enough to tolerate
the rays of the heavens
and the sound of the forest.
It was then the sun closed its eye for the first time,
and birds began crawling up from the sea.
They sang for all of us who came so much later and had so little awareness,
pathetic attempts that we really are.
Then the great whale said:
Come, let us swim further out and play with the other strange creatures.
And so it went on.
The rest is wind in the aspen leaves and the growing noise of the city
written in the depths of tree rings, light year by light year.
Here I sit now: on a soft red flannel pillow in the deepest interior,
knitting woollen socks for all my billions of siblings’ children.
Oh yes, you can reckon many have passed away over time.
Fortunately I’ve never bothered about numbers and measurements.
I’m just one who expands unconditionally,
hoping those who come after me know tenderness,
just a grazing or two
now and again in the course of their hour-long existence.
in my little chamber,
is namely the germ of the sense not yet discovered.
The opened circuit or the trembling substance, you could perhaps call it.
A tunnel of feeling to lead the ego to that place it never reaches.
No, there aren’t many who manage to get here
behind the bacteria veil.
To do that you really have to concentrate!
Or better still relax, just breathe the amoebic breath an embryo masters so easily.
I understand all those who are sceptical or nervous stepping over the threshold to a new
but I can assure you there are no books about it.
No knowledge to acquire, no purpose,
just a kind of deep and gathered awakening.
Warm as wool water.
Eerie as lysosome plumage.
Beautiful as the aria of anxiety.Translated by Kenneth Steven