Monica Aasprong

- Norway -

The work of the Norwegian poet Monica Aasprong (Kristiansund, 1969) is characterised by a multitude of themes and experimental forms, typographical elements and an overlap with other art forms. Aasprong studied creative writing and literary theory and published three poetry collections: Soldatmarkedet (The Soldiers’ Market, 2006), Et diktet barn (An Invented Child, 2010) en Sirkelsalme (Circle Psalm, 2013) and a novel in 1997. Aside from her own work, Monica Aasprong has also translated writers like Thomas Bernhard and Rainer Maria Rilke.

Soldatmarkedet is a literary musical project that began as separate publications in magazines and later resulted in a chapbook (2003), a poetry collection (2006) and several installations. In this project, Aasprong plays with sounds, fragments of words and associations. Words alternate in an almost kaleidoscopic, fugue-like manner. Sometimes a word is broken up and separated out into sounds, thereby returning it to its most basic form. This sometimes  gives rise to chains of elongated vowels which almost seem taken from a Bach cantata: ‘choi i ier / mo o other / o oth seele / erde erde ele / une / see ste erne / a ar arche / ma ask ashes’.

The play of sounds and associations in Soldatmarkedet is supported by the design of the book. Some of the pages are divided up into text boxes which are made up of repetitions of a word or a sound; sometimes joined together, sometimes separate. Aasprong’s work is compared by some critics to concrete poetry.

In an interview, the poet explained that the first texts she wrote for this project had almost an explosive power for her; she puts this down to the fact that she’d been searching for years for the right voice to express this emotional poetry. In 2014, her poetry will be available in Dutch translation for the first time.

Her bibliography includes: mellom Alex Gobulev og meg (Tiden forlag, Oslo, 1997), Soldatmarkedet (Damm & Søn, Oslo, 2006), Et diktet barn (Cappelen Damm, Oslo, 2010), Sirkelsalme (Cappelen Damm, Oslo, 2013).

© Roald van Elswijk (Translated by Michele Hutchison)

On Soldatmarkedet by Monica Aasprong

In two recent blogposts, "Blindstamped Silence is a Soldier’s Market" and "Blog and Boat", Geoff Huth is writing about Soldatmarkedet by the Norwegian poet Monica Aasprong. The book Soldatmarkedet is part of a larger project, of which Audun Lindholm, editor of the Small Press Gasspedal and the Magazine Vagant, said this on the conferance "From Concrete Poetry to Digital Poetry" in Copenhagen November last year:

"Monica Aasprong’s Soldatmarkedet is a work in progress. Not in the sense that it’s a work nearing completion, for instance in the book-lengt poem published as Soldatmarkedet by N. W. Damm & Søn this autumn. Rather, the title designates a heterogenous body of work, a series of texts and installations. During the last three years, Aasprong has published poems in various magazines and small magazines such as Grønn kylling (arb.tittel)Ny poesi,LyrikvännenOEIRatatosk and Luj (the latter of which she herself was one of the editors). In addition, a chap book has been published by the small press Gasspedal, and installations with text as the main element has been exhibited in both Sweden and Norway. Some parts of the work have been realized through collaborations with the media technician Erik Sjödin and the composer and voice artist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje. Each part of this ongoing work is clearly defined by the context it is presented in, and the format it is published in, as for instance the page layout of the magazine or the scroll function of a web browser.

The first characteristic which makes it relevant to discuss Aasprong’s work under the title «Reinventing concrete poetry», even though it’s detached from the historical context of concretism, is its use of letters to make visual forms and surfaces. There are no verbal elements in Soldatmarkedet which don’t also have a strong visual quality–and the other way around: there are no visual elements in her work which aren’t also verbal, that is, composed of latin letters. The visual elements subvert or extend the linear and semantically focused reading process, by foregrounding linguistic non-discursiveness, i.e. those aspects of language which cannot be reduced to an ideality of meaning. Of course, one could say that all texts have visual form, that the verse in poetry is primarily a visual phenomenon–and that escaping reduction to paraphrasable statements is a characteristic common to all poetry. But there are further reasons to discuss Aasprong’s poetry in relation to concrete poetry.

In a text commenting upon her own project, published a few months ago on the Nypoesi web site, Aasprong states: «I started working on Soldatmarkedet in 2003, and essential to the work is the title itself, to approach different possible meanings of this specific word. In parts of the project the single letters of this word has functioned as a reservoir of linguistic matter.» This last sentence resonates with the key imperative in Öyvind Fahlström’s Manifesto forConcrete Poetry (1954), which Jesper Olsson gave a talke about yesterday: «Krama språkmateria», meaning «knead/form the linguistic matter».

Many of Aasprong’s texts literally decompose the title word, to divide, rearrange and duplicate its smallest constituent elements, in long series and geometrical, iconic or seemingly random shapes. But–and this is something which the book published this winter makes very clear–integrated in these works characterized by an extreme dispersion and discontinuity, there is a more semantically based study of the connotations of the title word, its referential qualities, a drifting through its historical, social and imaginative surroundings.

So what does this word, Soldatmarkedet, mean, quite literally? The English title would be The Soldiers’ Market or The Soldiers’ Square, and the German, Gendarmenmarkt. The reason I mention the German translation is of course that Gendarmenmarkt is the name of a very well known city square in Berlin. Aasprong’s translation of the square’s name–a composite word or a neologism–is taken from the Norwegian novelist Dag Solstad and his autobiographical novel 16.07.41, or in English: July 16th 1941, published in 2003. This novel is in large parts a sort of subjective, topographical study of several areas of Berlin which Solstad came to know during the time he lived there. Let me quote parts of the paragraph where Solstad comes across

[....] a beatiful square. Gendarmenmarkt, the soldiers’ market. It reminds us that Berlin was once the capital of The Kingdom of Preussia, and a soldiers’ city, a garrison city. The city walls erected by Friedrich The Great marked a large circumference around the city center, from several of its gates you had to cross large, open areas of land before you entered the city itself. There, the king’s regiments exercised. In the Gendarmenmarkt square, there are three monumental buildings, two churces, of which one is the Huguenots’ church, which surround an impressive theater. (Solstad 2003:69)

To supply Solstad’s description, I’ll mention that Gendarmenmarkt got its name when a regiment built stables on the square in the 17th century. The three «monumental buildings» which Solstad mentions, are the French Cathedral, The German Cathedral and Schinkel’s concert house from 1821. In other words, in this square, activities like religious practice, art (there’s also a statue of Schiller on the square), the military and the commercial sphere, meet. Aasprong’s expressed strategy, «to approach different possible meanings of this specific word», is a statement about how this seemingly simple word suggests a diversity of historical material, a wide range of human activities and meaning in referential as well as existential terms."




Soldatmarkedet, a monumental project by the Norwegian poet Monica Aasprong started in 2003, deals with radically reduced writing. Aasprong began a process of removing letters from novels she had written, % nally ending up with entire books consisting of only one letter. In Soldatmarkedet (Oslo: Poetryfestival, 2007), the entire book is nothing but the letter t % lling every page. The book itself is a small volume based on sixteen thousand automatically generated text permutations, which % ll an entire % ling cabinet. On most pages, Aasprong has removed one or more t’s to create breaks in the visual % eld. Often, many t’s have been removed to create rivulets of text running down the page. The title of the book comes from the famous Soldiers’ Square in Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt, a place that was originally used as stables for German regiments. Over time, two major cathedrals were built on the square. Later, with the addition of an arts space, the square was transformed into a complex palimpsest of military, cultural, market, and religious history. Aasprong’s reduced poems visually re' ect the site’s history, as the t’s can be read as crosses (religion), plus signs (commerce), or rudimentary grave markers (military). Aasprong’s work takes a minimalist trajectory of concrete and visual poetry— from Stéphane Mallarmé to E. E. Cummings to Aram Saroyan—to new and extreme limits while at the same time taking concerns of visually based minimalism into the sphere of the page. In the process she recalls José Luis Castillejo’s massive fourhundred-page TLALAATALA (Madrid: Alga Marghen, 2001), which consists entirely of permutations of its title’s letters.