The Dovre slate mill (Aase Berg)

by Michael Peverett

Dovrefjell, with Musk-Ox

[Image source:]

In Dovre Slate Mill

Maneuver the body across deep traps, across water-clogged holes and open wells. across the animal's wet fur with terror in my neck-frenzy. Sharp branches strike and lash blood-needles against my finger-skin my face of blue enamel against naked nettle fibers. On the other side of the smeltery at the edge of the murky lake there I see Zachris move too close to the shaft. I move closer to the head even though chains clang dull metal against the febrile radula. Here runs a clear underground border a fistulation toward Mare Imbrium. I thrust the muscle latch toward the machines that throb there in the wound. What evil can happen to you what evil can happen to you here near heavy waters. In the smithy the Daude choir's tortured tracks shrieking against sharp spits. Chitinstaffs, porphyry, cold coal crystals. And my stiff hands cupped, and my stiff hands cupped around the surface of your black cranium.

I Dovre skifferkvarn

Manövrerar kroppen över djupa fällor, över vattenfyllda hål och öppna brunnor, över djurets blöta päls med skräck i ryggens hets. Vassa grenar slår och snärtar blodbarr mot min fingerhud mitt ansikte av blå enamel mot nakna nässelfibrer. På andra sidan smältverket vid randen av den dunkla sjö där ser jak Zachris komma schaktet allför nära. Jag rör mig närmare mot huvudet trots kedjor klanger matt metall mot den febrila radulan. Här går en tydlig underjordisk gräns enfistelgång mot Mare Imbrium. Jag stöter muskelfästet mot maskinerna som bultar där i såret. Vad ont kan hända dig vad ont kan hända dis här nära tunga vatten. I smedjan Daudekörens pina skenor skriande mot skarpa spett. Kitinstavar, porfyrer, kalla kolkristaller. Och min stela händer kupade, och mina stela händer kupade kring ytan av ditt svarta kranium.

Aase Berg, from Mörk materia (=Dark matter) (Bonniers,1999), with English translation by Johannes Göransson (from Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg, Action Books, 2005).

This was Aase Berg's post-apocalyptic second collection of poems (in Sweden, the book is often regarded as in dialogue with Harry Martinson's 1956 sci-fi poem Aniara). Born in 1967, Berg is one of Sweden's best-known younger poets. She has now published seven collections, she also writes for the national newspaper Expressen.

One of the ideas I took from reading around this poetry is about a two-fold conception of nature: one side facing towards us, acculturated and interpreted through culture; and the other side facing away, the "dark matter" that exists in crushing solidity but beyond identification and beyond the possibility of acculturation. But it seems important to add that in Berg's poetry nature is not separate from the body. She is not a landscape poet; everything is within.


Name of a village, region and mountain massif in central Norway. (I think I remember reading that Berg has Norwegian ancestry, but I might be mistaken.) The famous Grieg tune known in English as "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is really called "I Dovregubbens hall".

The meaning of the source-word dofr is disputed but the best guess is that it relates to a deep cleft or gorge.  In this poem, it's apparent that the journey is into the earth.

skifferkvarn ("slate mill")

In Swedish the line between standard vocabulary and coinage is fuzzy: the agglutinative nature of the language naturally tends to produce coinages and re-coinages, and Berg's poetry makes heavy use of this. This particular word had been used (rarely) before, for example in a history of artificial fertilizers to describe a gypsum-crushing machine. In this case the important thing is perhaps the crushing of form and identity (the distinct thin layers of slates; books, screens, images; the picturable, the nameable).

Mare Imbrium

The largest crater on the moon (it's the Man in the Moon's right eye); resulting from a catastrophic planetary collision 3.8 billion years ago. The collision was so traumatic that its effects can also be seen at the diametrically opposite point, on the moon's dark side. Berg's poem is strongly aware of geological time-spans. Other poems in the sequence refer to Lemuria (hypothetical ancient continent) and Purgatorius (the original primate genus).

Daudekören ("Daude choir")

Daude is a Norwegian variant, especially in compound words, to the standard word død ("death").

Brief biography of Aase Berg:

Three other poems from Mörk materia, with English translation:

A selection of other poems (Swedish only) from the period of Berg's involvement with the Stockholm Surrealist Group, including six from Mörk materia .

"Sälformen släpar skinnet -- om naturen i Aase Bergs tidiga diktning"
Interesting dissertation (in Swedish) by Johan Attfors about nature in Berg's two earliest collections,  Hos rådjur (=With Deer) and Mörk materia  :

Johannes Göransson's excellent essay "'Antibody': Aase Berg's Grotesque Poetry and the Swedish Welfare State", in Transnationalism and Resistance: Experience and Experiment in Women's Writing ed. Adele Parker and Stephenie Young, can (mostly) be read here:

Aase Berg

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