Ask a Bookseller: 'The Copenhagen Trilogy' introduces Danish poet Tove Ditlevsen to English readers

A book cover of 'The Copenhagen Trilogy'
"The Copenhagen Trilogy" by Tove Ditzlevsen.
Courtesy of publisher

We couldn't let April pass by without some focus on poetry, and this week’s recommendation checks both the poetry and memoir boxes. Deborah Reed of Cloud and Leaf Bookstore in Manzanita, Ore., recommends “The Copenhagen Trilogy” by Tove Ditlevsen (1917–1976), which was released as a single volume in English in February.

A Danish poet whose work was contemporary with Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Ditlevsen lays bare her coming-of-age, intimate family life and deep love of language in this memoir series, subtitled “Childhood,” “Youth" and “Dependency.”

Ditlevsen describes growing up in a bleak and impoverished household, longing be a poet and to be loved by her mother, two goals that appear impossible. Yet Ditlevsen publishes her first work at age 20, and she goes on to write more than 20 books of poetry, fiction, memoir and children’s stories. She achieves literary fame, though happiness is another goal entirely. Nor does she shy away from the hopes and troubles of her four marriages and her addiction to Demerol.

“It’s difficult not to have a visceral response to her suffering,” says Reed, who admires the way Ditlevsen captures time and place down to the smallest detail. “When Ditlevsen writes from a child’s perspective about poverty and loneliness, it’s through this lens of hunger for language and expression. The writing itself crackles with this clarity and honesty and humor, and this kind of heart-pounding prose where you can see her talent as a poet shine.”

Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman translated the work from Danish into prose that is “streamlined and deceptively simple,” says Reed.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.