Gro Dahle's stanzas showcase multiple voices and surprise readers as a home becomes a museum, a cemetery, and a place where furniture comes to life. Dahle’s work is fragmentary and eerie–an illustrious example of Scandinavian surrealism





A Hundred Thousand Hours

Gro Dahle, A Hundred Thousand Hours, Trans. by Rebecca Wadlinger. Bilingual edition. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.

The book-length poem A Hundred Thousand Hours is both one of the most celebrated and controversial volumes published in Norway in the past couple decades. A Hundred Thousand Hours revolves around a mother-daughter relationship that exists between alternating forces of harmony and hysteria. Dahle’s stanzas showcase multiple voices and surprise readers as a home becomes a museum, a cemetery, and a place where furniture comes to life. Dahle’s work is fragmentary and eerie–an illustrious example of Scandinavian surrealism.

It feels like I received a jolt of 100,000 kilowatt hours, and I’m still in shock.”–Jan Jakob Tønseth

 ”…a definite breakthrough work in a great writer’s career–poems that deserve a wide audience. I’m at a loss about how to recommend this book in the best possible way.”–Tore Renberg

[excerpt] 
Leaning forward with my feet together, I am a basket for 

lemons. Fused in skin and cartilage. You pull me up through 
the chandelier. Night-mouth against the window. The sound

of a car that disappears. The thigh’s light. The back’s cliff. The boat in
my chest. Hoist the white sail against the wind.

Two pairs of shoes in the hallway. And the sky’s dark blue clarity
in the evening.


I have my mother in my hands. It is she who
holds my daughter through me. And my mother
strokes my daughter across her back with my hands.
And my mother kisses my daughter’s hair with
my lips. And my mother complains to her with
my mouth. I am so poor. I have borrowed everything.
• •
My daughter grows out of my hands and into
my elbows. Out of my elbows and up to my shoulders.
You must not grow so fast, I say. My daughter
grows out of my lap and down to the floor. The dirty
wool sweaters. The tangled hair. Up from the floor and out
the door. Then I take her hard by the arm. No, I say.
• •
The water wheels roll in a dark mill. Grind the grain
finer and finer between us. The flour floats in
the room.
The swings creak in the wind. An evening prayer far
into sleep. Far above the fields of sleep. I dream that I
stand facing a deep hole in the ground. I’m holding a
baby carriage.



From the start, the short poems that comprise the book-length A Hundred Thousand Hours are haunted, ominous. The poems which chronicle the more ordinary moments in the mother-daughter relationship around which the narrative centers only serve to make the eeriness of the other poems more pronounced. Yet, the relationship is far from a standard familial one—rather, it is all-encompassing, immersive, and so ambivalent that the daughter kisses her mother while thinking about stabbing her. In one portion, it is unclear whether the mother or daughter is the speaker, but the poems detail vicious anxieties about parenthood, each page revealing a new violent fantasy. Given that the book’s subject matter includes puberty, motherhood, romance, and old age, it is easy to believe that the poems on these nearly 200 pages chart the full expanse of a life (albeit a strange one). 
Language is highly figurative and metaphorical here (“I am a trumpet on the floor”),so much so that it is hard to tell at times whether the imagery is literal or not. In one poem, the daughter exits a room via her mother’s uterus (“No other way than out.”), though it is unknown whether this is fanciful or actual.
While this book is a kind of verse novel, “verse” is the operative word, given that the language, rather than the plot or characters, is what compels readers forward. - Erin Lyndal Martin

Norwegian poet Dahle (through translator Wadlinger) offers us as raw an account of maternal anguish (and, too, maternal smothering) as can be imagined without the aid of therapy. The undercurrent of violence evident in this long-poem's brief, prose-like sections is as stark in those with mother-as-speaker as in those governed by a daughter's perspective. There's a simplicity to this book that belies its tragedy and terror; Dahle exposes the wounds of familial intersection not only with her sharp eye for detail but also her admirably unblinking courage.- Seth Abramson

I speak a fading, intermediate Spanish at best and can’t imagine translating it.  I know little about creating the same tone in two languages, maintaining meaning with form, or translating those untranslatable phrases.  I do not know a single word of Norwegian.  But after reading Rebecca Wadlinger’s translation of Gro Dahle’s book-length poem A Hundred Thousand Hours, I don’t need to speak to translation.  I want to speak to the poetry.
Dahle tells a terrifying story through stunning lines.  It is a book of the house and a book of the body.  The house becomes a body.  Dahle tells the story of a mother and daughter’s illicit relationship through shifting points of view.  We see a daughter as speaker, then a mother, and we see both in third person.  When the book shifts its yous, the reader fills the dreadful role of both mother and daughter.
Each line builds, leading to elation, longing, anger, and disquiet.  The poem begins with something looming in the air of the house – “Inside my mother sits in the rocking chair and watches/me. All is so still. All is so still. The glass cabinet listens./ It is just before she begins to rock.” – and escalates to the grotesque – “My baby. My baby. Hold you/ so tight you can’t breathe./ This is my privilege.”
It is a book of infatuation – “So quiet your hair is on/ your neck. The little itty-bitty white hairs. They are silent about all/worth being silent about and even a little more.” – on the brink of eruption – “Here your neck slips/ unnoticed into your back.  And your back slips into an/ anger I could never imagine.”
And when the poem erupts, it is from regret – “I am a wood louse...I cry: please.  I cry please as loud as I can.” – and from rage – “If I see you on the street, I will bake/ gingerbread in your face.”
When the rage can erupt no more, we end in a quiet loneliness, left astonished by the unexpected image, the explicit action, and the tender malevolence.  Wadlinger has hidden herself in these words, elevating Dahle, whose original Norwegian is mirrored on each page. 
A Hundred Thousand Hours is said to be “one of the most celebrated and controversial” Norwegian books in recent decades, and thanks to Wadlinger’s skillful translations, we are able to celebrate its arrival in English.- Christy Crutchfield

...Anyway, this is a long way to start writing about some really splendid recent books of poetry that presents fascinating narratives – the Norwegian poet Gro Dahle’s A Hundred Thousand Hours (translated by Rebecca Wadlinger) and Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes’s Style (translated by Jen Hofer). And they are quite similar in their approaches to narrative. Although neither book is a murder mystery (in any obvious sense), they do feel like they were written in that ambient narrative space of the early part of a detective space. Both books are series of (sort of) prose poems arranged in a narrative sequence, but rather than creating a “narrative arc,” each piece tells a kind of narrative as well as accumulating an overall narrative ambience.
And each narrative acts ambiently. Ie there is little sense of causality; the characters do not “change” or “grow up”; there is no epiphany to make them whole again. In diametric opposition to the typical quietist poem, they do not learn, they remaind in the zone of risk.
250px-Gro_Dahle_2005
Dhale’s A Hundred Thousand Hours (first published in 1996 in Norway) tells the “story” of three generations of mothers. That sounds very middlebrow, but that’s not the case. Their relationship is strange (even “surreal”) and violent.
The speaker’s mother is mythical and ominous figure:
The snakes grow out of the earth where my mother goes.
She eats away at my brain through my eyes.
Sucks out my thoughts with a straw. I’m silent with two
tongues. Her reptile fingers on my arm.
Let me go. Let me escape. Roses can sing, so
they sing about air and love. They whisper, so
they whisper about the sun. They can scream they scream for fresh
water in the vase. Fresh water in the vase, damn it!
But the relationship is not one entirely of subjugation:
My mother stands before me with tears on her lap lik an
apron. Then I go through her. Then I traverse
through her uterus. No other way than out.
Don’t wait for me, Momma. Dont’ sit by the window in
your nightgown, golf jacket over your shoulders. I’m
not coming home, Momma. Hit me. Hit me. I am
cheating on you.
Things get more complex when the speaker gets her own child, which enters into the same volatile ambience of love and violence, power and submission:
I turn myself into food. I turn myself into wool.
Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Let me drown you in milk.
Smother you with bread. My baby. My baby. Hold you
so tight you can’t breathe. This is my privilege.
These relationships get increasingly violent, but interestingly the violence is part of the home, that blissful domestic space that is supposed to be the shield against violence:
I am still hoping for the chance to stab
my knitting needles into you. Sew your ears together
with white thread. Do not dare come closer than five
hundred yards. If I see you on the street, I will bake
gingerbread in your face. If there’s another, I will
black-scorch your heart int eh oven at 450 degrees
- Johannes Goransson


Gro Dahle, born 1962 in Oslo, is a Norwegian writer and poet. She has published eight volumes of poetry, five collections of short stories and two novels as well as picture books and poetry for children and plays, musical theatre and opera liberettoes. She has received several awards for her work, especially for her poetry and the picture books, which she makes with her illustrator- husband Svein Nyhus. These picture books are for all ages and are about serious topics like violence in the family, death of a loved one, neglect, aggression, jealousy, psychiatric conditions, and several of them have been translated to many languages all over the world. As well as writing, she has worked at a publishing house as a consultant on poetry, and she teaches creative writing and lectures in Norway and Sweden.

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