My Jewel Box
by Ursula Andkjær Olsen
ISBN-13: 9780900575136 | $20 | 251 pages | March 15, 2022
Art work by Sophia Kalkau
a world that widens into the mind
my jewelry must be big and heavy
my jewelry must sink into the earth
send its threads into the air
my jewelry must be
full of poison
full of life-giving juices
and everything will be sent back
Nominated for the 2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize, My Jewel Box (Mit smykkeskrin) marks the final installment of Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s visionary trilogy, a “fairy tale of the universe” investigating grief, bodies, motherhood, and the physical and economic inequalities of modern planetary life. Rendered into diamond-sharp English by award-winning translator Katrine Øgaard Jensen, My Jewel Box mounts a cosmically human (and non-human) re-approach to a grief-stricken earth, a place of all times entangled.
Praise for URSULA ANDKJÆR OLSEN
These poems meditate not only on motherhood but also on the quality of a vessel and the physical power of bringing forth life from a void, at once futuristic and prehistoric. Olsen’s poems invite us to observe the universe breathing, to listen to “the heartbeats of a windshield wiper in the rain” and understand how “three windmills in a row” are “inhuman sylphs that dance / inhumanly slow.” What these poems make us see, finally, is how humans are as hewn and crafted as the objects around us, “a garden executed entirely in embroidery,” and also “a forest with window glass between the branches / a magnificent, self-sown realm of pavilions.”
It’s beautiful and desirable; it’s nonporous (i.e., it can no longer be entered and no longer extrudes material) and inscrutable in its smoothness; it’s distinct from humanity and humanity’s feelings and attachments. And, most importantly, once it’s been cleaved from the self, the orb can be put on a vessel and sent away. In the universe of the main narrative of Outgoing Vessel, humanity is unrelatable; comfort is unrelatable; healing and journeys are unrelatable; the only aspirational thing is hardness as a new efficiency.
This is a special collection; it feels completely unique and new. My Jewel Box subtly builds and spins into something wholly enigmatic. To many readers, it will open up a different way of understanding poetry. When I think of my favorite poets, like Baudelaire and Dickinson to contemporary poets doing amazing work like C.T. Salazar and Diane Seuss, they are all very different but they share a certain musicality and a way with language that makes it flower and bloom.
In this cycle, the body is linked to other bodies as well as to nature and the economy, as an overarching order. The poems reveal the biological and emotional cycle of life, and the menopause is part of this pulsating economic system in which we absorb, issue and give back. […] Through these chains and structures, Ursula Andkjær Olsen causes us to see links between things in the universe that we might not otherwise have connected with each other. She makes us feel that our body is part of a greater whole; that we are in an almost mythical way part of the cosmos and involved in a form of exchange with other people. In a dizzying way, Mit smykkeskrin contains everything, and makes us think and feel something about everything in the world.
—2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize judges’ statement
Danish poet Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s compelling work travels through dark chambers of desire, power, and creation, conjuring up a feminist space where culture and nature wage war with one another, where psychology and anatomy merge to create a uniquely modern mytho-poetics. Katrine Øgaard Jensen’s masterful translation has a strong rhythm all its own, and captures the book’s jarring quality in a remarkably smooth rendering. By the end of this insidious text, the reader is just as “namedrunk” as the book’s enigmatic lyrical subject, and discovers that their own “heartspace,” too, has been torn open, dissected, and beautifully recreated.
—2018 National Translation Award judges’ statement by Sawako Nakayasu, Kareem James Abu-Zeid, and Jennifer Feeley.
About the Author
Ursula Andkjær Olsen (b. 1970) made her literary debut in 2000 and has since published nine collections of poetry and one novel, in addition to several dramatic texts and libretti for operas such as Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen’s Sol går op, sol går ned, and composer Peter Bruun’s Miki Alone, which was awarded the Nordic Council Music Prize in 2008. Olsen has received numerous awards for her work, including the Danish Arts Foundation’s Award of Distinction in 2017, the 2012 Montanaprisen award for Det 3. årtusindes hjerte (Third-Millennium Heart, Broken Dimanche Press/Action Books 2017), and the 2015 Danish Critics Prize for Literature for Udgående fartøj (Outgoing Vessel, Action Books 2021). Since 2019, Olsen has served as head of The Danish Academy of Creative Writing. Her latest poetry collection, Mit Smykkeskrin (My Jewel Box), was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2021.
About the Translator
Katrine Øgaard Jensen (b. 1988) is a poet and translator from the Danish. She is a recipient of several fellowships and awards, including the 2018 National Translation Award in Poetry for her translation of Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s book-length poem, Third-Millennium Heart (Broken Dimanche Press/Action Books 2017). She teaches creative writing and literary translation at Columbia University, where she served as Acting Director of LTAC (Literary Translation at Columbia) from 2019-2020.