Tafdrup, Pia 1952–

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Tafdrup, Pia 1952–

PERSONAL: Born May 29, 1952, in Copenhagen, Denmark; daughter of Finn (a farmer) and Elin (a farmer) Tafdrup; children: two. Ethnicity: "Danish." Education: University of Copenhagen, B.A., 1977.

ADDRESSES: Home—Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Poet and translator. Danish Language Council, member, 1991–99; Foundation for the Fine Arts, chair of department of literature, 1993–95; Danish Arts Foundation, member of council, 2002–; gives poetry readings all over the world.

MEMBER: Danish Academy Rungstedlund, Danish PEN Centre.

AWARDS, HONORS: Danish State Art Foundation scholarship, 1984; Holger Drachmann grant, 1986; Henri Nathansen Birthday grant, 1987; Otto Rung grant, 1987; Tagea Brandt grant, 1989; Edith Rode grant, 1991; Einar Hansen grant, 1991; N. Bang grant, 1992; Anckerske grant, 1994; Literature Prize, Weekend Avisen, 1995; Morten Nielsen grant, 1995; Emil Aarestrup's Medal, 1996; Danish Literature Prize for Women, Ragna Sidén's Foundation, 1997; Lifetime Literature Prize, 1998; Nordic Council, 1999, for Dronningeporten; decorated knight, Order of Dannebrog, 2001; Nordic Prize from Swedish Academy, 2006.


Når der går hul på en engel (poetry; title means "When an Angel Breaks Her Silence"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1981.

(Editor) Konstellationer—en antologi of dansk lyrik 1976–1981, Systime (Herning, Denmark), 1982.

Intetfang (poetry; title means "No Hold"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1982.

Den inderste zone (poetry; title means "The Innermost Zone"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1983.

(Editor) Transformationer: Poesi 1980–1985, Systime (Herning, Denmark), 1985.

Spring flod (poetry), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1985, translation by Anne Born published as Spring Tide, Forest (Boston, MA), 1989.

Hvid feber (poetry; title means "White Fever"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1986.

Sekundernes bro (poetry; title means "The Bridge of Moments"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1988.

(Coeditor) Rocky Mountains: Festskrift til Per Højholts 60 års dag 22.7.1988, Schønberg (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1988.

Døden i bjergene (play; title means "Death in the Mountains;" first produced in Odense, Denmark, at Odense Teater, 1988), Teaterforlaget Drama (Gråsten, Denmark), 1988.

Edition in English: Ten Poems, translated by Poul Borum and Roger Greenwald, Cloudberry Foundation (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Over vandet går jeg: Skitse til en poetik (title means "Walking over Water: Outline of a Poetics"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1991.

Jorden er blå (play; title means "Earth Is Blue;" first produced in Odense, Denmark, at Odense Teater, 1991), Teaterforlaget Drama (Gråsten, Denmark), 1991.

Krystalskovene (poetry; title means "Crystal Forest"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1992.

Territorialsang: En Jerusalemkomposition (poetry; title means "Territorial Song"), Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1994.

Collection: Mindst ét sår har kroppen altid: Pia Tafdrups forfatterskab, edited by Carsten Dilling, Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1995.

Dronningeporten (poetry), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1998, translation by David McDuff published as Queen's Gate, Bloodaxe Books (Tarset Northumberland, England), 2001.

Tusindfødt (poetry; title means "Thousand Born,"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1999.

Poems, 1981–1983, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1999.

Poems, 1984–1988, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2000.

Poems, 1989–1998, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2001.

Hvalerne i Paris (poetry; title means "The Whales in Paris"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2002.

Hengivelsen (novel; title means "Surrender"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2002.

Tarkovskijs heste (poetry), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 2006.

Librettist for "The Town of Viso," choreographed by Efva Lilja, 1999. Contributor to anthologies, including Celebrating Poetry, edited by Judith Chernaik, Cicely Herbert, and Gerard Benson, Department of Culture, Media and Sport (London, England), 1998. Contributor of poetry in translation to periodicals, including Passage, In Other Words, Albany Review, Contemporary Review, Celtic Dawn, Pequod, Cimarron Review, Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, Poetry Review, and Danish Journal.

Tafdrup's writings have been translated into more than twenty languages.

ADAPTATIONS: Tafdrup's poetry has also been recorded by the author on compact discs, and the novel Hengivelsen was recorded as an audiobook.

SIDELIGHTS: Pia Tafdrup is one of modern Denmark's most prominent poets. Since the 1980s, her verse has earned accolades not just in the Scandinavian world, but in English translation was well. Her work is filled with images and events from her own life, but Tafdrup constructs her poems in such a way that they echo with a universal resonance. Explaining her appeal, Niels Ingwersen commented in the Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century that Tafdrup's "rhythmic, sensuous language—laden with rich, innovative images—refutes any clear-cut, mundane perceptions of existence but conjures up, rather, the complexity and richness of the experience of one whose senses are open to the world."

Tafdrup was born in Denmark in 1952 to Jewish parents who had spent World War II living in neutral Sweden after Denmark was occupied by troops from Nazi Germany. When they returned, they acquired a large farm in a pastoral area of the Danish countryside, Sjalland. Both parents were deeply interested in literature and poetry and spent much time imbuing their children—Tafdrup was the eldest daughter—with an appreciation for fairy tales and classic children's literature. As a child, she became very fascinated by language.

After earning a degree in Danish language and literature from the University of Copenhagen in 1977, Tafdrup married and had a child, an experience that found poetic expression in some of the passages in her first volume of poems, Når der går hul på en engel. She writes about her own youth as well.

The first work to appear in full English translation was her poetry collection Spring flod. It was translated by Anne Born as Spring Tide four years later, and analysts of Tafdrup's work called it a new plateau in her career. The volume received positive criticism from some of Denmark's leading writers. As the title implies, its seven sections chronicle the cycle of life. "A powerful desire for life and for being part of a cosmic life cycle dominate the poems, and the poetic language is full of energy and passion," wrote essayist Anne-Marie Mai in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. "The rhythm of the verses is strong and almost chanting, and the poems lure the reader into the front of love and longing where life begins and ends."

An essayist for Contemporary Women Poets viewed Spring Tide as the first in a trilogy that continued with Hvid feber. Here the despair and grief of the end of a relationship is depicted through Tafdrup's verbal imagery. The heartache is sometimes expressed through an allusion to a hare that has been killed or injured. The third work in the trilogy, Sekundernes bro offers surges of hope through a sense of reconciliation and renewal. The Contemporary Women Poets contributor wrote of Tafdrup: "In her intensely serious work with language and meaning she constantly breaks boundaries, not by constructing new words but in wrestling to extract and clarify ideas that occupy her creating intellect and feeling heart."

Tafdrup wrote about poetry itself in Over vandet går jeg: Skitse til en poetik. Its fifteen chapters contain short, aphoristic works about poetry in all its aspects, from the genesis of a stanza to the poet's reaction to its critical reception. "As a poet, Tafdrup combines a strong self-consciousness with an ability to submit to the unknown, the reader included," noted World Literature Today reviewer Svend Birke Espegård, who called Over vandet går jeg a "valuable" work that "holds a personal radiating power, and its transcendence of poetry is intense." Its significance to Tafdrup's career goes farther, Mai explained: "Tafdrup's essay on poetics represents the first attempt in that genre by a Scandinavian woman writer," wrote the critic, "and although some critics denigrated the work, it remains an important part of the discussion on poetics that engages many young Danish writers and poets."

The volume Krystalskovene earned Tafdrup compliments for its lyrical homage to the northern forest and the beauty of its silences. "The poems are carefully executed with a faultless poetic language of harmony and beauty," wrote Mai. "The poems are like crystals, cold and hard, but unforgettable. A growing consciousness of death accompanies the formal mastery. The poem protects the reader and the poet from death; but, in its perfection, it also reminds the poet and reader about the inevitability of death." The verse collection Territorialsang: En Jerusalemkomposition emerged from two visits to that holy city, as Tafdrup's Jewish heritage was taking on an increasing significance in her life. Some of its poems touch upon her parents' exile in Sweden because of their faith, while the title refers to the method by which birds stake out their territory.

In nine sections, Dronningeporten contains seven poems thematically centered on the idea of water in its various forms—a lake, the rain, a bath. The poet describes her pre-poet self as ice-bound, and writes of a creativity freed by love. "She turns into a stream, then an ocean of possibilities, concealing both life and death," noted Faith Ingwersen in a review for World Literature Today. The title of the work reflects the second visit to Israel that Tafdrup made in 1993, and her observation that the names of all eight ancient gates to the city of Jerusalem sounded quite masculine in translation. "She decided that an entrance for women into the world could appear through her writing and would depict the modern female drama," observed Ingwersen. "The words the poet awakens constitute a 'queen's realm'—that magical realm of the mature and sovereign woman to which the gate of the title has led."

Tafdrup is also the author of plays that have won praise for their dialogue. "Beautifully shaped verses with intense musicality characterize Tafdrup's poetic language," wrote Mai. "Her profound reflections on human existence alternate with her impressions of nature, the body, sexuality, and modern living."



Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 214: Twentieth-Century Danish Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 429-433.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 281-282.


World Literature Today, winter, 1993, Svend Birke Espegård, review of Over vandet går jeg: Skitse til en poetik, p. 192; spring, 1999, Faith Ingwersen, review of Dronningeporten, p. 345.


Pia Tafdrup Home Page, http://www.tafdrup.com (November 12, 2006).