When We Leave Each Other

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Among the distinguished poets (such as Jack Gilbert and Linda Gregg) who came to live in "my" Greek island village of Lindos was Henrik Nordbrant. Born in Copenhagen, Henrik was something of a prodigy, having published his first book of poetry when he was twenty-one. He arrived in Lindos soon after that (in the summer of 1967) intending to stay through the winter. My wife and I helped him to find a house and looked forward to spending time with this tall, handsome, gifted Dane.

But no sooner did Henrik settle into village life--and into a love affair with a Canadian potter--did he abruptly disappear, leaving behind only a cryptic note: "Gone to Turkey."

That pattern of behavior would be repeated often in the years to come: Henrik would show up, announce his intention to settle down in Lindos, only to do another midnight flit a few weeks, or even days, later. His flightiness got to be something of a joke, though we never doubted that he was an important poet, Henrik having shown us a few English translations of his work.

Now, for the first time, Henrik has had a major book published here: WHEN WE LEAVE EACH OTHER (Open Letter, translated by Patrick Phillip). The book contains fifty-nine of Henrik's poems, each one of which shows why he has become Denmark's "most respected and honored contemporary poet." His seemingly simple and informal style masks a complexity of thought and feeling--and a uniquely tragi-comic view of life and love.

Henrik also often writes about travel, and he acknowledges his peripatetic nature in the title poem of the book. Here it is in its entirety:

"When we leave each other, we leave at the same time

every place we've ever been together:

that ruined city of smoke-black houses

where we lived once for a month, those one-night towns

whose names we can't remember, reeking motels in Asia

where we used to wake up in the heat

like we'd slept a thousand years.

And all those little chapels perched in the mountains

on the road between Athens and Delphi,

where oil lamps burn all through the night

we leave, when we leave each other."