Item description for Letters from Portugal by Jan Oskar Hansen...
"I never saw the beauty of the sea." "My tree atop the hill murmurs its gratitude." "Olive trees drip slow tears of immense sorrow, knowing they can never embrace one another." Jan Oskar Hansen's attitudes are evident in his poetry: his wish that people were kinder and gentler; his abhorrence of war, his sense of humour about the senseless things people, including himself, have done. But it's his love of plants, animals and all of nature-such a great admiration that he often uses personification, giving nature human qualities and emotions in his poems-that is most evident. Perhaps it's this quality-along with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour-that makes his poems so unique and endearing. Letters from Portugal is divided into six chapters: On Love, On War, On People, On Poetry, Hansen Snapshots, and Letters from Portugal: actual letters from the poet to his editor. There's something for everyone here. Even those who aren't frequent readers of poetry will be moved by Hansen's passion, amused by his sarcasm, and delighted by his ability to paint pictures of the simple things in ordinary life-making them extraordinary.
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Reviews - What do customers think about Letters from Portugal?
Exciting... Jul 21, 2006
This book is hard to lay down.
The "Letters" are stories told with finely-tuned sensibility by Jan Oskar Hansen, a poet who has sailed the seven seas of his inner and outer worlds. Because of their range, loving acceptance of life and unflinching honesty, the stories will appeal even to those who don't usually read poetry, and sophisticated readers will discover new truths and newly experience old ones.
The poet takes Life on and goes from overview into its nooks and crannies. Our own lives are shown to be larger and more interesting than we'd realized. The gentle nobility and empathy that pervade the lines compel us to experience and enjoy our own humanity. Mr. Hansen is a powerful communicator.
From Letters from Portugal:
Winners and Losers
As the rich Iraquis are fleeing Baghdad, the poor are left behind, and as always, in every war fought, it is the not-haves who die. The foot soldier too, in his fox hole, where war propaganda is suddenly rendered valueless, is usually from a city slum or from a tiny homestead.
Far from the battlefield, the sons of the powerful join the National Guard, wear spended uniforms, talk tough.
To Be in Love
Once, but only once, was I in love. Pink clouds bumped my head on morning stars. Smiled to everyone and was incredibly kind, which in the end was my downfall, because some women can't resist a man in love, wanting to possess that inner glow to warm their lonely hearts. I was led astray, eating the icing on the cake of love. She didn't see it that way, and dumped me cruelly. Sadly watched the cake get stale; its icing melt. Let me fall in love once more, and this time get it right.
There are many poems rich in fantasy in this collection and those in which fantasy and reality intermingle, so that we are compelled to recognize that any rigid separation is of our own making.
In his essay, "The Case for Popular Poetry," Joseph Sobran makes a plea for poetry that will "stick to the ribs," reach his heart and mind and stay with him. I hope he finds these poems.
Bonuses: the book has an excellent introduction and an interview with the poet. At the end is a brilliant touch -- a section titled "Emails from a poet to his editor."
Jan Oskar Hansen makes "the landscape look trivial" Aug 1, 2003
Letters From Portugal is an honest picture of the world and human nature in all its beauty and tragedy portrayed in a lovely collection of poetry. Jan Oskar Hansen gives voice to the everyday man in an everyday world. Simplicity is as its best when this talented poet expresses straightforward awe at nature and all living creatures, vegetable and animal alike.
Within this scope he bears witness to those forgotten men, women and children some would avoid seeing. Innocently drawing our attention to a currently pervasive immunity towards suffering in our society, Mr. Hansen is never judgmental in tone, nor does he set himself apart. His poems are like black and white snapshots of life, reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth's paintings.
"City at Night" is a potent example of this brilliant picture painting. The scene, a simple view from an urban hotel room window, does not divulge its emotional effect until the last.
"An empty beer can clatters in the night, a window opens, and for a moment, loneliness lingers."
With a talent for encapsulating human emotion as inspiring as it is original, Mr. Hansen's penetrating insight into loneliness and loss pervades much of his work. However, he can also cleverly dispatch a touch light as ambrosia, slightly winking at you with his words. This good natured humor is at its best in "If I Should". He entreats that when he dies, he'd like his last thoughts to be of he and a young Marilyn Monroe talking and walking in the woods together. With a gentle imaginative style of reflection, Jan Oskar Hansen is the true poet's poet and his writing is delightful reading even for the infrequent reader of poetry.
Hansen Embraces the Big Subjects says poet Tony Lewis-Jones Jul 4, 2003
A light breeze kisses a mountain lake;
a ripple of delight. So deep felt is
the caress that the lake undulates long
after the breeze has gone.
This is one of the early poems from Jan Oskar Hansen's Letters From Portugal, and it tells us much, in its four lines, about this poet. Firstly, there is a sensuousness about the language, an appreciation of nature through the senses that is not filtered through the reductive intellect. Secondly, this is an affirmation for the poet: the delight he feels is entirely natural and untaught. Then, beneath the surface of the appreciation of nature, we become aware that Hansen is touching on wider issues: the breeze is a 'caress', and the undulation of the lake is surely also that of a human body. The overall effect is very pleasing, and this is something that one finds throughout Letters From Portugal: the surface of the poem is only an entry into the bigger world of the poet's consciousness.
Bewrite have kindly given us, through the good auspices of their poetry editor, Heather Grace, a series of prose insights into Hansen's life and poetry at the opening of the book. This is certainly a poet who has lived life and travelled, both physically and mentally, and this breadth of experience continually reveals itself throughout Letters From Portugal. This is particularly noticeable in the section 'On People', from which 'The Blessed' is taken:
Handicapped beggars fight
for the best position
nearest the church's door;
the one with spiked
We who have communicated with
God are in a mellow mood,
give more coins than we should,
which we notice with annoyance
when we pay for a coffee and
have to break into a note.
That's why we scowl at the
beggar in the town square,
ignore his outstretched, dirty
palm and silly grin.
We are going to church
next Sunday too,
to feel blessed while
beggars fight outside.
The poet presents this story in the simplest language, and makes no apology for the emotions expressed. It is we, the readers, who are left to reflect on what Hansen really thinks of this kind of Christianity. It is sobering to reflect that there were beggars in the New Testament, and still, 2000 years later, our society is as graspingly materialistic as it ever was. Hansen tells us this without needing to spell out his own feelings on the subject, and the message is all the more powerful for that.
It would be invidious to quote every poem in this book that gave me pleasure, and obviously, in the scope of a review, this is just not possible. Hansen is a writer who embraces the big subjects, although his canvases are miniaturist, and I recommend this book to those who have not come across his excellent work before. Let the poet have the last word though. In Two Lonely People Together, he writes of a love that is fleeting and unsure, and seeks solace in 'a book about love'. I am sure many will find solace in Letters From Portugal, and much fine poetry too:
Two Lonely People Together
It was late. We had been drinking
wine, and you asked me to stay.
The bed was unmade; a faint scent of
aftershave in the air. I wondered how
many men slept in your bed before you got
around to changing the sheets. If wine isn't an
aphrodisiac, it surely is an anesthesia
of the mind, and with the light off, the ghosts
of men past disappeared. When you gently
snored, the rhapsody of humanity lost,
I got up and sat in your living room,
reading a book about love.
Review by Tony Lewis-Jones Poet in Residence Bristol Evening Post, UK 24.5.03
Review by Tony Lewis-Jones, Bristol Evening Post Jun 25, 2003
'Jan Oskar Hansen writes with an openness and simplicity which will refresh the most jaded of palates. His extraordinary achievement in Letters from Portugal ranks him as an important new voice in global poetry.'