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The City and The Writer: In Oslo with Erling Kittelsen

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Can you describe the mood of Oslo as you feel/see it?

Oslo is wearing its autumn colors. On the occasional days with pleasant weather, the main streets are full of people.


What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

A close friend of mine was killed a few summers ago. He knew so much about Eastern cultures that is unknown to others.


What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

That Oslo, in fact, is a summer city. It is possible to go on day trips to many of the islands in the Oslo fjord.


What writer(s) from here should we read?

I would like to leave Oslo and mention the Stockholm poet Tomas Tranströmer, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011.


Is there a place here you return to often?

The Oslo Botanical Garden in the east part of the city.


Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

In all modesty, my own working place, a loft in downtown Oslo. In this place, I have hosted open cultural evenings featuring readings, musical performances, and other acts every fourth Friday—uninterrupted—for the past two decades.


Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

The many cultural events organized by citizens of diverse ethnic backgrounds.


Where does passion live here?



What is the title of one of your works about Oslo and what inspired it exactly?

Untitled poem from “Introduksjon”: 

I write my life in bits and pieces

for those out there

whose existence my friends deny.

(You will understand the source of inspiration.)


Inspired by Levi, “Outside Oslo does an outside exist?”

We all struggle to understand what lies on the inside and what exists on the outside.


Erling Kittelsen had his debut as a poet in 1970. He has since published several poetry cycles and collections, as well as fables, dramatic works, and translations of poetry. He is known for his dialogues, partly with colleagues and partly with the translation of poetry from distant languages—including Arabic, Persian, Korean, Lithuanian, and Sumerian—in relation to the Nordic-language area. He also has poetical dialogue with the most ancient poetical traditions in the Nordic countries—the Old Norse Poetic Edda, where at first he translates the old text and then presents a contemporary literary answer. He has received several literary prices, including the Aschehoug Prize, awarded by the Norwegian Critics Organization, and the Dobloug Prize, awarded by the Swedish Academy.

Published Nov 7, 2017   Copyright 2017 Nathalie Handal

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