Tone Hødnebø was born in Oslo and grew up in Tønsberg, a coastal town south of Oslo. She studied in Bergen, where she still lived when her first poetry collection, Larm, was published in 1989. Since then she has published four collections of poetry, a small work on poetics, Skamfulle Pompeii (Shameful Pompeii, 2004, H Press), as well as a translation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry called Skitne lille hjerte (Dirty little heart, 1995). A selection of poetry, Et lykkelig øyeblikk (A Happy Moment) was published in 2005. She has received some of the most prestigious poetry prizes in Norway and is undoubtedly one of the country’s most respected contemporary poets. She has taught creative writing both in Norway and Sweden.
Hødnebø's volumes of poetry include Larm (Noise, 1989), Mørk kvadrat (Dark Square, 1994), Pendel (Pendulum, 1997), Stormstigen (Storm Ladder, 2002), and Nedtegnelser (Jottings, 2007). The slow pace with which she publishes her books – it has never been less then three years between them, and usually five – testifies to the deep consideration in her work process.
Hødnebø's poetry steadily reveals her intimate knowledge of both literary and philosophical traditions, which she often quotes, be it explicitly or implicitly. The title Dark Square refers to Kasimir Malevitch's painting and a sentence like "the soul´s engineer / is measuring the universe with a teaspoon" refers more subtly to George Eliot's "Prufrock" poem. But her subtle referencing is crafty, and achieves complex articulations: measurements, outlines, sketches, delineations and structures are strewn across these poems, as are plans, sections and technical models. This array of measurements is never accurate or stable however – each is as tilted, slanted and haphazardly poetic as admittedly measuring the universe with a teaspoon. The reader can trace human consciousness here, experimenting and proposing connections where none exist – between nature and language, between the individual and the collective, or between the air and thought.
The will to blend the rationality of engineering, the tectonics of architecture, and the emotionality of the poet is insistent. This paradoxical relation between the immeasurable complexity of thought and the measurability of the world governs Hødnebø's poetry and pulls it in many directions.
One could say that most of Hødnebø's poems propose ways of engaging with the world, but less as a reservoir for emotions than as a structure and space for thought. The world seems basically separate from thought in this poetic universe – the air, light, and loftiness of a summer day call for immediate presence more than conscious reflection – but it can make space for castles in the air and imaginative projections. Hødnebø's poems offer temporal connection between the exploring mind and the makings of the physical world.
The endeavor to understand the world is the most distinct trait in these poems, and the poetic approach in this is presented as a scientific method.
Through her method, the world appears almost all-encompassable. There is one globe. On this globe we find trees, wind, grass, roses and not least of all, air. Ultimately, what the poetry brings us to measure is human beings and their fantastic and intricate world of thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
Larm, Gyldendal, Oslo, 1991
Mørkt kvadrat, Aventura forlag, Oslo, 1994
Pendel, Kolon forlag, Oslo, 1997
Stormstigen, Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2002
Skamfulle pompeii, H Press, Oslo, 2004
Et lykkelig øyeblikk. Dikt i utvalg ved Janike Kampevold Larsen, Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2005
Nedtegnelser. Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2008