Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Ulrikka Gernes

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Ulrikka Gernes

Danish poet Ulrikka Gernes published her first collection at just eighteen, taking the European poetry world by storm. Since then she has published an additional ten collections, returning this summer with Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen). The dreamlike poems of Frayed Opus have been called "airy and abstract, like pinching smoke", and praised for their humour, honesty and ability to distill universal concepts in razor-sharp, unique images.

Today we're pleased to welcome Ulrikka to Open Book to take our version of the Proust Quesitonnaire, where we get to know authors on a personal level.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

Ulrikka tells us about the importance of grumpiness, answers difficult and impossible questions for us and celebrates her love of one gravelly-voiced Canadian icon.

What is your dream of happiness?

A healthy and happy child. Being at one with myself. And kittens.

What is your idea of misery?

Playing hide and seek and not being found.

Where would you like to live?

Surrounded by a garden in a house by the sea, behind the forest, across the fields, in the city near the mountains, in a temperate climate; in a solitude inhabited by friends.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

A sense of humour, honesty, intelligence and a healthy breath.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

A sense of humour, honesty, intelligence and a healthy breath.

What is your chief characteristic?


What is your principal fault?


What is your greatest extravagance?

Several: Grumpiness. Expensive perfumes. Floods of stationary. Fountains of fountain pens.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?


What do you value most about your friends?

Knowing and being known by them, year in, year out. Their indulgence and generosity, the laughs, the tears, sharing and witnessing each other's lives, year in, year out.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?


What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?

To be alone. To write. To look for amber. To glean, really, which is all one and the same.

What would you like to be?

A sloth.

What is your favourite colour?

Yellow. And all the other colours of the rainbow.

What is your favourite flower?

Freesia (but please don't tell other flowers!).

What is your favourite bird?

Hummingbird (and please don't tell other birds!).

What historical figure do you admire the most?

Mahatma Ghandi.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Adolf Hitler and and his too many brothers-in-arms.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Marguerite Duras. Alice Munro. Orhan Pamuk. Lawrence Durrell. (Difficult question!).

Who are your favourite poets?

Elisabeth Bishop. Anna Akhmatova. Wisława Szymborska. Federico Garcia Lorca. (Impossible question!).

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Quasimodo, the hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame.

Who are your heroes in real life?

My daughter (for her coping with my mothering).

Who is your favourite painter?

Henri Matisse.

Who is your favourite musician?

Leonard Cohen!

What is your favourite food?

Pretty much anything Italian. And deep-fried sardines.

What is your favourite drink?

Black tea with milk. Pouilly fumé. Well, water. Well-water!

What are your favourite names?

Pearl (my daughter's name), Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea. And Walter, as in Benjamin.

What is it you most dislike?

War and other man-made disasters.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?


How do you want to die?

In sleep, slipping unnoticeably from one extravagant dream to the next.

What is your current state of mind?

Absentmindedness (which is probably my most predominant state of mind).

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

My daughter; her sense of humor, her strength and independence (but please don't tell her — who am I to take credit?)

What is your motto?

”If you're going through hell, keep going.” (Winston Churchill)

Ulrikka S. Gernes was born in 1965 in Sweden of Danish parents. Her first collection, Natsværmer (Moth), was published in Denmark in 1984, when she was eighteen years old. Since then she has published an additional ten collections, all of them received gratefully in the Danish press. She is also the author of two books for children, as well as many short stories, songs and various contributions to literary anthologies, art catalogues, magazines, newspapers and Danish National radio. She manages the estate and artistic legacy of her father, the internationally known visual artist Poul Gernes, and lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with her daughter Perle.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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