Steinar Opstad studied German, Literary Theory and History of Religion at the University of Oslo and the University of Bergen. In 1996 he made his debut with the poetry collection Tavler og bud (Boards and Messages), which was praised as a “small sensation” and an “unpleasant, direct and beautiful collection of poetry”. For this book, which centres around the relationship between a boy and his strict father, he received the Tarjei Vesaas’ Prize for best debut. At the awards ceremony, the jury emphasised Opstad’s ability to combine and intertwine different levels of language and theme, with the result that interpretations of his work find ever new contexts.
Of his own poetry, Opstad has said that “the banal and the almost too private have been my points of departure for writing poetry. That’s where [my poetry] began, and later it became more literary and form-oriented. I think all poetry has its origins in personal stories of people’s lives or how one feels about life, even as the personal is being peeled away so that it can become an artistic expression.”
Opstad followed up Tavler og bud with the collections Den alminnelige (The Ordinary, 1998) and Analfabetisk (Illiterate, 2000), which makes allusion to the masterpiece alfabet (1981) by Danish poet Inger Christensen.
Synsverk (Visual Works, 2002) came two years later. Opstad received the Norwegian Poetry Club’s award for this collection, and the jury wrote in its decision that “Synsverk is a wonderful poetry collection which withstands critical debate. Rather than casting doubt on the project, the discussion around Opstad’s poetry has helped to clarify it, articulate it and to demonstrate the qualities the project possesses.”
Samle øksene inn for kvelden (Gather in the Axes for the Night), from which ‘I have given my body to the ignorant . . .’, My dream of belief has no end . . .’ and ‘Those who sanctify love . . .' are taken, was published in 2005. In this collection, Opstad uses a stricter form than in his previous books: all the poems consist of three stanzas of four lines each.
In his most recent collection, Avhymninger (Deconstructed Hymns), Opstad abandons this strict form. The poems are more socially committed, and, among other things, Opstad writes about the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the bombing of Gaza, the 2004 tsunami and the situation in Iraq. In the poem ‘Guernica 1937 – Baghdad 2003’, Opstad says of his role as a poet in society:
I write and so I participate
and since I participate
aren’t I a true witness
or in other words:
that I love and suffer proves nothing
Opstad has received many awards for his poetry collections, and, as early as 2007, when he was only 35, a collection of highlights from his previous poetry collections was published: Det jeg synger om er enkelt. Dikt i utvalg (What I Sing About is Simple: Selected Poems).
The poems published here represent a broad selection of Opstad’s work, and they have been chosen by the poet himself.
Tavler og bud (Boards and Messages), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 1996
Den alminnelige (The ordinary), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 1998
Analfabetisk (Illiterate), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2000
Synsverk (Visual Works), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2002
Samle øksene inn for kvelden (Gather in the Axes for the Night), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2005
Det jeg synger om er enkelt. Dikt i utvalg (What I Sing about is Simple. Selected Poems), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2006
Avhymninger (Deconstructed Hymns), Kolon forlag, Oslo, 2009