You can have nightmares anywhere. But in this book they are almost always shifted. Here the speaker suddenly becomes a monster herself. May be laughed at by sloths. Or meet a talking housefly that is terribly annoying. But watch out, the little buzzer turns the situation around in a flash: “‘Get me?’ She grins. ‘Never, never.’ / It grows and will soon be like my room / as huge, the house fly. / It grins: ‘Who’s in trouble here? / You, just wait until I get you.'”
The self-confident fly is one of the many changeable animals in Hanna Johansen’s verses. Sea monsters whisper out of her shower head. Frogs resist being kissed. And the crocodile that crawls through the house at night has completely different intentions than the big mouth with its sharp teeth would suggest: “‘What are you doing here’, I scream very loudly, / ‘I think you want to eat me .’ / ‘No,’ says the crocodile and looks, / ‘I just forgot something.'”
In the rabbit poem, abysses open up behind the harmless form
Hanna Johansen, who also worked as a translator, has many children’s books written, especially novels and short stories with such beautiful titles as “The Duck and the Owl” or “There Are No Dinosaurs”. Lo and behold, dinosaurs do exist here: for example the Xenotarsosaurus, also because it is one of the few animals that starts with an “X”. Her poems were previously only known from scattered publications. Now they are collected for the first time, neatly arranged in alphabetical order.
The ABC is not the only form principle that Hanna Johansen relies on. She is particularly fond of rhymes and fixed meters. Yes, if you follow the toad, it doesn’t seem to do without rhymes at all: “The toad says: ‘I don’t rhyme. / And that’s bad for a poem. / And worse for the whole world / which falls apart without a rhyme. ‘” That could be argued with. Basically, but also with a view to these poems. Because Hanna Johansen shows in them again and again that the world is falling apart. It’s no coincidence that children’s sleep is riddled with nightmares. And it is no coincidence that the predators make it clear that they are by no means just pawns for human projections, but that they “sneak, climb, lurk”. Like the jaguar, they tell people, “You don’t know me.”
One would have liked to have felt this restlessness and fragility, which is very close to the present, more in the form of the poems, be it in free rhythms or just in rough rhymes. “Teeth” rhymes with “mane” and “evil” with “redeem”. Rotraut Susanne Berner is more consistent in her pictures. With her, not only heads roll, but the elements of the drawings can split up and move between the poems, sometimes loosening up the strophic form, sometimes almost overgrowing a shorter poem. So one sticks to pieces like that of the hares, behind whose harmless form abysses open up: “Once upon a time there were two hares / they loved each other so much. / They nibbled their noses / until none remained.”