Ian Macartney interviews Danish artist Aske Hyldborg Jensen about his book Ammonia Sunrise (sincere corkscrew, 2024), discussing everything from digital undercurrents in text to English-as-performance to prose-poems to poem-poems to frogs.
When I started my small press sincere corkscrew, I put this as my submission criteria:
Delete all your social media accounts.
Email us your address.
We will mail you further instructions.
This was a joke. Thankfully, somebody went beyond the punchline – Adriana Lasheras got in touch, on behalf of Aske Hyldborg Jensen, sending over a London address for such "further instructions"
I hadn't got that far yet, but did my best to think quick. As a thanks for giving a stranger such intimate data I mailed them our "Phase One" of publications in a bulging envelope. Enclosed within was also an A4 sheet of paper with a hyperlink to a Google Forms, i.e. to submit a manuscript and details about his work/practice etc. Aske would have to painstakingly type out, symbol by symbol, the contents of the page.
If he had stopped at this point, I would understand. Instead, he persevered. And to top it all off, said manuscript was really really good. Across various forms (prosaic, lyrical, scattered) Aske's dexterity across the page shone with work that felt vital, acrobatic and playful. The slant-edge to his observational turns felt buoyant, too. It was all idiosyncratic AF, for lack of a better term – it read like Barthesian dispatches from another dimension. It reminded me of what Michael Clune said about John Ashbery, that 'the closest analogue for an Ashbery line is a sentence drawn from the middle of a science fiction novel', so out of context it sparkles, autonomous. Jensen's work whirls the same way.
When I finally met Adriana and Aske in a café on Kingsland Road, what tickled me the most was how nonplussed both were about the entire episode. The arts make us go through absurd hurdles all the time, and my convoluted shenanigans were no exception. Now sincere corkscrew submissions are affirmatively super-closed, I am honoured the first and last submission I ever received was this one.
Months later, with Ammonia Sunrise now out, I emailed some questions over to Aske – based in Copenhagen – to get his thoughts on the book.
Ian Macartney: Wretched first question, but: how would you describe this book?
Aske Hyldborg Jensen: Wretched but good. I would describe it as a cocktail. The kind of mixture that has a questionable odour. I don’t really know how to describe it in sincere terms. I worked quite a lot with the states I found myself in, which was usually with my feet on some kind of muddy surface with a dream of summer. There’s a sense of intangibility throughout, that I believe originates in a form of overstimulation, like how there’s endless goals and possibilities, but everything’s bleak, kinda.
IM: Where did the title "Ammonia Sunrise" come from?
AHJ: It came from a brainstorm with my partner. We were testing out all types of different ingredients until we found the suited composition for this cocktail (the book) which consists of residual and bodily waste.
IM: I finally tackled that huge yellow J.H. Prynne Cube™ from Bloodaxe Books, and I was struck by how the most compelling works in there, for me, were his ‘creative prose’. 'A Note on Metal' and 'The Plant Time Manifold Transcripts', specifically. And I know Prynne is a big inspiration for you… did ‘writing prosaically’ let you get to the heart of something that usual poems can't?
AHJ: Yes it totally did! It feels natural to sometimes use a prosaic voice, less realistic somehow, though there’s a position, like adapting a narrative voice for a movie trailer kind of thing. I find this quite useful sometimes.
Those are great examples! Those two texts of Prynne conjure what is really distinctive in prose writing – there’s so much voice and character, yet it allows slow and fast digestion. All aspects are already in, it’s concise, smart and ambiguous.
IM: You’ve talked to me before about how your creative writing is exclusively done in English, and that the author-voice in those stories feels very separate from you, very much its own character. Could you expand on this a bit?
AHJ: I started writing in English at a young age, I must have been around 15-16. There’s no clear answer to why, but I have an assumption that it’s from being born into American and English media, films, TV, online gaming, forums etc. It’s a way of freeing myself from the restraint of language while at the same time challenging myself in terms of subjectivity. It enables a distance and separation that Danish doesn’t. As a youth I was able to experience a sort of escape from my surroundings via another language, I could all of a sudden dream of things that were not in my physical surroundings. It’s as if my creative self resides in the English part of my brain, or it was born there at least.
IM: Talk to me about the frogs!
AHJ: Frogs are just great. I started noticing them around a local water reservoir that collected rain and spillage. There was this sense of it being their social hub from all the croaking. But for a while, observing this reservoir, I realised that a lot of the roads were covered with flattened frogs. It was a sad sight. I could almost sense the urge to get to the croaking, having hibernated through the cold and then finally coming out, and then some insensitive wheel destroying that hope… I felt for the frogs, and I guess the poems are little odes to them. Maybe also shedding a hint of frustration on human insensitivity.
IM: There’s a kind of domestic grossness, or grotesquerie, to a lot of this work – dry skin, mucus, headaches… do you have a particular fixation for these moments in life?
AHJ: I would say so, yes. There’s a great value in these moments for me. One thing is the sensation of constantly seeping, letting out some kind of internalised juice, while at the same time, it’s a kind of mutation or shift taking place. I do find myself, coming from the outskirts of a city, that there is a specific type of loneliness that invites an introspective attention to these gross habits or shifts.
IM: Do these works feel digital to you? Where’s the internet in this writing? It certainly feels present, but not in the way usually codified as ‘post-internet’ – I’m thinking about the bathos at the end of 'F.O.N.G.I',and just generally that kind of riffing on the podcast as a genre, in text...
AHJ: They definitely do feel digital to me. I’m unsure whether it’s because I feel digital as a person or whether the texts have a digital quality themselves. I consume a lot of ”internet”, so it’s definitely a part of the process, but often there’s a big blob of undefinable inspirations that somehow come through in an intuitive process.
IM: And finally: how does your visual art practice influence your writing, if at all? Also thinking about your job working with bronze(!)
AHJ: They exist on a similar plane – or that’s how I think about it. Sometimes certain thoughts are better expressed visually and other times it works best in writing. Throughout my visual practice I have always returned to a form of writing, it was always lying as a base for a lot of my visual work, and it hasn’t been until recently that I came to terms of the texts also existing as texts. This exact process is what brought me to collecting and creating this manuscript, and sincere corkscrew enabled the final acceptance of myself as a creator of texts in their own right. So thank you forever for that.
Ammonia Sunrise can be bought via the sincere corkscrew BigCartel.
Text: Ian Macartney & Aske Hyldborg Jensen
Images: sincere corkscrew