Yahya Hassan Interview: Poems of Rage



18 years old Danish-Palestinian Yahya Hassan caused a stir and received death threats because of his powerful poetry collection, which sold in 100.000 copies, criticizing the hypocrisy of the welfare state, his family and Muslims in Denmark.

Everyone knows that the teenage years can be turbulent, emotional and painful. Many of us have dabbled with tormented poems and had serious clashes with our families: But rarely does angry young men come with the talent of Danish-Palestinian Yahya Hassan.

In this interview Yahya Hassan talks about his poetry, born out of rage, grief, joy, humor and a love of words: “I am driven by an interest in writing. Too me, writing is a quiet room outside the problems of life. Wherever I go I always have the words with me.”

Yahya Hassan (b. 1995) is a Danish poet of Palestinian background. His book ‘Yahya Hassan’ (2013) is the best selling debut poetry collection in Danish history, selling more than a 100.000 copies within just a few months, but Hassan’s commercial success is reaching far beyond Denmark’s population of 5.5 million and looks set to conquer the rest of the world. The German publishing house Ullstein published a German translation of his book in time for the Leipzig Book Fair 2014, which sold 9,000 copies in the first week, an exceptional run for poetry. Along with the success though comes a shadow. Because of his critique of personal experiences with the Muslim and immigrant community, Hassan received threats and was attacked by an Islamist. Today Hassan lives under the constant surveillance and protection of the Danish state.

The poetry collection ‘Yahya Hassan’ has been described as “almost Walt Whitman-like” and has started a heavy debate in Denmark because of its negative description of Hassan’s Islamic upbringing. The son of Muslim Palestinian immigrants, Yahya Hassan grew up in a ghetto, in a religious environment, where abuse and crime was part of every day life. Hassan was removed from home and placed at an institution aged just 13.

While Yahya Hassan is angry about many things he has experienced during his own upbringing he also explains in this interview that he feels right wing extremists are similar to Islamist extremists: “Both sides take society as hostage.” Hassan does not want his book to be labelled and states that it is not the books fault how other people choose to use it: “My poems are about many things. They are my way of taking action against things I am dissatisfied with” he says: “If I could control how people received my book, I’d want it to be with joy, understanding and dialogue.”

In this interview the young poet also explains how he began to write, starting with rap music but finding it too restrictive. The rules, rap-attitude and values just wasn’t him, he says. In the literary world Hassan feels he can be himself, learn something, and that he has something to say: “Being a criminal does not exclude you from literary activities, just like having a good job in finance does not exclude you from committing fraud.”

Yahya Hassan explains some of his views of immigration, social context, war traumas, and how he has been interested in finding the root of the problems and dealing with questions of personal responsibility. The book is a result of many of these thoughts: “I don’t need to participate in the debate, but I am glad that people are thinking about things. It is healthy to ask questions,” he says.

Yahya Hassan’s poems were translated by Kuku & Al Agami, authorised by Gyldendal.

Yahya Hassan was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner

Filmed by Klaus Elmer

Edited by Kamilla Bruus

Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, produced by Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2014.

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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27 thoughts on “Yahya Hassan Interview: Poems of Rage

  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    he is forced to have a gun because he faces threats because of his criticism on Islam, ofcourse it's illegal in Denmark, hence he is put in jail.

    So much wrong with Europe.

    Letting us get flooded with a hostile ideology called Islam than forbidding citizens who speak openly about it to protect themselves.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    They like him, because he provokating muslims and some of his own. fuck you all

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    Doesn't want to express negative things in rap music but now he walks around fighting and shooting gangmembers every day

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    I have to laugh that this is what right wingers are pointing out as a shining example? He's a Muslim apologist. Sweden shouldn't have put violent Muslims in a small village and paid for their food, medicine and housing. Not good enough apparently. They should also have sent them to Stockholm and given them jobs according to him. He doesn't get it and Denmark doesn't get it. Yet. Oh, but they will. And it will be too late.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    Yahia blev ikke valgt ind i parlamentet. Han formåede kun at samle lidt over 900 stemmer. Hans digtsamling derimod solgte godt. Skomager bliv ved din læst!;-)

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    An intelligent and well spoken young man, who knows how to express himself through poetry. For that I respect him. You do not have to agree with him, but at least appreciate the art.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    You are very brave and open. I hope more people who grow/ grew up in that kind of situation will speak up, instead of treating their own children the same like your father did.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    he´s on fire . intelligent beautiful honest strong mind.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    Don't bring World War III with muslims, israel etc, Its very simple this guy is psychopath and got famous. That is it.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    I read an article about him in the german magazine Der Spiegel and bought the book the next day in German. Is it translated into English? It is the first time as far as I know, that a Muslim criticized his culture so openly. I can read only one poem at the time I get so angry and sad. The picture of him in Der Spiegel looks at me every day and to know that he risked his life to speak the truth makes me love him so much it hurts.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    I find Yahya's poetry very provocative but reflective. Both on the situation in Palestine with the Orthodox Jews driving the agenda to wipe out the remaining Palestinians from their land. But also reflective in terms of how progressive ideas such as his challenge both the status quo of your average Dane who knows little of Middle Eastern history nor the issues being a Palestinian living in a tiny country such as Denmark and how these people are treated for the most part as outsiders or outcasts.

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  • September 29, 2017 at 1:23 am
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    Correction he doesn't criticise the welfarestate he criticises those individuals who exploits it kinda like your own corporate welfare, Denmark is still amoung the best top countries in the world for your child to grow up.
    Because of our educationsystem Yahya has found his inner voice.

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