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By Piet Hein
Garden City, NY. 1969
51 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
May 2013

I love to have some book to pick up off the shelves when I have just a few minutes to spare and would like to either relax or be challenged, changing my mindset for the moment. Often books of shorts poems fill that need and I have a shelf of about 100 “candidates” to choose from, now and again, after a couple years absence, at times I return to something I’d read before and reread it.

It was time for a new book and I began to slowly scan the shelves and ran into the Piet Hein book of “Grooks.” These are described as:

“What in the world is a Grook?

A grook is a short aphoristic poem, accompanied by an appropriate drawing, revealing in a minimum of words and with a minimum of lines some basic truth about the human condition.

Grooks were created originally during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. They began life as a sort of underground language just out of reach of the understanding of the Germans. They have since become one of the most widely read forms of composition in the Scandinavian – and English – languages.”

Piet Hein was the “inventor” of the medium and one of its finest practitioners.

I am delighted with this book. An early Grook is called “Problems.” The drawing is a minimal outline of a boxer sitting in the corner of his ring. In the foreground are some waving boxing gloves. The text reads:

“Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.”

I love the notion, and that’s what Hein is about; commenting provocatively about the world with these short statements accompanied by a minimalist drawing which emphasizes the point.

“Majority Rule” is the longest Grook in this collection and lays out the ironic power of the strongest individual within the democratic state actually being the person who rules the state.

“Grook to Stimulate Gratitude in sour rationalists” reads:

“As thing so
very often are

intelligence won’t get you far.

So be glad
you’ve got more sense
than you’ve got

One of the funniest and wisest insights in the short volume is “A Psychological Tip.” It reads:

“Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
and you’re hampered by not have any,

the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.

No – no so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;

but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.”

And on and on they go. Witting, provocative, thoughtful, making me both laugh and think a good deal about the underlying point. I’ve just enjoyed my time with Piet Hein’s little work and will be on the lookout for more.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett