Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sunday, 15 June 2014

True North

True North: Literary Translation in the Nordic Countries  (ed. B.J. Epstein)
is the first book to focus solely on literary translation from, to, and between the Nordic tongues. The book is divided into three main sections. These are novels, children’s literature, and other genres – encompassing drama, crime fiction, sagas, cookbooks, and music – although, naturally, there are connections and overlapping themes between the sections. Halldór Laxness, Virginia Woolf, Selma Lagerlöf, Astrid Lindgren, Mark Twain, Henrik Ibsen, Henning Mankell, Janis Joplin, and Jamie Oliver are just some of the authors analysed. Topics examined include particular translatorial challenges; translating for specific audiences or influencing audiences through translation; re-translation; the functions of translated texts; the ways in which translation can change a genre; the creation of identity through translation; and more. 
(from the publisher's book description)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Blue Ejder - Karin Boye

Some of my translations of poems by Karin Boye have been set to music by the Swedish/English duo Blue Ejder, in a CD album featuring Sunniva Brynnel (voice, piano, kalimba), Aubin Vanns (guitars) and Neil Yates (flugelhorn, voice).

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Thaw

Foreword Reviews have published a review of Ólafur Gunnarsson's latest collection of short stories. The stories are in English, translated by the author:
For all its thought-provoking content, the translation is uneven: “The nurse was tending to the child tenderly,” could have been rendered using a verb and an adjective that do not share the same root, for example. Likewise, it would be unlikely that a seven-year-old character would refer to his class art display as an “exhibition.” However, at other times, the translation fits with the story and showcases the author’s way with words, as in this description of an airplane accident: “And like a black goose that had been shot, the enormous plane crash-landed on the gravel airfield.” Or this ironic phrase that expresses a role reversal of a father and his terminally ill daughter: “[She] sat there in her wheelchair like a solemn old woman expressing her approval of her well-behaved grandson.”
Overall, in this elegant collection, Gunnarsson’s stories succeed.

Walker on Water

Unnamed Press, U.S.A., have published a new collection of prose pieces by the Estonian poet Kristiina Ehin, Walker on Water. An excerpt from Ilmar Lehtpere's translation:
Lately I’ve discovered that my husband’s head opens at the back. I hadn’t noticed that before. There’s a hatch there. When Jaan comes home after a tiring day at work, he opens the hatch and takes his brains out. They steam on the table, but Jaan stretches his legs out on the sofa and looks at me with his happy, drowsy eyes.

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Beggar and the Hare

My translation of Tuomas Kyrö's novel Kerjäläinen ja jänis (The Beggar and the Hare) will be published by Short Books on March 6, and is available for pre-order as a hardback or a Kindle download.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

One Evening in October

I'm working on a complete translation of Tua Forsström's collection En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012), to be published by Bloodaxe in a bilingual Swedish-English facing-text edition in early 2015.

Versions of some of the translations have already appeared in Books from Finland and Swedish Book Review.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Two Poems

bGösta Ågren

The Future Is...

The future is unfurnished
as if it were a room
in place of an idea,

but your plans are ready
and you start work,
as to begin with fate is

so light that we don’t notice
the burden. The inevitable
needs no emphasis.

 July. Night.

The road doesn’t release
its grip on the car.
Driving is only
rhythm. The journey
moves slowly through
the summer night, which is
white with now. Sadness
heals sorrow.

from Centralsång (2013)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Bridge of Sleep

by Saima Harmaja

Long is the days’ journey
to evening’s dim domain.
Lonely the blissful moment
exhausted by the pain:
I slumber in blue evening,
a bridge spans in between,
taking me from time’s chasms
to the land of the unseen.

When darkness wraps the senses
and, warm, the mind succumbs,
beside me they are present,
they breathe, the  heavenly ones.
Gone is the cruelest longing.
From my pain I am freed
he smiles with shining eyes
the one whom I met in my need.

He that went on ahead,
precious, grown cold his brow,
like a pale star of spring
he stays here with me now.
Broken the frame of his body.
Spirit and earth are one.
Into my tear-hot eyes
the brightness trickles down.

Waking in midst of sleep
I see, veiled by dust from above:
it is one, the land that lies there,
the kingdom of longing and love.
Across the bitter limit
on gleaming threads set free,
love goes from the circle of time
to a land that I cannot yet see.

May 3, 1936


Pitkä on päivien retki
illan himmeyteen.
Yksi on autuas hetki
kivusta uupuneen:
nukkua siintoon illan,
uneen, mi kaartua suo
pois ajan kuiluista sillan
näkymätönten luo.

Kun jo on hämärä hellä
kietonut aistimet,
luonani hengähdellä
alkavat taivaiset.
Poissa on kaipaus julmin.
Tuskani irroittain
hymyy hohtavin kulmin
hän, jota nääntyen hain.

Hän, joka edeltä lähti,
kallis ja kylmennyt,
kuin kevätkalpea tähti
luonani viipyy nyt.
Murtunut on kehä ruumiin.
Yhtä on henki ja maa.
Silmiini kyynelkuumiin
kirkkaus uppoaa.

Valvoen keskellä unta
nään, tomuhuntuinen:
yksi on valtakunta
kaipuun ja rakkauden.
Ylitse katkeran rajan
hohtavin langoin käy
rakkaus piiristä ajan
maahan, mi vielä ei näy.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Aale Tynni

Books from Finland magazine has published a selection of my translations of poems by the Finnish poet Aale Tynni (1913-1997). There is an introductory essay by the scholar and academic Tuula Hökkä.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Pakko paha?

"If there is no requirement to choose another language in place of Swedish, the fear is that a lot of people will no longer study a language," said Kari Jukarainen of the Finnish Language teachers association. "We would have a large group of pupils whose only foreign language is English."


Friday, 3 January 2014


Mårten Westö finds some curious errors in the Finnish translations of subtitles in Swedish-language films: 
Tabben fick mig ändå att ägna resten av filmen åt att analysera den finska textningen.
Den visade sig vara en katastrof.
Det vimlade av fel och direkt missvisande information i nästan varje scen. Ibland blev det snudd på galghumoristiskt, som när pappans svenska arbetskompis säger till sin norske kollega: ”Och så får vi slita röven av oss. Det är bara för att ni har oljan.” På finska: Saamme huhkia toden teolla. Saadaksemme olutta (En i och för sig kul freudiansk felsägning som varje frustrerad översättare säkert kan identifiera sig med.)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Central Song

Reviewing Gösta Ågren’s new collection Centralsång, Michel Ekman writes about the “deceptive calm” of Ågren’s poetry:
Vår plikt är att minnas grymheten, men själva minnesakten kräver ett mått av ro och avskildhet... En dal i våldet hette det stora urval ur sin produktion som Gösta Ågren en gång gav ut. Spänningen mellan å ena sidan iakttagandet / formulerandet och å andra sidan det blinda och ständiga våldet som genomsyrar tillvaron går igenom hela hans författarskap.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ark Books, Copenhagen

Ditte Nesdam Madsen writes from Copenhagen:
Ark Books, a new international bookshop at Møllegade 10 in Copenhagen from spring 2014. We are opening the doors as an English bookshop selling all types of books from classics to new undiscovered titles that normally wouldn't reach the Danish market. We are also going to have a small selection from the other big European languages as French, German, Italian etc. We are also going to promote our wonderful Danish literature to non-Danish speaking readers in Copenhagen by selling Danish Literature in translation.
We are all volunteers and the shop is going to be non-profit. 
For the moment, we're working hard to achieve the dream. However, it is difficult to get funding to a small work-in-progress project based on literature. We have therefore created a crowdfunding campaign with wonderful gifts. You can check it out here: 
Besides that we're having an event December 5th in the cellar of Literaturhaus with the Danish author Helle Helle and her translator Martin Aitken. The author and the translator are going to read the book in Danish and English and afterwards they will discuss the relationship between author and translator and translation as a discipline. Feel free to join us for this amazing night! We're planning on having several events as this one, once the shop is open.

Monday, 4 November 2013


In its World Poetry Portfolio series, Molossus literary quarterly has published a selection of poems by Pia Tafdrup in my translation.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Laborare et Amare

I'm working on a translation of Tuula Karjalainen's new biography of Tove Jansson, Tove Jansson – Tee työtä ja rakasta (Tove Jansson  Work and Love, Tammi, 2014) for Penguin Press, UK. In addition to illustrations, the Finnish text also contains excerpts from Tove Jansson's letters and notebooks, and these I am translating from the original Swedish. The English edition is scheduled for publication in autumn next year.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Acceptance Speech

Here's my acceptance speech.
The Finnish State International Translator's Prize is an award that I never expected to receive, and it means a great deal to me. I would like to thank everyone who recommended me for it.

Many years ago I visited Finland for the first time, as a young Edinburgh University student of Russian: it was July 1966, and I was travelling along the Baltic by ship, with some friends, on the way to the Soviet Union. Disembarking in Finland for a few all-too brief hours, my first impressions were of the city of Helsinki, but what I remember most of all were the light, stillness and calm of the late summer evening that greeted me as I walked up from the harbour. It was a calm that I hadn't experienced in any other city I'd been to, and I remember wondering where all the people were, for at that particular time of the evening there was almost no one about. I didn’t know it then, but in the years to come I would make many more visits to Finland and meet many people there, both in life and in books.

I've spent a large part of my life studying and translating, for the most part, the literature of three languages: Russian, Swedish and Finnish (I’ve translated poetry and fiction from other Northern languages, including Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic, but the three languages I mention are the ones that have held the most significance for me). The choice may at first sight seem strange, yet if one looks at the map it does makes sense, as Russia, Sweden and Finland are close neighbours, and have a common, if not always harmonious, history – and that is the context in which I discovered them.

Although the three languages – Russian, Swedish and Finnish – are structurally and lexically quite different from one another, my university study of Russian and Russian literature (which I pursued to doctorate level) was accompanied by a study of German. This led me to learn the Nordic languages, including Icelandic at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, and then some years later, with the encouragement of the Finnish Literature Information Centre – which is now called FILI – Finnish, first under Hannele Branch at London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and later at the University of Helsinki.

In the late nineteenth century and during the early twentieth century it was not uncommon for educated people in North-Eastern Europe to speak, read and understand all three of my chosen languages, although nowadays the unlikeness of Russian, Swedish and Finnish is thought to make them mutually exclusive. That was not the case in the past, and the change of attitude may be due at least in part to political and socio-historical factors.

I put the emphasis here on “languages” rather than “countries”, for in my experience literature only rarely coincides with frontiers on maps: it exists not behind national boundaries but in language, and in a psychic and emotional space that is governed by the laws of reading and common fellowship. The novels of Dostoyevsky and the poetry of Baratynsky and Blok may tell us something unique about the Russian soul, but they also speak in universal terms. Likewise, the verses of the Kalevala and the plays of Strindberg tell us much about the psyche of Northern Europe, but they also draw inner maps of human consciousness, and of the unconscious. And indeed, in my years of work as a literary translator I have become aware that in literary terms the three linguistic cultures I mentioned tend to overlap with one another. The work of Edith Södergran, the first of the poets of Finland whom I endeavoured to translate, is one of the living confirmations of that.

My first translations of Finland's literature were nearly all of Swedish-language poets and authors, of whom there are almost more than in Sweden itself. Then I began to study Finnish, first at London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and later at the University of Helsinki. Through my own reading and my many years of contact with members of the Finnish Literature Centre and the editors of Books from Finland magazine, I developed a knowledge of both Finland-Swedish and Finnish literature. This was further helped by meetings and friendships with contemporary authors – especially the poets Gösta Ågren, Bo Carpelan and Tua Forsström, with whom I worked on translations of their poetry, learning an enormous amount in the process – and with their editors and publishers in Finland. My British publishers Penguin and Bloodaxe also gave me encouragement in my work as a literary translator.

In recent years I have been reading the Finnish poetry of the early twentieth century, and am surprised to learn how few of the poets who lived in that period are translated into English. So that is one of my projects both for the present and for the future: to try to make the voices of Saima Harmaja, Kaarlo Sarkia, Katri Vala, Uuno Kailas and other poets from that long-ago time heard in English, for they still have many things to tell us.

Again, I would like to say thank you for this award, which I’m honoured to receive: for me it’s a landmark in my continuing discovery of Finland, its people, and its extraordinarily rich and diverse literature.

Translator's Prize

News from Helsinki that I've been awarded the Finnish State Prize for Foreign Translators.

It's a great honour.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Don't Be Afraid of Life

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Don’t be afraid of life,
Don’t shut out its beauty.
Invite it to sit by your fire,
or should your hearth expire,
to meet it outside is your duty.
Don’t turn your back on its strife.
Don’t go away to the graveyard to hide
for death’s door will stay opened wide
Like a bird you should fly,
not dwelling on past life’s ruins.
Turn your attention to now,
Let what has been take a bow.
Let them lie in the grave, your doings,
then face the future, and try.
Be free as the wind, unfettered, unbroken,
the gate of death is always open.

Do not ever say:
this is mine alone.
Drink from life’s cup
and once again give its pain up.
If you never beg to own,
the world's riches are yours today.
Be bold, stake all on one card:
ahead you will always see death’s gate unbarred.


Älä elämää pelkää
älä sen kauneutta kiellä
suo sen tupaasi tulla
tai jos liettä ei sulla,
sitä vastaan käy tiellä,
älä käännä sille selkää.
Älä haudoille elämää lymyyn kulje;
ei kuolema sinulta oveaan sulje.

Kuin lintu lennä
älä viipyen menneen raunioilla
nykyhetkeä häädä
suo jääneen jäädä
suo olleen haudassa olla
tulevaa koe vastaan mennä.
Ole vapaa, kahleeton tuulen tavoin
on kuoleman portti aina avoin.

Älä koskaan sano:
tämä on iäti minun
elon maljasta juovu,
taas siitä kivutta luovu
on maailman rikkaus sinun
kun mitään omakses et ano.
Elä pelotta varassa yhden kortin
näet aina avoinna kuoleman portin.

The One who Fled

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Did I love you?
That I do not know.
In my soul I trembled
when you turned to go.

I know that you left it
with reason to flee.
No way to deny it,

From my soul was lifted
the innermost veil.
You could not bear it,
butterfly, you set sail,

fled from the gloomy
enigma in fright:
in front of you opened
a pitch-black night,

deeper than leagues, you saw the dark pit,
 - and then you fled
the cruel sight of it.

Did I love you?
That I do not know -
In my soul I trembled
when you turned to go.


Rakastinko sinua?
Tiedä en tuota.
Värisin, kun lähdit
sieluni luota.

Tiedän: kun lähdit,
et lähtenyt syyttä.
Kieltää on mahdoton

Väistyi sieluni
sisimmäisin verho.
Nähdä et kestänyt,
pakenit, perho,

säikähdit synkkää
eteesi aukeni
yö sysimusta,

pimeän kuilun näit, peninkulmaa
syvemmän – pakenit
näkyä julmaa.

Rakastinko sinua?
tiedä en tuota -
värisin, kun lähdit
sieluni luota.

In the Mirror

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Strange and truly wondrous
in the mirror you look at me.
All I really know is
that you I cannot be.

With my eyes you survey me,
with my lips you smile, too,
what I see in the mirror
is not me, but you, just you.

Whoever you are – astral morning,
eternal night – in the frame
like a wraith, a ghostly phantom,
invisible I remain.


Kuvastimesta minua vastaan
sinä katselet, ihmeellinen. 
Minä ymmärrän ainoastaan:
Minä en ole siinä, en. 

Sinä katselet silmilläni,
sinä hymyät suullani mun.
En peilistä itseäni
mina nää, näen sun, vain sun. 

Kuka liet – ylimaallinen aamu,
iankaikkinen yö – sinut nään
kuvastimesta, niinkuin haamu
näkymättömäks itse ma jään. 


by Kaarlo Sarkia

I heard the words my dreams spoke with their soul:
Who views his life with hatred, mad is he,
like one who whips and tears at his own flesh.
Life is a soil, from it your dreams break free,
and  beauty grows from under weights of pain,
and when you rise to throw off matter’s reign
your dreams, too, meet their end within that mesh,
and darkness floods in all, devours it whole.

You must  must love your life,
For that is why your father fathered you,
and that is why, through all the shame and strife,
your mother carried you and brought you through,
was grateful to her life because of yours
which she could place outside the open doors.. .

My life, I want to praise and thank you now:
Thank you for bearing me from emptiness,
a member of the beauteous human race,
for giving them to me, these human eyes
that many generations made
for seeing beauty under vaulted skies,
thank you for filling them with dreams that flow
until the number of my days
shall bring you to an end, my life,
and I am harvest for the reaper’s scythe.

Power of life, I want to love you still,
because I wandered long in mazes, made    
to feel despair and fear without a  will,        
because you early took and caused to fade
what was for me the finest of your gifts,
love you because you took my strength to kill
and let it lie in chains that weakness laid,
because your wine could also change and be
the vinegar of pain and death for me,
because when I will long for shadows tall
and give you back your gifts, and dying fall,
then it will turn, my soul, and take from you
another day, another morning, new.


Puhui mulle unieni sielu: 
Mieletön, ken elâmäänsä vihaa,
niinkuin mies, ken ruoskii omaa lihaa,
Elämä on unelmies multa, 
kaunis kasvaa alta tuskan paineen,
ja kun pääset vankilasta aineen,
loppuu myöskin unelmasi sulta,
kaiken ahmaa pimeyden nielu.

Rakastaa sun tulee elämätä, 
sitä varten sinut isäs siitti,
sitä varten sinut äitis kantoi,
vaikka painoi häpeä ja hätä,
sentään elämäänsä siitä kiitti,
että sulle elämän hän antoi. 

Tahdon, elämääni, sua kiittää:
Kiitos, että tyhjästä mun kannoit 
jäseneksi kauniin ihmissuvun, 
että ihmissilmät mulle annoit
valmistuneet monoin sukupolvin 
kauneuteen alla taivaan holvin,
kiitos, että unta niille riittáä,
siksi kunnes alta ilmain kuvun
täyttyessä päivieni luvun 
korjuumiehen viikate mun niittää. 

Rakastaa sua tahdon, mahti elon,
siksi että sokkeloissa harhain
epätoivon tuta sain ja pelon,
että kädestäni riistit varhain 
mikä mielestäni lahjas parhain,
rakastaa siks että mulle voiman
annoit heikkouden kammitsoiman,
että viinissäsi toinen puol’on
etikkata kivun sekä kuolon,
että kuitenkin, kun kaipaan varjoon
kuoleman ja lahjas sulle tarjoon
takaisin, sen jälleen sulta saa mun
sielinu, ain’ annat uuden aamun. 

Sunday, 30 June 2013


I've now finished Airmail: the Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer (Bloodaxe, 2013, 476pp), and found it an absorbing if rather lengthy read. The letters are a mixture of the personal and the literary, and while it's interesting to follow the careers and private lives of two men, most of the really attention-grabbing passages occur in connection with the problems of literary translation. This was a two-way process, for each poet translated work by the other: the result is a kind of poetic table-tennis match, with poems constantly in transit between English and Swedish, and the inevitable occasional misreadings and misunderstandings flowing out into bursts of creative energy which save the texts as poems in the "other" language. Some of the interchanges read like almost like language lessons, but the tension thus caused is nearly always defused by humour and wit. Although a few of the finished poems are reproduced in the volume, it would have been nice to have more of the completed translations to compare with the collaborative editing process that's revealed in the letters. Though this would have added to the length of the volume, the inclusion of more actual poems might have been preferable to the often less interesting career-related letters (with details of tours, readings, etc.) that occupy many of the pages.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Putin oligarchs buy Hartwall Arena

Via Bloomberg:
Gennady Timchenko and two other billionaire acquaintances of President Vladimir Putin bought a stake in Jokerit ice hockey team, moving the club from Finland’s top league to Russia’s answer to the NHL.
Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg will also buy Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, Jokerit’s home rink and Finland’s largest event venue, with a seating capacity of about 13,500, according to an e-mailed statement from the business partners’ Arena Events Oy venture. The price wasn’t disclosed.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Pussy Riot in Finland

Via Yle: 

Two members of the Russian political performance group Pussy Riot are in Helsinki for this weekend's World Village Festival.
The women are in Finland to talk about the status of political prisoners in Russia and to plug their new book on human rights. It’s a manifesto entitled A Punk Prayer for Freedom of Speech.
They are to appear onstage at the free festival in Kaisaniemi Park at 11am Saturday with the popular Finnish female duo PMMP, who recently said they will end their career this year.


Weekend performances in Helsinki by two members of the Russian political performance group Riot Pussy, as well as scheduled interviews, have been cancelled. Concerns for their safety seem to have led to the cancellations.


Update: According to Yekaterina Samutsevich, interviewed by Hbl  in Moscow, a performance by the two Pussy Riot members at  the Maailma kylässä festival in Helsinki was never planned, as Pussy Riot does not perform outside Russia, and doesn't announce its performances in advance:

– Det stämmer att två av våra medlemmar har åkt till Finland. De skulle träffa stödtrupper och delta i utgivningen av en bok. Men det var aldrig meningen att de skulle stå på scen. Det måste vara ett missförstånd, säger Jekaterina Samtusevitj i en Hbl-intervju i Moskva.
Hon är mycket förvånad över att de finländska arrangörerna över huvud taget har tänkt sig att de båda Pussy Riot-medlemmarna skulle delta i ett evenemang som offentliggörs i förväg.
– Pussy Riot fungerar enligt helt andra regler. Vi meddelar aldrig i förväg var vi är och vad vi gör. Dessutom står vi enbart på scen i Ryssland för det är det här landet vi vill påverka och förändra. Jag förstår inte alls hur det här missförståndet kunde ha uppstått, säger Samutsevitj.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Karin Boye ebook

Just a reminder that my translations of Karin Boye's poetry (Complete Poems) are now available as a Kindle ebook, here (UK) and here (US).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Norway International

The current edition of Poetry International's website has work by Norwegian poets Monica Aasprong, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen (some of his poems are also in my translations) and Tone Hødnebø on its front page. The Norwegian PIW site, where all the material should be accessible after this week, is here.