Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Translators' Week

FILI  is hosting a poetry 'translators' week' on its Finnpoems Facebook page, with profiles of translators of Finnish poetry into various languages, including Czech, Russian, German and English. I'm there on July 6. Above: some Finnish poets.
Also in this blog: Poetry in Translation

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Connecting Paths

Some time ago I mentioned two new biographies - one of Peter Weiss and another of Karin Boye - and said that I hoped to post a discussion of them here. Having read both, I find that I'm in something of a quandary: for one thing, Werner Schmidt's book is not really a biography in the traditional sense at all, more a critical appraisal of Peter Weiss's work during various periods of that author's career. For another, Johan Svedjedal's study of Karin Boye is in one important sense a polemic with Margit Abenius, the author of the only previous full-length biography of Boye, first published back in the early 1950s. This makes it hard to form a balanced assessment of these two new studies - they lead one too easily into metacritical terrain, where points of interpretation and biographical detail tend to overshadow the subjects themselves. Thus, Svedjedal writes in a somewhat laconic aside towards the very end of his book:
Störst genomslag har sannolikt skildringen av hennes sista tid i Alingsås i Peter Weiss Motståndets estetik (3, 1981) (som rätt ensidigt bygger på Margit Abenius tolkning)
Svedjedal is at pains to free Karin Boye from the aura that he feels has dogged the proper appreciation of her life and work over the decades, and that he attributes largely to the influence of Margit Abenius's portrayal. His emphasis is on the everyday aspects of the poet's life, and in general the book attempts to root her and locate her in her changing environments, whether in Sweden or in Germany. In doing so, however, it may be losing sight of the central meaning and message of her life and work, as outlined by Weiss's narrator in Werner Schmidt's retelling of the story:
Ausgehend von der Position des Erzählers wäre das Scheitern Boyes nicht mit dem Druck zu erklären, den die äuβeren Verhältnisse auf sie als Künstlerin ausgeübt hatten, sondern mit ihrem beeinträchtigten Vermögen, mit »der Kunst, also dem selbstständigen Denken«, einzuwirken auf die nur »scheinbar unerschütterliche Realität«.
In this respect I feel that Margit Abenius was more on target. While it's useful to remember that Weiss's Karin Boye as she appears in his novel is a reconstruction and re-characterisation of her personality, there can also be little doubt that his portrayal of her is an accurate one, based on his own acquaintance and friendship with her - even though the details of that friendship are not documented anywhere, and the evidence is purely and convincingly circumstantial and psychological. Karin Boye and Peter Weiss meet in these books, as they do in Die Ästhetik des Widerstands - but while in Schmidt's biography the encounter is acknowledged in terms of the aesthetic dialogue between the two writers, and its philosophical and historical meaning, in Svedjedal's book the meeting is only a brief one, and the opportunity of understanding it is unfortunately missed.

Friday, 29 June 2018


Chad Post, writing at Three Percent about selection bias in lists of 'best translations' (“It’s like record shop employees telling you what’s cool.” [Tom Roberge]):
So, as a list-maker, you have the non-genre specific, gigantic works of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, even Nabokov and Camus on one hand, and the mostly contemporary crime-fiction writing by women on the other. This is not a good mixture.
Hat tip: Ian Giles

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Hjálmar Jónsson - Selected Poems

John Brown Press of Kansas, U.S.A. have published a book of my English versions of poems by the nineteenth century Icelandic poet  Hjálmar Jónsson ("Bólu-Hjálmar", 1796-1875), edited by Ólafur Gunnarsson. In addition to introductions and the poems themselves, the book also contains an Afterword consisting of a new translation of a biographical essay on Hjálmar by the Icelandic statesman, politician and poet Hannes Hafstein (1861-1922).

From the book:

A stream I heard within a gorge
it rushed on loud, and said:
I never halt, for time is short
to reach the goal ahead.

Thus does time cry out to me:
Take care now and beware,
I wait a moment for nobody,
for no one I wait there.

Hurry now, as I flow free
I'll move you, bear you high:
out to the sea of eternity
swiftly I do fly. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Poetry in Translation

Poetry in Translation is an enterprising venture organized by FILI and aimed at crowdfunding translations of Finnish and Finland-Swedish poetry into 9 languages by 50 translators. The poets include:

Saima Harmaja
Mirkka Rekola
Arto Melleri
Sirkka Turkka
Susinukke Kosola
Tuomas Timonen
Jukka Viikilä
Jukka Itkonen
Anja Erämaja
Henriikka Tavi
Kirsi Kunnas
Sanna Karlström
Sinikka Vuola
Olli-Pekka Tennilä
Bo Carpelan

Thursday, 12 April 2018


by Pia Tafdrup

The nightdress you want to be buried in
hangs white and newly ironed
on a hanger in the closet,
the sight
almost makes me cry,

even though you’re alive, mother,
standing next to me
to show me that nightdress,
that looks most of all like a wedding dress
under the transparent plastic.

You raise the nightdress to the light
like a mirror for death
I can’t see into,
when you are with me.

I have to imagine
you lifeless
in this nightdress, see my life
without you,
but I cannot now.


Natkjolen, du vil begraves i,
hænger hvid og nystrøget
på en bøjle i skabet,
får mig næsten til at græde,

selv om du er i live, mor,
står ved siden af mig
for at vise mig netop den natkjole,
der mest af alt ligner en brudekjole,
under den gennemsigtige plastik.

Du løfter natkjolen frem i lyset
som et spejl for døden,
jeg ikke kan se ind i,
når du er hos mig.

Jeg skal forestille mig
dig livløs
i denne natkjole, se mit liv
uden dig,
men det kan jeg ikke nu

(from Synet af lys [The Sight of Light], Gyldendal, 2018)

translated from Danish by David McDuff

New Events

Among new and recent events: An Estonian Literature Festival is being held in London as part of the centenary celebrations of the Republic of Estonia. Participants include Mihkel Mutt, Andrei Ivanov, Kristiina Ehin,  Veronika Kivisilla, and a group of translators: Miriam McIlfatrick-Ksenofontov, Christopher Moseley and Adam Cullen.

Also, the inaugural meeting of DELT, the Association of Danish-English Literary Translators, was held on April 12. Hopefully this new organisation will extend and complement the work of SELTA as another forum for translators in the field of Nordic literature. Joining the association is at present done via Google Plus - here.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

night night

by Anni Sumari

night night what do you know of the night
the quays are its fingernails
under which black ice
cracks and breaks

night night what do you know of the night the quays are its fingernails under which black ice cracks and breaks

you know nothing of the night’s bright face
because it turns its black coat shrouded back on you
at regular intervals, at regular intervals
now and then it casts its honest gaze at you over its shoulder
and when you say that it’s the moon then it’s the moon

black panther whose long-haired velvet
you can feel in your fingers at a distance of 380,000 kilometres
black long-haired panther whose sweat makes the stars sparkle
whose fur suffocates you, who winds itself around your neck
black panther winds itself around the white swan

night makes the pyramids wail with frustration
night makes the skyscrapers wail with their first love
the night spreads out like a uniting statue made of black canvas 
connecting the Statue of Liberty and the Great Wall of China
the night crawls in the tunnels of your guts coughing ash
the night bruises your temples from within with its knees
the nocturne of the spheres whispers in your ears
your stomach is the night’s bagpipes

your slow breastbone is the night’s movement
in your bloodstream the stars flow
in a nocturnal seizure night and heart will meet in secret and you will die
like Juliet, like Romeo unable to spell one sonnet in the Book of the Dead
as you feared ever since it was written and illustrated for you
with the pictures and names of the creatures and constellations
the pictures and names of the night

at night the stars burn
more holes in the black velvet coverlet
you know it, the quays are your fingernails
the morning full of scars – the Kama Sutra
teaches how to make them

you really know nothing of the night’s bright face because it carries you
into the sheath inside out, at regular intervals, regular intervals
and your eyes remain inside and you see your own darkness
a night substitute
instead of the night,
and where is the bungler who first had the idea
of calling it evil

yö yö mitä tiedätte yöstä
laiturit ovat sen kynsiä
joiden alla musta jää
ritisee ja murtuu

yö yö mitä tiedätte yöstä laiturit ovat sen kynsiä joiden alla musta jää ritisee ja murtuu

ette tiedä mitään yön valoisista kasvoista
koska se kääntää teille mustaan takkiin verhotun selkänsä
säännöllisin väliajoin, säännöllisin väliajoin
toisinaan sentään luo teihin vilpittömän katseen olkansa yli
ja silloin sanotte että se on kuu silloin se on kuu

musta panttteri jonka pitkäkarvaisen sametin
voi tuntea sormissaan 380 000 kilometrin etäisyyden halki
musta pitkäkarvainen pantteri jonka hiki helmeilee tähtiä
jonka karvaan tukehdutte, joka kietoutuu kaulanne ympäri
musta pantteri kietoutuu valkoisen joutsenen ympäri

yö saa pyramidit ulvomaan turhautuneina
yö saa pilvenpiirtäjät ulvomaan ensirakkauttaan
yö levittyy mustasta pressusta tehtynä
yhdistävänä patsaana Vapaudenpatsaan, Kiinan muurin yli
yö konttaa sisälmyksiesi tunneleissa yskien tuhkaa
yö kolhii polvilla ohimoitasi sisältäpäin
sfäärien yösoitto suhisee korvissasi
vatsasi on yön säkkipilli

hidas rintalastasi on yön liike
verenkierrossasi virtaavat tähdet
yöllisessä sydänkohtauksessa kohtaavat yö ja sydän ja sinä kuolet
kuin Julia, kuin Romeo pystymättä tavaamaan sonettiakaan Kuolleiden kirjasta
kuten olet pelännyt siitä asti kun se kirjoitettiin ja kuvitettiin sinulle
eläinten ja tähtikuvioiden kuvin ja nimin
yön kuvat ja nimet

yöllä tähdet polttelevat
lisää reikiä mustaan samettipeittoon
sen tiedätte, laiturit ovat kynsiänne
aamu arpia täynnä – niiden
tekemisen Kamasutrakin opettaa

sittenkään ette tiedä mitään yön valoisista kasvoista koska se kääntää teidät
nurin, tuppeen, säänöllisin väliajoin, säännöllisin väliajoin
ja silmänne jäävät sisäpuolelle ja näette oman pimeytenne
yön sijasta yön
kuka poropeukalo keksi
nimittää sitä pahuudeksi  

translated from Finnish by David McDuff (with thanks to FILI)

The Sight of Light

The third part of Pia Tafdrup's series on the five senses, Synet af lys, has been published by Gyldendal. Berlingske writes: "80er-englen og akademimedlemmet er tilbage med sin måske allerbedste digtsamling indtil nu."

Saturday, 17 March 2018


I've been busy with translation work for the past month or two - hopefully I will have time to update this blog a bit later.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Karin Boye Biography

Another book for my reading list - a new biography of Karin Boye that appeared, ironically, almost at the same time as the Peter Weiss biography I mentioned earlier. I'll hope to write about both of these books, and the themes that connect them, in a future post.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

1000 Degrees Zero

I was pleased to get from Oneworld Publications a copy of Brian FitzGibbon's excellent translation of The Woman at 1000 Degrees (Konan við 1000° ) by Hallgrímur Helgason. Having read this first in the original a couple of years ago, it was nice to have a chance to revisit the book, and also to have my early impressions of it confirmed.

It's a sophisticated work, combining elements of Bildungsroman, comic burlesque, fictional biography and historical commentary. In some ways it also adheres to different traditions of narrative fiction - cast now in the mould of Halldor Laxness, and now in that of 'stateless' postwar German/Scandinavian authors like Peter Weiss. The novel's sheer invention, talkativeness and linguistic zest recall Joyce, while the plot itself, with its logical progression into the absurd, is not too distant from the labyrinths of Kafka.

Some critics have complained about a lack of structure in the book - yet the sprawling edifice, spanning well over 400 pages, merely reflects the chaotic circumstances of the heroine's life and the murderous century into which she is born. Everywhere the historical detail is observed with meticulous precision - from village life on a Frisian island in 1941 to the birth of Paul McCartney in Liverpool in 1942 and encounters on the disintegrating German front in 1945. The novel's humour is grim and ever-present, yet in the end the laughter turns against itself, mocking the notion that it can ever be an appropriate reaction to the horrors that are being described. Iceland and its economic problems become the emblems of a world gone mad - at one point in the story Hitler is blamed for the financial crash of 2008 - and ultimately the underlying direction of the narrative is a form of nihilism. The thousand-degree temperature of Herra's spontaneous combustion underlines the thought that human life is "a tale /told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/signifying nothing."

Friday, 8 December 2017

Peter Weiss Biography

I'm looking forward to reading Werner Schmidt's biography of Peter Weiss, which appeared almost a year ago.

The Lost Key

Sanna Mander's amazing Nyckelknipan /Avain hukassa - written by its author in parallel Swedish and Finnish versions - won this year's Finlandia Junior Prize.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

An African Hand

by Anni Sumari

An African hand
has carefully shaped this wooden sculpture
almost 70 cm long, with two heads
and one body
two identical girl's heads, the eyes
closed now because,
because they can't see with them any more,
death has abducted the two-headed
goddess in its black armpit
goddess who never learned
to walk
but could speak, with her two mouths
words that were listened to closely
and also repeated to the next generation
the two heads spoke in turn
and one stopped to listen
when the other spoke, their conversations
would have been all the more interesting
and weighty and important
as soon as they realised they were
a goddess we would call
Siamese twins although Siam
is in Siam and far away
they predicted
the past and the future
like the dreams of aborigines
but they had been born
in the deep armpit of Africa
unable to continue their lives
as gods
as gods
born for death
unsuited for life
even though they were so well equipped
far better than ordinary people
with two boat-shaped mouths
four boat-shaped eyes,
two noses, baobabs growing upside down,
two sets of eyebrows like two horizons
in the east and in the west
two rose-coloured brains
like the sea's surface touched by sun
going up and down
two coconut skulls
four labyrinthine ears
two clavicles connecting
rivers of two throats
two shoulders
two hands
that wouldn’t
greet one another
one heart
one belly
one womb
two feet
that wouldn't 
tread on the other's toes

Afrikkalainen käsi
on tarkasti muotoillut tämän puuveistoksen,
melkein 70 cm pitkän, kaksipäisen
kaksi identtistä tytönpäätä, silmät
jo suljettuina sillä,
sillä he eivät enää näe niillä
kuolema on kaapannut kaksipäisen
jumalattaren mustaan kainaloonsa
jumalattaren joka ei koskaan oppinut 
mutta osasi puhua, kahdella suullaan
joitain sanoja joita kuunneltiin tarkasti
ja toistettiin jälkipolvillekin
kaksi päätä puhui vuorotellen
ja toinen vaikeni kuuntelemaan
kun toinen puhui, heidän keskustelunsa
olisivat käyneet yhä kiinnostavammiksi 
ja merkittävämmiksi ja vakavammiksi
kun he olisivat 
ymmärtäneet olevansa jumalatar,
jota me nimittäisimme
siiamilaisiksi kaksosiksi vaikka siam
on siamissa ja kaukana
he ennustivat
mennyttä ja tulevaa
kuin aboriginaalien unet 
mutta he olivat syntyneet 
Afrikan syvässä kainalossa 
pystymättä jatkamaan elämää
niin kuin jumalat 
niin kuin jumalat
syntyneinä kuolemaan
kykenemättöminä elämään
vaikka olivat niin hyvin varustettuja
paljon paremmin kuin tavalliset ihmiset
kaksi suuta, veneenmuotoista
 neljä silmää, veneenmuotoista
kahden nenän ylösalaisin kasvavat baobabit
kahdet kulmakarvat kuin kaksi horisonttia
idässä ja lännessä
kahdet ruusuiset aivot
kuin aurinko koskettaessaan meren pintaa 
ylös tullessaan ja alas mennessään
kaksi kookospähkinäkalloa
neljä labyrinttikorvaa 
kahden kurkun virrat
yhtyvät solisluut 
kaksi olkapäätä
kaksi kättä 
jotka eivät
tervehtisi toisiaan
yksi sydän
yksi vatsa
yksi kohtu 
kaksi jalkaa
jotka eivät
astuisi toinen toisensa varpaille

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Aino Kallas

There's a distinct gap in the translated classics publishing catalogue when it comes to the work of the great Finnish-Estonian author Aino Kallas (1878-1956). Amazon UK advertises for the most part only grossly overpriced collector's editions of the Mattson/Galsworthy White Ship from back in the 1920s, and the U.S. Amazon site has even less to offer.

The contemporary Finnish author Sofi Oksanen recently published an interesting piece about Aino Kallas and her remarkable short novel Sudenmorsian (The Wolf's Bride) as part of an article for the Literary Hub. An extract:
The story is written in archaic Finnish, and the character Aalo’s own voice is not represented, which is true to the time. Through use of this literary technique, Kallas found a clever way to demonstrate the way female perspectives were excluded in that era. Her method is unique in Finnish literature and she is a unique author: her main body of work is based on Estonian folklore and its focus is on women’s position in the world of men.
 An Oksanen-Kallas linkup would be most welcome.

Sunday, 20 August 2017



He, a man enchained, who once long ago was free,
casts his gaze, full of suffering, in my direction.
On the rocky path he approaches me,
in the dark mist of a dream my soul detects him.

Whips have eaten streaks of blood into his back,
against his slumped head there’s a pillory.
The sweat on his sticky brow, his mouth a painful crack,
and gaze grown rigid now cause me anxiety.

You, maimed one, do I know you? You, noble and brave?
Who has whipped you, most sensitive of creatures?
Who marked your forehead with the brand of slave?
Your home turf, is it stocks and mockery and scourges?

 Fate has punished you, its naughty child.
 Like diapers, torture corrected your ennui.
whipped you with remorse, disappointment wild,
for kicks are not  much use against the goad..

You faced hunger – is it satisfied now, say?
Your bread is a stone, mocking laughter and curse.
In the pain of thirst you begged: ‘Water, pray!”
a salty tear ran down, made the thirst worse.

Caught by moments of the freezing autumn night,
grasping your hand, you, sufferer, I see.
Deep pity and understanding I observe, a light
in your eye – yes, I know you: you are me.


    Hän, kahlittu mies, eräs muinoin vapaa,  
    luo puoleeni katseensa kärsimystäyden.  
    Hänet kolkkoa louhikkopolkua käyden   
    unen usvassa tummassa sieluni tapaa.    

    Veriviiruja ruoskat on syöneet selkään,
    pää hervonnut vasten on kaakinpuuta.   
    Hientahmaista otsaa, tuskaista suuta    
    ja katsetta kangistunutta pelkään.

    Sinut, runnellun, tunnenko? Sinäkö, ylväs?
    Ken on ruoskinut sinua, herkistä herkin?
    Kuka löi sinun otsaasi orjan merkin? 
    Kotikontusi, onko se kaakinpylväs? 

    Sua kohtalo kuritti, kehnoa lastaan.
    Elonikävän korvensi kidutus vaipoin,
    katumuksin raateli, pettymysraipoin.
    Näet turha on potkia tutkainta vastaan.

    Nälän nääntävän sait -- joko sammui se, sano?
    Kivi kannikkas on, ivanauru ja pilkka.
    Janon tuskassa rukoilit: "Vettä suo tilkka!" --
    pisar suolainen vuos, sitä tuimempi jano.

    Syysyön sydänhetkinä hyydyttävinä
    sinut, kärsijä, nään, sua tarttuen käteen.
    Syvän säälin ja ymmärtämyksen säteen
    saan silmästäs -- tunnenhan sun: olet minä.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff


by Kaarlo Sarkia


You are fragrant soil expiring
in the spring sun’s brilliant hue.
A bud that opens, aspiring
to evening, night wind, and dew.

A blossoming tree by the lake-shore,
lily on the film of the lake.
A wave ave carrying the spindrift
glittering waters make.

Your steps are the swaying of corn ears..
Your laughter is skylarks in spring.
The petals of the white lily
can be seen in your eyes’ opening.


Your cool skin, your resilient hair,
who feels them with hands and lips?
Who encloses your supple limbs there,
your shy body roughly grips?

That smile, which trembles in sunlight,
who turns it to laughing surprise?
Who is lighting a fire, strange and fervid,
in the innocence of your eyes?



    Olet tuoksuva multa, mi raukee
    kevätauringon kirkkauteen.
    Olet silmu, mi iltaan aukee,
    yön tuuleen, kasteeseen.

    Olet kukkiva puu liki rantaa.
    Olet lumme kalvolla veen.
    Olet laine, mi vaahtoa kantaa
    yli selkien kimmelteen.

    Ovat askeles keinunta viljan.
    Kevätkiuruina naurus soi.
    Terälehdet valkean liljan
    sinun silmistäs nähdä voi.


    Ihos viileän, hiukses kimmoisat
    käsin, huulin ken tuntea saakaan?
    Ken on sulkeva jäsenes notkeat,
    ujon vartalos syliinsä raakaan?

    Hymyn tuon, joka päivässä väräjää,
    ken on vaihtava nauruun uuteen?
    Tulen oudon ja kuuman ken sytyttää
    sinun silmies viattomuuteen?

 translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Friday, 18 August 2017

Flowering Cactus

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Like a burning vision you open your fresh flower
in the air of my room's grey and sultry light.
And as in a flame, in a sudden burst of abundant
life and colour you wake from your night.

Very poor, very prickly and curled
on the narrow sill all your days you sleep..
But under your dusty, thick and rough skin
you’re alive  after all, your bosom swelling with sap.

Ugly, fettered plant, you nearly burst now,
you can’t stand your shrunken being much more!
You will flame forth from your prison’s dark,
fling colossal dreams into the spring air.

    Kuin polttavan unelman tuoreen kukkasi avaat
    minun huoneeni ilmassa harmajan painostavassa,
    ja kuin liekissä, äkkiä esiin puhkeavassa,
    värin, elämän runsauteen sinä yöstäsi havaat.

    Ylen köyhänä, käpristyneenä ja okain kovin
    ikäs kaiken sa nukuit ahtaalla ikkunalla.
    Mut tomuisen, paksun ja karhean kuoresi alla
    elit sittenkin, täysin ja mahlasta paisuvin povin.

    Ruma, kahlittu kasvi, jo rajoissas nyt pakahtunet,
    sinä oloas kutistunutta nyt enää et kestä!
    Sinä leimahdat esiin vankilas pimeydestä
    kevätilmaan singoten sisimpäs valtavat unet.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Monday, 14 August 2017


Not strictly a Nordic item, though it has many Finnish echoes and connections*: the Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA) has made available a complete downloadable scan of my 1971 doctoral dissertation on the poetry and poetics of Innokenty Annensky.

It’s interesting to see this work again after such a long time.  My writing style has changed somewhat in the interim, but I can still recognise the author as myself. The dissertation is detailed and academically disciplined – there's also some application of the structuralist principles current in literary criticism at that time – but I wasn’t afraid to let my emotions speak now and then. The introduction was written last of all, in 1970, after my return from a second study period in Moscow, and some of the gloom that surrounded politics and literature in the Soviet Union at that time can be detected in the text.

*See, for example, the Imatra page on the Мир Иннокентия Анненского website.

Sunday, 13 August 2017


by Kaarlo Sarkia

The street’s whirl and rush have faded. Space,
a deep, singing brightness has overwhelmed me.
From the stone’s breast, beauty of roses grows apace.
I have left my affliction somewhere far behind me.

Something immortal touched earth in its fall.
The singing of space has captivated my senses.
Who was it? What did I long for? I forgot it all.
Past me down the street your foot now dances.


Kadun humu ja kiire on haihtunut. Avaruus,
syvä, laulava kirkkaus läikähti ylitseni.
Kiven rinnasta versoo ruusujen ihanuus.
Olen jonnekin kauaksi jättänyt kurjuuteni.

Jokin kuolematon lie hipaissut multaa maan.
Avaruuksien laulu on vallannut aistimeni.
Kuka lien? Mitä kaipasin? Unohdin kokonaan.
Sinun jalkas on tanssinut kadulla ohitseni.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Kaarlo Sarkia

I've been looking again at my Kaarlo Sarkia translations. They are not very many as yet, but I want to do some more, as Sarkia's poems demand to be read and heard beyond their native Finnish. There is a certain sense of connection when translating them, as Sarkia was himself a translator of verse -- particularly French and Italian poetry -- and here and there in his poems there are echoes of sources like Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire and D'Annunzio. These echoes sometimes make the task of translation a little easier, though the spare yet sensuous forms of the poems - this is authentic 1930s Finnish design - are hard to render in English.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Encountering myself - and FILI (FLIC)

My profile and interview are up - in Finnish - on the FILI 40th Anniversary website, with among other things my own account of my somewhat tortuous path as a translator:

Tieni kääntäjäksi:
Olen laajentanut kielivalikoimaani venäjästä saksaan ja pohjoismaisiin kieliin. Suomenruotsalaisen kirjallisuuden pariin päädyin tietysti ruotsin kautta, mutta sitä kautta kiinnostuin myös suomenkielisestä kirjallisuudesta. Se tuntui luonnolliselta kehitykseltä.

It's nice to be included along with Danish translator Siri Nordborg Møller and so many other translators of Finnish and Finland-Swedish literature. And it comes as a pleasant surprise that there are so many of us all round the world!

My first visit to Finland under FILI's auspices (though not my first visit) was in 1983 -- back then they were called FLIC. Now, after so many years, I almost feel like one of the family.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Taste and Smell

In collaboration with Pia Tafdrup I have now made complete English translations of the first two books of her  "Senses" series - The Taste of Steel (Smagen af stål) and The Smell of Snow (Lugten af sne). The project is currently at the "reading through" stage, and at some point in the not too distant future we will need to assess the situation regarding publishing. Bloodaxe Books have earlier published five collections of Pia's work, including two volumes that each contain two books - Tarkovsky's Horses and Other Poems (containing The Whales in Paris and Tarkovsky's Horses), and Salamander Sun and Other Poems (containing The Migrant Bird's Compass and Salamander Sun), forming a quartet, all in my translation. We are now hoping that Bloodaxe will continue with the "taste" and "smell" volumes of the "Senses" series.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ecbatana Redux


by Sophus Claussen

I remember that spring, when my heart in its time
conceived the dream and searched for a rhyme,
whose glory should sink, I know not from where,
as when the sun set in Ecbátana.

A mocker advised me, with scholarly drama,
that the stress on the word was “Ecbatána”,
The sad, silly fool, he wasn’t aware
that the heart is in love with Ecbátana.

The city with terraces thousandfold sprawling,
with passages secret, walls dizzy falling
in Persia down there where the roses are,
buried in memories – Ecbátana!

That far-off spring, when my heart in its time
dreamed of impossible roses and rhyme,
has died, though the air was also light there,
like the sun that died behind Ecbátana.

But in Paris one spring the dream came to rise,
and the world became deep and Assyrian and wise,
as if still antiquity bled as of yore…
I lived for a day in Ecbátana.

My soul floated on like a syrinx of sounds
till the sun’s fall colored the parks' tree-crowns,
and the heart fell asleep in its highness, as there
in a sunset over Ecbátana.

But the people’s customs? The proud man’s feat?
What new and strange things would be left to share?
A terror, a madness, a cuneiform script
On your queenly body – Ecbátana.

But the rose, the most precious that world’s dreams know,
all life’s voluptuousness – who knew what they were?
Just a sign, a flower that was given for show
at a royal feast in Ecbátana.

I grew patient and proud. And then in my sleep
I dreamt of a fortune unemptied and deep.
Let the Flood’s waters carry me hence, afar
– I lived for a day in Ecbátana.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

See also: http://nordicvoices.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/ecbatana.html

My Translations

I've made a list of my published Nordic book-length translations. At present it looks like this:

from Finland-Swedish and Swedish

Edith Södergran: Complete Poems (Bloodaxe Books, UK)
Ice Around Our Lips - 10 Finland-Swedish Poets (Bloodaxe)
Bo Carpelan: Axel (Carcanet Press, UK)
Tua Forsström: Snow Leopard (Bloodaxe)
Tua Forsström: I Studied Once At A Wonderful Faculty (Bloodaxe) [with S. Katchadourian]
Tua Forsström: One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake (Bloodaxe)
Gösta Ågren: A Valley In The Midst of Violence (Bloodaxe) (awarded TLS/George Bernard Shaw Translation Prize, 1994)
Gösta Ågren: Standing Here (ebook), The Cities (ebook), Coming Here (ebook)
Bo Carpelan: Homecoming (Carcanet)
Karin Boye: Complete Poems (Bloodaxe)
Mirjam Tuominen: Selected Writings (Bloodaxe)
Bo Carpelan: Urwind (Carcanet)
Bo Carpelan: The Year's Circle (Marjukka Vainio)
Tove Jansson: The Moomins And The Great Flood (Schildts)
Tove Jansson: The Moomins And The Great Flood (Sortof Books, UK)
Various authors: Dolce far niente in Arabia [G.A. Wallin and His Travels in the 1840s] (Museum Tusculanum Press/Society of Swedish Literature in Finland)

 from Finnish

Marianne Aav (ed.) Marimekko - Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture (Yale University Press)
Anni Sumari (ed.) How To Address the Fog (Carcanet, UK) - with Donald Adamson and Robin Fulton
Rosa Liksom:  Dark Paradise (Dalkey Archive Press, USA)
Tuomas Kyrö: The Beggar and the Hare (Short Books)
Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love (Particular Books)

from Norwegian

Contemporary Norwegian Prose Writers (Oslo University Press, Norway)
Gunnar Staalesen: At Night All Wolves Are Grey (Quartet, UK)
Geir Kjetsaa: Fyodor Dostoyevsky - A Writer's Life (Viking USA and Macmillan UK) - translated with Siri Hustvedt
Øysteinn Lønn: Tom Reber's Last Retreat (Marion Boyars)

from Icelandic

Ólafur Gunnarsson: Gaga (Penumbra Press, Toronto, Canada), Trolls’ Cathedral (Shad Thames Books/Mare's Nest, UK), and Million-Percent Men (FORLAGIÐ JPV útgáfa, Iceland)
Brushstrokes of Blue [with Bernard Scudder]: The Young Poets of Iceland, anthology, ed. P. Valsson (Shad Thames Books/Greyhound Press, UK)
Einar Kárason: Devil's Island (Canongate, UK)
Bjarni Bjarnason: The Return of the Divine Mary (Red Hand Books, UK)
Bjarni Bjarnason: The Reputation (Red Hand Books, UK)

from Danish

Pia Tafdrup: Queen's Gate (Bloodaxe Books, UK)
Pia Tafdrup: Tarkovsky’s Horses and Other Poems (Bloodaxe Books, UK)
Pia Tafdrup: Salamander Sun (Bloodaxe)


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Cities

I've uploaded a new Kindle edition of my translation of the second part of Gösta Ågren's autobiographical trilogy - Städren, The Cities.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Standing Here

Gösta Ågren
My translation of  the first part of Gösta Ågren's autobiographical trilogy, Jär, is now available as a Kindle e-book, Standing Here, published on Amazon's KDP. 

My short introductory essay on the trilogy, published in Books from Finland magazine in 1992, can be read here

Monday, 24 July 2017


Again on the Red Hand Books site - Red Hand's founder Richard Eccles talks about his new edition of W.W. Worster's 1921 translation of Knut Hamsun's Pan:
It was the first translation of this novel in to English and is in many ways still the most striking. Like Hamsun in Norwegian, Worster writes in a way that is old-fashioned, from a bygone age, in English. I wanted to celebrate those turns of phrase, the spelling conventions, the simplicity of his achievement for a new audience. For me personally, I remember reading the novel late into the night for the first time – the Norwegian original – and being by turns delighted, baffled, intrigued, astounded and utterly enamoured by this visionary writer and his poetic, ‘Danishified’, sparkling and obscure language. So, on a personal level, it feels such a culmination of a long-held dream to contribute to a new edition.

The Return of the Divine Mary

Also from Red Hand: my translation of Bjarni Bjarnason's novel Endurkoma MaríuFrom the publicity:
‘The Return of the Divine Mary is a wonderfully eccentric, enchanting read. Traces of William Blake mingle with undertones of Bulgakov, Eco and Kafka to create a fast-paced, unpredictable drama constructed on an intriguing premise: What would the Virgin Mary be like as a young woman in modern society, and how would her contemporaries receive her?’

The Reputation

My translation of Icelandic author Bjarni Bjarnason's novel Mannorð is now available from Red Hand Books. Red Hand are a new player on the translation scene, and their website presents an interesting diversity of titles and content.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Ruskeat Tytöt

In the new Press Freedom Blog of The Finnish Foundation for Media and Development (Viestintä ja Kehitys-säätiö - Vikes for short), the editor, author and campaigner Koko Hubara writes and talks about her experience with social media, in particular her Ruskeat Tytöt (Brown Girls) blog:
Within a couple of weeks the Ruskeat Tytöt blog had attracted plenty of attention. It was picked up by other media and started to be cited in the major newspapers and magazines in Finland, both in good and bad tones.
Ruskeat Tytöt won various blog awards and received a lot of praise, but at the same time every other reader and/or (white) cultural correspondent, writer, theatre person, and artist had an opinion on how I should talk about racism and what should be considered “inoffensive”. For instance, when people at work touched my hair without asking and compared it to animal fur – that was simply friendly curiosity about difference, which I should understand and allow.
Of course I also got, and get, anonymous and signed hate mail and people hoping I would be raped or killed. There are still a lot of readers who are in the business of publicly belittling our experience and who change the subject when we raise the problems we face.
But for the most part the debate has been positive since the start, with an enthusiasm to learn and listen, and it has involved racialised people themselves as well as their white nearest and dearest whom the discussions undoubtedly address.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

New Wikipedia page

There is now a Wikipedia page on the contemporary Icelandic author Ólafur Gunnarsson. Its earlier absence always puzzled me, and now I have managed to get the page up, though it may still be edited.

Friday, 2 June 2017

World Poets

Among the participants in Bloodaxe's new DVD anthology World Poets, which presents work by 30 poets together with films of interviews and readings featuring the poets themselves, are Pia Tafdrup and Tua Forsström. There are also poems by Tomas Tranströmer. While it's good to see Nordic poets included here, some of Pia Tafdrup's poems inexplicably appear in Swedish translation, rather than in the original Danish. There are also some glitches and typos in the Swedish texts. It would have been useful to see proofs before publication, but apparently Bloodaxe considered it O.K. to skip that step.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

En värld är varje människa

En värld är varje människa, befolkad
av blinda varelser i dunkelt uppror
mot jaget konungen som härskar över dem.
I varje själ är tusen själar fångna,
i varje värld är tusen världar dolda
och dessa blinda, dessa undre världar
är verkliga och levande, fast ofullgångna,
så sant som jag är verklig. Och vi konungar
och furstar av de tusen möjliga inom oss
är själva undersåtar, fångna själva
i någon större varelse, vars jag och väsen
vi lika litet fattar som vår överman
sin överman. Av deras död och kärlek
har våra egna känslor fått en färgton.

Som när en väldig ångare passerar
långt ute, under horisonten, där den ligger
så aftonblank. – Och vi vet inte om den
förrän en svallvåg når till oss på stranden,
först en, så ännu en och många flera
som slår och brusar till dess allt har blivit
som förut. – Allt är ändå annorlunda.

Så grips vi skuggor av en sällsam oro
när något säger oss att folk har färdats,
att några av de möjliga befriats.

Gunnar Ekelöf

A world is each person, populated
by blind beings in obscure rebellion
against the I, the king who rules over them,
In every soul a thousand souls are captive,
in every world a thousand worlds concealed, 
and these blind, these nether worlds 
are real and living, though uncompleted,
as real as I am real. And we kings
and princes of the thousand possible within us
are ourselves subjects, caught ourselves
in some greater being, whose I and essence
we understand as little as our superior
his superior. Of their death and love
our own emotions have acquired a tint.

As when a mighty steamer passes,
far out below the horizon where it lies,
so evening-shiny. -- And we know not of it 
until a swell wave reaches us along the shore,
first one, then one more and many more
breaking and crashing until all is
as before. -- Yet all is different.   

Then we shadows are gripped by a strange unease,
when something tells us that people have travelled,
that some of the possible have been set free.  

translated from Swedish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

FILI Newsletter

The FILI Newsletter for the month of May is out, and can be accessed here. From the letter:

FILI moves to new offices

FILI is moving to a new office suite in the House of Nobility (Ritarihuone) building on 15 May 2017.

Our new offices will be upstairs from our previous location, and our street address will change: the entrance will be at Hallituskatu 2 B. To enter, ring the doorbell. Our new offices are on the second floor.

Items of special interest include the following:

Funding received by FILI

FILI's core funding comes from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, but we always need to seek additional funding from other sources to support our operations.

The Finnish Cultural Foundation awarded FILI a €50,000 grant to hold translator training courses for two years.

We have also received €8,000 from the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland for our work to promote Finland-Swedish literature abroad.
And the Otava Book Foundation awarded us €6,000 to update our translators' forum (known as ‘Kääntöpiiri’).

Our sincerest thanks to these funders – our work will continue!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Out of the Blue - 2

I have just received a copy of the hardback printed edition of Out of the Blue - it's an attractive book, and it looks instantly readable, like a story that one knows one wants to know the end of. I completely agree with the assessment by Jón Gnarr, ex-Mayor of Reykjavik:
It's an absolutely unique insight into Iceland's culture, mentality, and spirit - a country where the short story is as valued as the sagas.
See also in this blog: Out of the Blue
Body and Soul

Friday, 12 May 2017

Dead Links

The web site of Reykjavík, UNESCO City of Literature / Bókmenntaborgin is a fascinatingly diverse Web publication, offering an enormous amount of information about Icelandic literature, its present and past. It also exists in two versions, Icelandic and English, which interact with each other in a useful way,

What a pity, then, that the section of the site devoted to bio-bibliographical information on over 130 contemporary Icelandic authors does not yet seem to be complete. While the individual authors' pages come up as expected on the browsers I used (Chrome and Firefox), only the top level links appear to work - on many of the pages, clicking on 'Biography', 'From author', 'About author', 'Prizes', etc. yields no response. This is a great pity, and one hopes that the problem will be addressed before too long.

Update May 13: I'm happy to report that the 'books and authors' section of the City of Literature site now appears to be working properly, and the information can be accessed, though a little slowly.