Monday, 30 March 2009

Rants 'n Raves

Picking through Finland-Swedish poet Claes Andersson's latest collection of poems, Lust (Desire), for a Books from Finland English-language selection, both the translator and the magazine's editor encountered some unforeseen problems: while many of the poems in the book are fresh and engaging, especially when one considers that their author is over 70, many of them also resemble extended sermons which propagate the poet's own personal and left-wing political credo.

For example, items in the original selection included a long, impassioned but ultimately outré rant entitled "black book 1", which contains all manner of arguable statements on issues ranging from global warming, bird flu and the global economy all the way to the Middle East. While the poem would make a terrific blog post, my view was that in the absence of a comments or feedback facility at least some readers might feel prevailed upon. Also, while I had no objection to the poem being published -- indeed, as I was at pains to point out to the editor, the magazine has a right to publish anything it likes -- I felt that as translator I'd need to publish some kind of disclaimer at the end.

So we opted provisionally for poems that are more universal in tone. In fact, I believe that in those Andersson is more successful than his more "political" pieces. Though the apocalyptic-cum-ironic tone is still there, the credo is somehow more genuine and effective -- indeed it's much more interesting, as it possesses an almost religious fervour. Political critique becomes fiery moral denunciation as the adversary turns out to be not some grouping of political forces, but humanity itself, which the poet apparently believes is due for incineration:

Perhaps some will wonder why our empire was effaced?

You may not like the answer, that it was our greed, our violence and our excess, that
we thereby forfeited our right to a good life in harmony with nature and ourselves

All that had depth we turned into surface

All that was surface and skin we burned apart in our compulsion to eradicate and destroy

All the beauty we could be touched and moved by we quite simply killed

1 comment:

Eric Dickens said...

I've never been entirely happy with the poetry of Claes Andersson. In 1972, back in my Communist sympathiser days (and, of course, his, which have never entirely ended), I bought his collection "Bli, tillsammans". Even then, I remember thinking that some of the more committed poems read like didactic prose, chopped up into convenient lengths - to make it look like poetry. This preachiness still irritates me. Or rather, these doctor's orders, as Andersson worked as a psychiatrist before becoming a Finnish member of parliament.

By the late 1970s, he begins to mellow, though he does point out in one poem that Finland's export trade with the Soviet Union has increased threefold, while Finland at the same time is exporting industrial manpower to Sweden; so Finnish workers can choose between humiliation back home and alienation in Sweden. I feel that the politico-economic situation has changed a bit since 1979...

By his 1991 collection "Huden där den är som tunnast", a far greater percentage of his poems are about human feeling rather than agit-prop. I'm much happier with Claes Andersson when his poems centre on the family and relationships. These will not date so much as the ones that tell us that there are poor and hungry people on this Earth, that it's bad to be unemployed, and so forth.