Thursday, 14 May 2009

Tomas Mikael Bäck: Three Poems

Tomas Mikael Bäck (b. 1946) is a Finland-Swedish poet of almost haiku-like concision, noting the passing details of outer reality as they merge with inner emotions and perceptions. Although the central preoccupations of his poems are intellectual and ethical, the world of everyday objects and incidents is never far away. Music and images hover in the background, yet are unobtrusive, and inform the ear and the eye as remembered or suddenly perceived stimuli. Bäck has published 16 collections: the poems here are from Memoarer och annan dikt (Memoirs and other poems), Schildts, 1997.

*

Why did so many buses go
To Kyyjärvi of all places,
when I was young?
Why did the sun-drowned March firmament
thrill to Schumann’s Lied
Ich wandre nicht,
smoothly captured in the morning
on my tape?
Why could nothing,
not even for a moment,
really shake me
from the sense of being outside,
from the belief that there is no direction,
that existence remains enigmatic?

*

Our story was doomed to end with a crash.
I suppose it was like you said: we'd already caused each other
too much pain. But there is something
offensive in the very staging
of the break-up.
You turn round on the way out, bid a last farewell,
and then pass through the hospital gates. You have a sense of reality,
of course you will manage. I still wonder
through what moods you walked back that day,
towards the city’s silent afternoon alarm! Sorrow – or
just relief? In my bare room voices must
recapitulate.

*

Our last excursion à deux:
he is already speechless. By train
to Tavastehus. There is nothing to say!
It is a sparkling winter’s day, sun gleams.
Don't want to eat, don’t want to see the Sibelius Museum.
I talk anxiety, talk sorrow.
Then sevenths, souvenirs are bought: Clifford
Brown, Sarah Vaughan. Home exists, though, the sound
of flight. What sun?
The orbit is defined
by an unknown heavenly body.

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

2 comments:

  1. As well as on the music and metaphysics, I focused on the realia when reading these poems. I note that Kyyjärvi is a reference to Bäck's Ostrobothnian childhood. The place (I'd never heard of it before yesterday) is the third point of a triangle, with the towns of Kokkola and Östermyra as the other two points.

    And as I lived for a year in Hämeenlinna, I knew about the Sibelius birthplace connection, but don't remember that museum when I lived there thirty years ago. I remember the Sibelius Museum in Åbo better.

    For some reason I don't understand, I've never really read any poetry by TMB. But these translations encourage me to do so. The first is a blend of music and memory; the second sounds like an estranged wife leaving her husband behind in a mental hospital; I can't really work out the third.

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  2. I think that in the third poem - untypically, perhaps - music begins to take over from words. I asked Tomas about the "sevenths", and they're sevenths as in seventh chords (common in jazz).

    In general, the events in the poems are a subtext to the meditation, and I've found that it's better not to try to guess what is "going on", but to let the concrete details blend with the reflective thought processes - as that blending is what the poems are ultimately "about".

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