Sunday, 28 February 2010

from The sea is a scene

by Ursula Andkjær Olsen

(Excerpt from a text that runs like a subtext/subtitle, an undercurrent at the foot of each page in the book, all the way from cover to cover).

What will they do when the branches coalesce in a fog? What will they do when the sea simply splits into droplets. Droplets. Droplets? They probably think they must choose between identity and difference. Between wave and particle between motion and solid form. It is an inconsistency in the skin and the hairs rise up. An inconsistency in the skin and the sea. The sea the sea the sea rises up. The storm is in the news how are they to think? When there’s always a rushing in their ears. Should they just take their sleeping pill now? They could. Their sleeping pill. Now? (...) For creatures with their defective emotions celebration and exorcism are not so dissimilar. Means and ends. And wave and particle. Ends and means turn into each other while they burn their sight at both ends. Their defective senses. At both ends they should take their happy pill now. Their live-and-cry-with-happiness pill their let-me-live-and-love pill. Now. The sooner the better? (...) Their bones will soon have forgotten all about them. They will wash up on the beach white and smooth. Without a single memory. They will wash up from the sea is a scene and they are its tiny tiny watercourses while they surrender their rhythms to the dust. Carrying eternity’s DNA. It dreams in them. Their bones dream in them of jumping out while they become more and more. Hill of the elves. Wormholes. One could call it a deadly kinship with eternity. Big and shiny. Shiny and white. They might as well take their sleeping pill. Now. They cling to more and more eternities. They could take their sleeping pill. They could. Their sleeping pill now. Their sleeping pill. Sleeping pill now. Sleeping pill.

Translated from Danish by David McDuff

More crime

Back again - to find among the mail on my doormat an invitation to yet another Nordic crime novel-related event. This time it's a literary function at the residence of Sweden's UK ambassador, to which members of the translators' association SELTA  are automatically invited as part of their membership. My address on the envelope, after my name, begins with "SELTA", as if SELTA were housed at my home, which it's not - I'm just an ordinary member.

The evening, to be held on March 18, is called "Crimes of the Millennium - Stieg Larsson and the rise of Swedish Mystery Fiction", with Barry Forshaw, Eva Gedin, Lynda La Plante, Mark Lawson (chair) and Håkan Nesser.

Readers who've followed this blog over the past year will know that I'm not a fan of this form of fiction, and believe that the "Nordic Crime Wave" is likely to have negative consequences for the chances of non-mass-market Nordic literature in translation, which is steadily being crowded out of the picture by the serried ranks of detectives. It seems perverse of the Swedish embassy to be hosting this event - in effect, raising the profile of Mystery Fiction (an elevated name for thrillers) still further when really it needs no more raising. Is it churlish of me to react in this way?

Monday, 22 February 2010


Nordic Voices is taking a short break. Posting will resume in a week or so.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A woman in space

by Henrika Ringbom

Why not send a woman into space? Why not send her on a really long space flight? She would be forced to function. She would be forced to function as a functioning member of the crew. She would not be taken along as a guest. Already here on earth woman has shown that there are tasks for which she is better suited than a man. She can go from one home to the next, cut up meat, bread fish, fry fillets and freeze the dainty bits. At the wheel of the car she is best naked! The woman and the corset are a lethal combination! Unmarried mothers have more difficult childbirths. Unmarried and mother are a lethal combination! But the housewife has a dream. Her dream begins with the perfect contraceptive pill. And her dream ends. Her dream ends with the perfect water-jug. Why not send her into space? Why not send her on a really long space flight?


translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Monday, 15 February 2010

Electric verses

"Christmas 2009 was the time when e-book sales in America began to have financial significance," writes Clare Alexander in the Bookseller, and as someone who has recently begun to use a Kindle, I think I can see why. The convenience of being able to download books, newspapers and magazines instantly, without having to visit a bookstore, is certainly something new, and the lightness, clear display and portability of the device is also a factor that speaks in its favour. To be able to read not simply one book, but three or four simultaneously, without having to prop them up or otherwise support them (large volumes can be hard on the hands and wrists), is to me a definite step forward. Recently, when reading a biography of T.S. Eliot, I wanted to have several other Eliot-related books available, including the poet's own works, and on the Kindle I was able to do this neatly and without effort, switching between automatically bookmarked pages in different volumes. It's also possible to bring up Wikipedia while reading in order to check references. The whole experience is a bit like having a reference library in the palm of one's hand.

When the royalties question is settled and some kind of standardization takes place in the matter of e-book formats, I can see foresee that e-books could even come to replace the paper versions. Whether this development will be truly international or confined to the English-speaking world, it's hard to know at present. Certainly in Scandinavian publishing circles there still seems to be some resistance to the electronic incursion, but this may change as countries like Finland and Estonia, which have always been at the forefront of developments in information technology, begin to respond. It would obviously help if Amazon were to acquire a presence in the Nordic countries, and one wonders if that will happen any time soon.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Donald Boström, author of the Aftonbladet article that alleged IDF organ theft, is currently seeking a Swedish-English translator for his book Inshallah (which contains similar allegations), via his publisher Ordfront.  It's to be hoped that translators  who are approached in this way will register a strong protest with Ordfront about the book and its contents.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (VIII) - 1

Paternal authority has been distinguished by its absence during this century, something that has made it possible for women to be active in new fields. Paradoxically, however, the world of art is permeated by myths and prejudices, with the result that creative women are still marginalized. Even among the most recent generations, again and again we see women being given a peripheral existence in relation to the ‘real thing’. It is the activities of men that are perceived as respectable and valid, the world of their experience that has priority when receiving an accepted public form, while work by women is viewed by many as uninspiring.


The term ‘women’s literature’ has been used partly in order to raise the profile of works that have been ignored, and partly in an attempt to provide women with access to a number of institutions. This was needed, but at the same time the term has become an encumbrance, as it points to a deviation from a norm. The concept is clumsy and discriminating. It makes the books that are written by women into a subsection of literature. One would prefer that those books were treated on their own merits and were read and evaluated according to the same criteria that are applied to literature written by men. One might also dream that this problem may soon be a chapter in the past. So that the readers’ concentration can focus on the thing that matters: the work.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Afraid in Denmark

In the Jerusalem Post, Bloomberg writes about Kurt Westergaard, the Danish graphic artist who for the past four years has faced death threats because of the cartoon of Mohammed he published in 2005. Excerpt:
“The worst thing about being stigmatized is that I can’t do anything about it,” Westergaard says. “The more I speak out, the worse it becomes.”

His defiance has had a price beyond becoming a social pariah. In 2007, he and his wife, Gitte, lived in hiding for eight months as the police investigated two Tunisians and a Dane over allegations of a plot against his life. On January 14, two Chicago men and two Pakistanis were indicted in the United States for planning an attack on Morgenavisen Jyllands, the paper Westergaard works for.

Gitte worked as a substitute teacher at a local kindergarten in February 2008, he says. She was fired because other staff feared that her presence would endanger children. When this emerged in local newspapers the next day, an alderman forced the kindergarten to reinstate her and the mayor invited her for tea at the city hall.

Online auction house last month refused to sell one of his paintings of fabled characters as part of a national effort to raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti, fearing for its employees, the company said on its Web site.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The time is set

by Susanne Jorn


This rotating earth.
This olive tree.
These roads.
in crunching cold.



Midnight blue.


in screaming black terrordarkness.



To believe in something
trust someone,
is to be one
who loves.


Pas de deux.

Cat ballet
in the moonstripe.


Lifebreath –


in cornflower field.

Is everything okay.


The lips

The pomegranates.


The uncertainty about
the future’s

The certainty of
the sky’s


Ethnic cleansing.
Suicide bombers.
The Danish flag trampled and burned

Yes, please!


Fog-blue daylight.
Almost no verdigris towers.

Wintry figures in snail gallop.
They are cycling home.


at its zenith.

The lines of life.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Friday, 5 February 2010

Google and the DOJ

The U.S. Justice Department has criticized the Google Book Settlement, saying that the proposals still present copyright and antitrust issues. In particular, it is concerned that the settlement in its current form forces authors
to "opt out" of having their books scanned and digitised, rather than opting in, which is the usual assumption for copyright law.  (Telegraph)

In search of an antihero

In the Guardian British actor Antony Sher, who is currently rehearsing Enemy of the People, writes about his quest to find Henrik Ibsen. Excerpt:
Nearby stood ­another statue of the playwright – a ­giant figure, striding forward with bearded chin held high, heading for the history books. It looked preposterous, particularly as, along with Chekhov, ­Ibsen invented the theatrical antihero.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

St Petersburg

by Martin Enckell

in the city of the sphinxes, and the mothers,
in the city where death’s sphinx
rests in double majesty, and where the mothers
bear the bread home, out to the infinities of kneeling concrete,
where the children, the children increasingly often refuse to find their way home,
in this city of the mothers, and the sphinxes,
life writes its shadow script, as in fever,
as if an enormous tubercular angel had lain down to die
over the Neva’s delta, over the mirage of stone and the marsh river’s dark reflections,
over golden pinnacles and cupolas, over feverish gold, over façades doomed to beauty,
over palaces and portals where raw cold mist drifted in, over the trampled jewel
and the suburbs that mock, over the weighed-down marshes, and over weighed-down fates,
dizzying fates, and harrowed, that were scattered,
and are still scattered, into nothingness – in the city of the sphinxes, and the mothers.


she is old and bent, she begs, begs her way in
behind your eyes, by one of the passages down to the underworld,
and you implore her, implore her not to look like your mother,

night after night her youth rolls in over you,
night after night you approach requiems she will never write,
night after night she freezes into pictures you have no access to


in a white dress, by the window, in that light cool room,
she stands listening to the lingering echo
from a gate that has slammed shut, watching as through veils
the retinue of phantoms from the Marinsky, sylphides and future doomed
who silently stride across the Neva’s frail dark ice


dawn after dawn death stands
and polishes, caresses, caresses her doorknob,
dusk after dusk she locks you
in her gaze, a gaze that has swept over a whole century


and in a black low-cut dress, in the icy palace,
she dances then, all night long, her bridal waltz
with ghost after ghost, until she dances with the dawn
in whose eyes red spiders gleam, and she hears the iron gates
slam shut about the rooms, the rooms where the taiga and the tundra begin


night after night she freezes into the memories where death constantly divides,
night after night she approaches those she loved, over the Styx,
night after night she rolls a waxworks of torments over you,

she is one of the many, one of the dumb, she is all and each,
who stood and waited, for months and years, who stood and queued
and waited, outside Kresty, the martyrdom, the prison that sanctified the word.


life writes its corrosive shadow script over the most beautiful of cities,
as though an angel, an enormous tubercular angel, were trying to bless all that is doomed,
by letting itself be blessed down in the slowly sinking foundations of beauty,
while death, indifferent, apparently indifferent, watches death, in double majesty,
out of frozen stone, above the river, above the Styx – in the city of the mothers, in Saint Petersburg.

(Ny Tid / Kontur 4/98)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Sampling the system

It's sometimes a good idea for a translator to approach an English-language publisher with short samples of a foreign poet's work, particularly as in the case of Nordic literature such projects can often be subsidised by  govenrnment arts agencies. Sometimes the procedures for filing the applications is a little vague, though. In one recent case I found that having permission from the poet concerned was not enough - it seemed that the Nordic publisher also needed to agree to the sample translations being made, even though there was no question at this stage of the translations being published anywhere. This seems an odd system, and one wonders whether the agency concerned has understood the situation with regard to copyright correctly.  According to one agency official, the publisher's agreement is required "in order to exclude support for projects where rights holders are not interested in taking part in them." Yet if the "rights holder" is the poet or author who has granted permission and actively wants the translations to be made, one wonders where the problem is.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Tobias anteckningar

Tobias Ljungvall's interesting and well-researched Swedish-language blog on global current affairs, with a special emphasis on Russia and North-Eastern Europe, has a new Web address:

Subjects of recent posts include the politics of Swedish snuff, conspiracy theory and the Haiti earthquake, and Russia's recent ratification of an international agreement aimed at speeding up the work of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).