Friday, 30 April 2010

The house of forgetting - 2

Reviewing Timo Harju's We watered them abundantly with coffee in Hbl, Pia Ingström makes the central point about the poems in this collection:
Det är inget vanvårdsinferno Harju beskriver, utan en vanlig, hyggligt välskött åldringsavdelning. Han är inte ute efter den socioekonomiska problematiken, utan den existentiella.

What Harju describes is not some inferno of neglect, but an ordinary, decently well-kept care home for the elderly. The problems he uncovers are not socio-economic but existential.
See also: The house of forgetting

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The words travel

by Pia Tafdrup

I live in another country, but still
don’t leave my home.
The alphabet I take with me
and the structures of the grammar
the meanings of the words and their emphases.
  No matter where on the globe
I settle down
I live in the language
I was born into.
No storm of other languages
capsizes mine.
I am I
        in my own language –
dreaming in what chance
made my mother tongue.
I write at home,
              write abroad,
everywhere the same:
The words have hearts of migrating birds,
dissection shows
  they want to reach someone,
  and I live with these
bird-words, their singing and hoarse cries.

from Trækfuglens kompas (Birds of Passage), Gyldendal 2010

translated from Danish by David McDuff

The house of forgetting

Finnish poet Timo Harju did his obligatory civil service working as an attendant in a nursing home for elderly people. Now he has written a collection of poems - his first - about the experience. The book's title is We Watered Them Abundantly with Coffee (Kastelimme heitä runsaasti kahvilla, ntamo, 2009), and there follow some excerpts from its early pages.


Moisture seeps through the seams of the TV,
the grandfather clock that no longer chimes,
through the neatly made bed, the photographs.
The tears go flowing under the door,
turn down the corridor, roll into the lift,
then another corridor, not far to the front door now,
they’ll get out of the front door! they’ll get out!
the nurses dash after the tears grab hold of them
and coax them back inside by force. I write
a spanner in the waterworks. a wrench.


Leaving means hugging one another
like crushed blueberries.
A year ago behind that door
the nursing home director warned
that the people here were not exactly
sweet old grannies and granddads.
Perhaps it was a joke.


I’d like the nursing home to open wide,
for all the doors to fold and hide
and the grannies and granddads go fluttering out
with their wrinkles their wheelchairs
rushing bright as a cow field in spring.
But they don’t run, so come and see
the clouds in the nursing home corridors.


Ward A5, Wednesday

make breakfast sandwiches
(thin layer of margarine and one slice of ham)
wash kitchen floor
take porridge to table next to bed
pull blanket away neatly
give medication
carry to WC
put on trousers
(rub legs down first)
put on braces
take porridge
serve porridge
get new asthma inhaler from medicine cabinet
clean and make bed
change towels in rooms
turn off TV
put on pleasant music
have coffee
carry chest of drawers to basement
make lunch sandwiches
take residents’ laundered clothes to closets
read newspaper aloud
put spoon in open mouth
(if the upper denture falls out, it may need
more adhesive powder and pushing
wipe purée off table and from under table
do washing-up
sneak couple of biscuits from kitchen cupboard
find dead granny on floor of room
(plastic bag on head and telephone cord)
serve afternoon coffee
(two black and fifteen white
though now only fourteen white)


Ward A5, Thursday

The clouds in the nursing home corridors, sky-open springlike after a bathe
and forgotten, in a frayed blue dressing-gown beside an osiery.
The grannies in the nursing home corridors, the last beautiful pride
you keep in a small wooden box behind your forehead:
if the lid opens by accident all the things may drop to the floor
topsy-turvy you won’t be able to find them, your back won’t let you
you won’t recognise them any more even if you do.
the springtime your insides to pieces.
Here they come, the grannies.
Better to stay here indoors, the journey to the dining room is a rough one
exposed like this
a long way and all by sleigh.
You stare at the keyhole: the clouds are coming.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Pia Tafdrup: Over the Water I Walk (VIII) - 4

In poetry, the body acquires articulation. I cannot write outside my gender or my history. The angle of vision in my poems wants to reveal that a female ‘I’ is perceiving and finding her voice. However, the relegation of woman-created art to an autonomous rival world is tantamount to letting it degenerate into a ghetto.

Of course, the problem lies somewhere else. In the sphere of the sexual, porosity and the ability to empathize with the other are all-important. When a poem comes into being receptivity is essential, but so are the outlets connected with male sexuality. Both are present in the process of any poem.

In the fields of sexuality and art, one state is common to both men and women: the moment when integration and personality break down. In sexuality, when one approaches the animal, in art the place where the writing ‘I’ is saturated and completely filled, where the ‘I’ lacks a face.


In the process of the poem’s inception I am not a gender-determined being. In the moment of writing I do not think of myself in terms of gender, I am simply absorbed. I am bi-gendered, androgynous or hermaphroditic – which does not mean demonic, but merely that in the poem it is clear that, explicitly or implicitly, the perceiving subject is female. In my poems there are traces of female perfume.


In poetry the genders are related like brother and sister.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Over the Water I Walk (VIII)- 1
Over the Water I Walk (VIII) - 2
Over the Water I Walk (VIII) - 3

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Still here...

Apologies for the long silence, but I have to admit that there are times - sometimes quite lengthy ones - in the year when my reading leaves the path of foreign fiction and poetry and returns to the field of British and American writing. Since I acquired a Kindle DX as a birthday gift from my daughter a couple of months ago I've been catching up on my acquaintance with the work of some major British authors, in particular Julian Barnes, whose Flaubert's Parrot I read years ago when it first appeared, and was fascinated by. Now at last with the help of Amazon and the Kindle I've managed to read several more of Barnes's novels and collections of essays, including Metroland  and his most recent book, Nothing To Be Frightened Of, both of which strike me as quite unlike anything else in contemporary British fiction.

Which leads me to conclude that, given the flexibility of Blogger and blogging, it might not be a bad idea to at some stage widen the scope of this blog to include a wider range of writing, and escape from the purely "Nordic" ambit...

I'll be thinking about this in the days and weeks ahead, and may reorganize or rename the blog accordingly (maybe even start a new one).

Sunday, 4 April 2010


By Ursula Andkjær Olsen

It is like a garden where everything
is robbed of its name by the great jewel thief.

Bad bad garden.

TELL ME! I am the mass so why am I so
lonely? TELL ME NOW!

You are sucking me dry DAMMIT. You are sucking me dry giant queen and
king kong of all genders you shout to me: "Give usss dessstinies! Lean out! We can’t tell you in advance. Little heart."

I am not heart. Not the heart horrible
bloodsucker that needs me to stand there and PUMP the clammy
parasite. Let me ascend into hymns and howling. I have my heart

sitting everywhere. It is eating me up from inside and you? YOU suck me dry.

Are you trying to hatch me OUT?
I am your dirty eggz? Tyrannosaurus Flex. HAHA.

Will I reflect my top in the wave’s
blah blah blah. Huh?

Death and chaos and nameless, here you come, what are you but an
unbridled consumption of

And order would that be better NO from here where I sit chaos looks like the only possible freedom. Stuff it, you can stuff it you GIANT. FART.

Everything that doesn’t kill me makes me more and more
nameless. Only in paradise will this nameless thing in me open up and

flourish. Paradise after closing time when they’re not watching. For DAMMIT they’re always
watching PARAFART. It's that pissy fence.

Good Breast and Bad Breast that’s you. I should have been
Enemy Of The State and the Serpent in Other People’s False Paradises. I would have to clear the Milky Way of stars:

Lean out!
I'll throw up. That is what is expected.

Giant DAMMIT you will not eat me until I am destiny. Eat me. Drink me.
Smoke me until I become destiny. Suck. Giant giant destiny. You can smoke it. Smoke me now and tell me then.

And spare me this original

idyllic and solemn
alienation. PLEASE! Turn off that horrible PUMP I am
open and have hearts everywhere.

Let me anoint your mouthpieces. I am alone. In the midst of idyll and solemn icy garden this cold blue grotto where the sigh-stones drip. Incredibly quiet. I have
the seconds sitting. Seconds all over the place.

In the midst of solitude and intimacy. It is piss-dialectical to be
a social tit- and political creature one must separate in order to meet. First one must hang together and then one must separate

in order to meet. One must

tear out one’s hair in order to meet.
MAYBE one must die in order to meet? Is that what you’re saying you big

PISS!? Is that the kind of story you have got to tell?!
With eye for an eye super-bloodshot while
I sit with sighs and

seconds all over the clothes. DAMMIT where is my sobriety?
DAMMIT I am throwing up no

YOU are throwing ME

up as stars and eating me when I fall. If I can’t
stay up in the sky. AND DAMMIT I CAN’T I fall down.

S'il vous plaît! How many times does my
face have to split? Before I get a name. Breast Buddy and
Soft Brain. My heart that fucking parasite. Until YOU slake your thirst.

Just slake your thirst I’ll give you destiny. BITTE schön. Beat beat. Look here I come
with a belly full! Here’s the fat dripping TELL ME NOW!

Do I have my heart in the right place? What are we going to do about all that beating? DAMMIT. Everywhere and all over the place. The heart in the garden in the garden in the garden in the garden in the garden in the garden in the garden in the garden I suppose it will make the nights whiter. Supersuperwhite. Will it for example tell me that loneliness comes before individuality?

Is it the name or the nameless that must be kept behind
fence under lock and key. HAHA. Is it me or is it

YOU BIG! And must it be looked after and watered or starved to death or both? OH. So that they are singing both of them

Good Breast and Bad Breast. Both Big Prick and Carrot. Them I will swing between that is destiny. That we can call a quadruple grip on my BALLS that is destiny? YES? You give all the names.

All that YOU have given me in the belly: security and both breasts and prick and carrot. DAMMIT how small I am.

YOU give both reality and dreams and I am the quiet before the name. Oh. TELL ME.

My dolls. Breast Buddy and Enemy Of The State. I gave them names
bury them with me when I die. Sweet sweet big

alarm. Let me howl and die.
The skin of my ass blossoms and becomes wings

flapping wings.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Linton apology

The Suecophile British Labour MP Martin Linton, who hosted the opening dinner of the 2008 Nordic Translation Conference which spotlighted the work of many literary translators from Scandinavian languages, has publicly apologized for saying that “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.” Melanie Phillips, writing in the Spectator, has some commentary.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Last Goodbye in Grötlingbo on Gotland

By Susanne Jorn


My father died on May 1, 1973
Everyone knew it - except me.
Because I lived all the way over
on the other side of the Atlantic
and my siblings did not phone.

When I was told I wore mourning white far into May
and slept like a Sleeping Beauty for 28 years.
Slept black – until a Danish man planted
a kiss on my lilywhite lips
and I woke up ...


First the stalkers erected a gravestone
for Asger Jorn in Grötlingbo on Gotland.

Then Asger Jorn's youngest son removed the stalkers’ stone
and put up another for his father:
A base for his father's bronze sculpture
that bears the inscription "Kontemplatione Fatigata" ...

It went black and white for me
at Grötlingbo cemetery
as I stood before my father's grave:
the bronze sculpture "Kontemplatione Fatigata".

I ran a fever and my eyes stung as I unsuccessfully spoke to my father's ashes.


At Grötlingbo cemetery next day
I called out again –

addressing my father's ashes
in Erik Nyholm's blue urn.

The lid sprang open.
Up came the Spirit
my father's ghost in the sky.

Only then
was I able to say
The Last Goodbye.

Reaching out for
the spectral-blue ghost --
but it was already invisible.

Since then
my mood has been neither
black nor white,
but all colours.

translated from Danish by David McDuff