Friday, 7 December 2012

Pedro Carmona-Alvarez

My translations of poems by the Norwegian-Chilean poet Pedro Carmona-Alvarez are on the site of Poetry International Web.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Tua Forsström

Books from Finland magazine has published some of my translations of poems from Tua Forsström's new collection. There's also a short introductory essay by Michel Ekman, also in my translation.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Laus Strandby Nielsen: Two Texts


Mr. Safe has chosen his 600 kilo weight pseudonym because the elevator can just about carry him. The combination he has forgotten. Perhaps a stamp collection has been lost. He watches the news continuously. It is always new. His forgetfulness wins the race against the whole flock of repetitions. Every time. That is how he forestalls his loneliness. Once he had an anxious future. Now he is in time’s fullness of abundance. Absolutely alone. Absolutely modern. Like in the good old days. His daughter is his mother. His grandchild is also him. His time has come. It goes no further. How can he be lonely?

His real name is Hansen. More real than that it does not get. It is far from certain that it is enough. It takes at least three people to change the diaper on his 120 kilo weight body. Free will lives somewhere nearby. Like a king in his castle. It’s some old shit, but it's his old shit. There must be a meeting. There must be several meetings. There must be implementation. But from now on he represents your blind spot. His heirs are called Cause and Effect.


Hr. Pengeskab har valgt sit 600 kg tunge pseudonym fordi elevatoren så lige akkurat kan bære ham. Koden har han glemt. Måske er en frimærkesamling gået tabt. Han ser nyhederne uafbrudt.  De er hele tiden nye. Hans glemsomhed vinder kapløbet mod hele flokken af gentagelser. Hver gang. Sådan kommer han ensomheden i forkøbet. Engang havde han en ængstelig fremtid.  Nu er han i tidens fylde af overflod. Absolut ikke alene. Absolut moderne. Som i de gode gamle dage. Hans datter er hans mor. Hans barnebarn er også ham. Hans tid er kommet. Den går ikke længere. Hvordan kan han være ensom?

Hans virkelige navn er Hansen. Mere virkeligt bliver det ikke. Det er langt fra sikkert at det er nok. Der skal mindst tre personer til at skifte bleen på hans 120 kg tunge krop. Den frie vilje bor et sted i nærheden. Som en konge på sit slot. Det er noget gammelt lort, men det er hans gamle lort. Der skal holdes et møde. Der skal holdes flere møder. Der skal implementeres. Men fra  nu af forestiller han din blinde plet. Hans arvinger hedder Årsag og Virkning.


Because life goes on with trolleys and racks
in the light and the dark, in spasms that clutch something
almost nothing of what remains, it spreads
out like that snoring in the universe you call
your neighbour. You must go closer. Through the fair
fluttering worlds that are what you can see
in the birdsong’s grey-flickering cuts in the grief.
The wet and the dry monsters wag their tails.
If they’ve been allowed to keep them. There’s
a big circle when the animals say goodbye.
While the  pretty, capable ambassadors of the future
submit their credentials to my white
blood cells. There’s a burning in one foot.
There’s an emergency vehicle on its way in the oesophagus
in a southbound direction, I repeat: Dr. Carrot
and Dr. Stick are in a meeting, this is the last call
for passengers to The Old World. All
others are asked to stand up and say thank you for the ride.


Fordi livet går videre med rulleborde og stativer
i lyset og mørket, i kramper der knuger noget
nær ingenting ud af det der er tilbage, det breder
sig ud som den snorken i universet du kalder
din næste. Du skal tættere på. Gennem de fagre
blafrende verdener der er hvad du kan se 
i fuglesangens gråflimrende rifter i sorgen.
De våde og de tørre monstre logrer med halen.
Hvis de har fået lov til at beholde den.  Der er
en stor rundkreds når dyrene siger farvel.
Mens fremtidens smukke, dygtige ambassadører
afleverer deres akkreditiver til mine hvide
blodlegemer. Det brænder i den ene fod.
Der er et udrykningskøretøj på vej i spiserøret
i sydgående retning, jeg gentager: Dr. Gulerod
og Dr. Stok sidder i møde, det er sidste udkald
for passagerer til Den gamle verden. Alle
andre bedes rejse sig og sige tak for turen.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Michael Strunge and F.P. Jac

YouTube now has quite an extensive collection of videos of readings and interviews featuring 1980s Danish poets.  In this sequence Michael Strunge is joined by F.P. Jac.

Pia Tafdrup: Salamandersol

In a documentary broadcast on Gyldendal's television channel, Pia Tafdrup talks about her new collection Salamandersol. Among other things, the film contains some video clips that feature Michael Strunge.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Laus Strandby Nielsen: Two Texts


Seen from a distance in backlight it looks like a slightly informal funeral.
But the yellow, red, blue, purple, black, incidentally not green
windcheaters and raincoats and not least the cameras tell
a different story about the incidentally 19 texts without a heading
that stand around a mud hole. Which one must not touch.
19 different open texts, cryptically unfinished, muttering
with a planet in their mouths and the sky for a handkerchief.
Can they read one another? No. Can they read themselves? No.
They are waiting for the title, and so they cannot get down
to the text. And then it is there. A fountain of boiling water
shoots high in the air. The cameras click. An expected
surprise, called Geysir, makes the texts meaningless
and briefly closed...


Set på afstand i modlys ligner det en lidt uformel begravelse.
Men de gule, røde, blå, lilla, sorte, tilfældigvis ingen grønne
vind- og regnjakker og ikke mindst kameraerne fortæller 
noget andet om de tilfældigvis 19 tekster uden overskrift
der står rundt om et mudderhul. Som man ikke skal røre ved.
19 forskellige åbne tekster, kryptisk uafsluttede, mumlende
med en planet i munden og himlen som lommetørklæde.
Kan de læse hinanden? Nej. Kan de læse sig selv? Nej.
De venter på overskriften, og så kan de jo ikke komme ned
i teksten. Og så er den der. En fontæne af kogende vand
skyder højt op i luften. Kameraerne klikker. En forventet
overraskelse, kaldet Geysir, gør teksterne meningsløse
og kortvarigt afsluttede…


The stiffest clothes are not as stiff as they were. So now a plaster cast is needed. But I anticipate the course of events. As always when one lags behind. The whole class came and wrote their names on the plaster leg. This temporary monument, assailed by doubtful presence. Who will come now with the family album of X-rays? The loft must be cleared. The house must be vacuumed and fumigated. And yet the new tenants will complain because they are bitten by the old fleas. They are not all there. They are obsessed with the thought of fleas. They scratch themselves where the skin bubbles up around a bite. Material sense never fails.


Det stiveste puds er ikke så stift som det har været. Så nu skal der gipses. Men jeg foregriber begivenhedernes gang. Som altid når man er bagud. Hele klassen kom og skrev deres navne på gipsbenet. Dette midlertidige monument, bestormet af tvivlsomt nærvær. Hvem kommer nu med familiealbummet af røntgenbilleder? Loftet skal ryddes. Huset skal støvsuges og gasses. Og alligevel vil de nye lejere klage fordi de bliver bidt af de gamle lopper. De er ikke rigtig kloge. De er besat af tanken om lopper. De kradser sig hvor huden bobler op omkring et bid. Materialefornemmelsen fornægter sig aldrig.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Salamander Sun

Salamandersol, Pia Tafdrup's latest collection of poetry, contains one poem for each year of the poet's life. Here's a translation of the first poem.


First is joy,
  smuggled across the border
      through a narrow tunnel.
The night is over, drowned in the sea
  buried in the ground,
      thousands of years passed alone.
Smells that already existed,
  closely surround,
       horses snort in the barn.
Wake with light,
  see shadow-play on the wallpaper
       hear birds in bushes and ivy.
The  grown-ups’ voices and laughter,
  a safe landing place
       on the other side of the wall.
First is the morning garden
  in sun,
       its illumination of the heart.
Apples fall in the warm grass,
  insects rise
       up from flowers’ petal depth.
First is openness,
  that soon closes,
First is trust,
  that is easily swallowed
       by galactic fear.
First is  joy,
  that newborn flows
       towards the world, dreams it.
Then follows grief, then follows anger,
  then someone says:
    –  Peace be with it.
Life is death that is coming,
  but first is joy.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Beggar and the Hare

Tuomas Kyrö's novel Kerjäläinen ja jänis (The Beggar and the Hare, 2011) is at once a homage to the better-known book by Arto Paasilinna, Jäniksen vuosi (The Year of the Hare, 1977), and an affectionate pastiche of it. Kyrö takes the theme of "man and animal" and turns it into a satire on the life of modern Finland, with its uncertain position between an affluent and introspective Scandinavia and an impoverished but outward-bound Eastern Europe. The novel's great virtue lies in its author's ability to go further and convert this local drama into a human comedy, where elements of social and political strife become part of a universal moral tale.

Here's an excerpt from the early part of the book, in my translation:

From Kerjäläinen ja jänis [The Beggar and the Hare] by Tuomas Kyrö

[pp. 29-33]

Yegor Kugar was a professional in the security sector whose career began in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Later on the artificial Union filed for bankruptcy, but that change of affairs had no effect on Yegor Kugar’s life and deeds – at least not of a negative kind. Regimes may fall, but the security police remains. The security police is the regime. From Kugar’s professional point of view the nosedive of the Bolshies was actually a positive event, one that improved the state of the markets. Unstable domestic politics and power vacuums always mean brilliant new opportunities for those with no shortage of nerve and testosterone. 

“I brought the poppy flowers of the mullahs to the nouveau-riches of my own land. A briefcase full of opium, several briefcases full of banknotes. Our kind of agricultural subsidy. That way the level of my income rather swiftly reached that of my clients. I bought a Nokia mobile phone the size of a beer-crate but couldn’t use it to call anyone, as there weren’t any network towers in our neck of the woods yet.”

   At first Yegor sold sackfuls of poppies, then opium, but having been brought up on the street he soon realized that the longer a small businessman works up his raw stock the fatter his wallet will be. With his takings Yegor Kugar bought what every newly-rich motherfucker throughout the world buys: an outsize four-by-four. It might also suit the tramcar-riding intelligentsia to find out what it feels like to go rolling along in one’s very own bulletproof, family-car-eating Hummer.
   Yegor needed a temporary residence for vacations, so he bought a floor of the former Party members’ apartment block. When the heroes of the Great Patriotic War on the floor above complained about the noise, Yegor bought that floor as well and moved the heroes out to the street. In his new home Yegor Kugar celebrated his own ego, the good sides of his time at the summit of world history in the company of presidents, sports stars and the bearded, pointy hat-wearing radicals of the Orthodox Church. An endless shindig, like the one in Yegor’s favourite book The Dirt, which describes the everyday life – or rave-up – of the band Mötley Crüe. For in Yegor’s eyes two beings were superior to all others: Vince Neil and Joseph Stalin. Yegor himself puts it like this:

“I’ll tell you straight, as it’s important if you want to understand my character and don’t just want to stick me in the slammer. I’m mad about fucking. It’s the only way I know to get the shit out of my head when I’m under this goddamn stress all the time. Fucking is better than fighting, no? At first I never did drugs myself because I knew it would immediately bugger the stock records and the sales chain follow-up.
   “What’s the alternative? Drinking puts you out of action for several days. It’s better to empty your head with fucking.
    “Two weeks of business, two weeks in my pad with Miss Uzbekistan. There are all kinds of broads in the world, of all races, sizes, smells and tastes. There are the Pam Andersons and the Armi Aavikkos, but there are also the junkies, the halfwits and the Alla Pugachovas. There are the semi-uglies who are also hypersexual marvels in an easy-going sort of way. There are the seventeen year-olds who look like women of thirty and there are the forty-seven year-olds who’ve kept their resale value. There are the rump roasts who are bigger and lovelier than the sum of their holes. And there the ones who are just holes, for whom I was equivalent to money, drugs and connections, in other words a hole through which they could sniff coke with NHL hockey players. But fun was always had on both sides, until it got embarrassing, at which point I’d tell the girls to go, and order new ones. It didn’t seem possible that such a life would ever end.
   “I just can’t sleep alone, I need someone beside me, it doesn’t matter who it is as long as she has a good body. That’s how it is with the women back home, but over here the ladies have been let into the labour market, they have too many opportunities to let their bodies go and quit wearing makeup.”

Yegor Kugar wanted more serious challenges in his life, and so he expanded his business activities from drugs to arms. A market was offered to him on a plate: hostile armies. The most important thing was that the conflicts were ongoing, that no peace negotiations were started, that the situation did not become normalized. As long as the hostile army was within binocular range and antagonistic, one could trade drugs for arms.

“Shitistan, Blackanistan and blah-blah-blah. I got my supply of happy dust from the tribal warlords, paid cash in Kalashnikovs. Then, just for form’s sake, a little skirmish with the same crew, and at the same time an application to HQ for leave, which was granted of course as I slipped in some powder as a sweetener.
    “The problems began when the enemy side began to tighten up their morale. Worst of all were the separatists, read B-league fundamentalists, read clerics. They’re an obstacle to free trade, a bit like your social democracy here. They scared the pants off me, because they weren’t scared of us at all. Kind of like the Finns during the Winter War: let the Russkies bring their millions of tanks, we’ll mow them down with our bows and catapults. In place of fear and flight they had hate and faith. Extremely dangerous. I respected them and despised them. But goddammit, if they’d gained such unlimited power, why on earth did they go on living in caves and ruins? They made threatening videos, took hostages and muttered their holy scripture, though they’d have done  better to make music videos and build swimming pools in their basements with pole dancing, billiard tables and drink cupboards.
    “I realized that they didn’t know much about fucking, either. That they could only get it up when they were able to rape someone. Their male cousins.”

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Woman at 1000 Degrees

Here's Icelandic novelist Hallgrímur Helgason discussing his latest novel, on The Reykjavík Grapevine: 

It’s about Herra Björnsson, an eighty-year-old Icelandic woman, who was the granddaughter of the first president of Iceland. She was born in 1929 and grew up on the Breiðafjörður islands. Her father was among the few Icelanders who fought on Hitler’s side in WW2. Her life was very much affected by this fact, and during the war she was left alone, a young girl roaming around Germany. You can say she never recovered from this experience.

After the war she goes from here to there, has many husbands and lives all over the place. She then ends up bedridden, in a garage in Reykjavík, where she spends her last years living alone with a laptop and an old German hand grenade, her sole souvenir from a turbulent life. The book plays out in the present, with her in the garage, doing her tricks on Facebook and such, but also in the past, as she looks back on her eventful life. The novel is very much Herra’s life story, peppered with some eighty years of North European and Icelandic history. It’s very tragic at times, but funny as well, I hope.

There are some chapters from the new novel in my translation, here.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Great Flood (2)

Sort Of Books say that they are publishing my translation of Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen as The Moomins and the Great Flood in October 2012. There's some information on their website.

Update: the translation is now published.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Friday, 3 February 2012

And Other Stories

Catharine Mansfield, interviewing Stefan Tobler in Booktrust, writes:
With the help of the reading groups and subscribers, the company plans to publish 4 or 5 new titles in 2012, including books by Argentinian heavyweight Carlos Gamerro, Russian author Oleg Zaionchkovsky and Swiss writer Christoph Simon. The company now has over 200 subscribers and aims to reach 300 by the end of the year. Reading groups are also thriving, with Swedish and Arabic groups planned for 2012.

Two Percent

At FutureBook, Jakob Harden discusses the state of Danish publishing in the light of the rise of the e-book, and notes that so far
With less than a 2 % market share, e-books are still to come in Denmark.

The Great Flood

I'm informed by an editor at Schildts - the Finland-Swedish publishing company now in a merger with Söderströms - that an unnamed UK publisher may be interested in releasing a new edition of my translation of Tove Jansson's first Moomin story, Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen. However, this remains to be confirmed, and the translation itself has a rather curious history, having been already been published (with Tove Jansson's original illustrations) by Schildts in 2005 and 2007.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

10 poems

by Rune Christiansen

A sheet of paper lit up by memory

But still – the poem's patient independence, and the shallow depths near heaven, a phrase I have from Ekelöf (‘As in the ballad’ published 10 October 1964), perhaps simply to remind myself that the draught from the open kitchen window, and the thin, cold drizzle, snowflakes almost, set the scene for an awkward perspective that evening. The year was 2003. How would it go with us?
  And on the grey respatex table, next to a black dice, lay the photograph of father, a picture that had once been stapled to a public document unknown to me. I noted that we did not resemble each other, but when I turned the face towards the twilight I found my way home all the same.

Lukas 9

A day of frozen lakes, in February the sun reigns only in shy glints, and the silence is on its way like space ships passing in the night. Soon it will snow, as in northern Japan, soon we shall be in the prime of sleep, and the universe will not weigh us down any longer. When I see you at a distance, on a white slope, I think: all that you take from me you will receive, and all that I borrow from you, you will inherit back.

Five allegorical sketches

The escalators down to the subway lead the shadows ambiguously home. In the absence of other gods, we eagerly greet the chill draught from the trains.


In Poems Around Zero Karl Vennberg wrote: "Someone, perhaps you, seems to be taking a rest, / though in great unrest," and then "Someone, perhaps myself, raises an arm / as against a delayed attack”, and elsewhere: "For a moment to stand there outside / and avoid recognizing oneself!"


We played soccer on a little patch of land, used an empty water bottle and a jacket as goal. I thought of all the years that had gone. When darkness came, we continued for another hour.


The two boys shivering in the rain will soon themselves turn into rain.


One no longer sees oneself as a child in one’s childhood.

The working class arrives in Paradise

1. It is 1975, I am twelve, I am travelling by train, I have planned to go to The Elysian Fields, or to Dalarö.

2. Oh, how I have missed surrendering myself to the warmth. Where are you from? a girl asks. It’s so bright around you.

3. Everything was in motion even though there was no wind.

4. They say that peace came, and that it was not expected. How did that happen?

5. I never said "dad" after I turned ten, nor "father" either, I referred to him by name, or I addressed him directly with a "you".

6. What remains? Only vague images of things that happened all too fast.

7. "Longing" is reminiscent of "long ago".

Julien Gracq (July 27, 1910 - December 22, 2007)

A boy does not speak the same language as a rabbit or a deer. An airport does not cry for help as a girl can cry for help. "At the bottom of the garden" does not mean "she is shaking with fever," but is from the same linguistic source. The one who says "let’s prune these branches" probably understands the one who talks about time as an exhausting preparation. The tablecloth is being stained while we discuss. Of course we agree about chestnuts, rain, farewells – for what we understand, what we grasp, is our leavings.  

The lonely clouds blow across the sky

Fatigue at a window overlooking a rain-soaked park, you lean out panting after the night's labour, the notebook with its scribbles lies open in the frame, the little cactus has capsized, and the clouds – they are gliding all over the public sector.

St. Nobody

Down in the street two young girls are kicking a football against a container, and so they set reality in motion, just as you once set love in motion in a hotel room in a city without memory.
  We don’t live long, we are teenagers, and then it is winter. But if we are lucky we shall meet again in another life, preferably on the coast, preferably in November, the reunion is pure experience – we both stand still in the snow with our own understanding.

I have always been here before

One morning you move without understanding poetry, in the light there is no room, only thin dust, cold in the corners. Life arrives with its tulips, the scorch-marks of New Year's rockets in the snow make you nostalgic. But what serves you? What is in your best interest? In a photograph taken in Turku in 1947 a grey horse is crossing a bridge. But what if this poem were to end like this: a boy leaves a girl with a certain melancholy – everything was new to them that night, they were disappointed.

Loneliness mistaken for a clear day

The snow-covered mountains in the distance are reminiscent of distant, snow-covered mountains, or capitalism, capitalism engulfed by death (can it be said so simply?).

You wait in a white car, the sun floods over the front windscreen and makes the glass soft, in the glove compartment – a postcard:

             VI. Winterkampfspiele, Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1941

No matter: from a great height the blue sky resembles any old desolate expanse.


Morton Feldman (12 January 1926 - 3 September 1987)

Why patterns? A distinct and compliant echo? Or is it rather a matter of a patiently extended waiting? Or drops that hesitate in the encounter with themselves? Of course it is drops, drops as we have forgotten them – slow and obvious, yes, obvious, for after all no one has ever said: I leave death to those who need it, but Basho mentions the cold rain.

translated from Norwegian by David McDuff