Though his work is still widely read in Iceland, Hjálmar is less well-known outside of the country than many other poets of his era, most of whom were educated in Copenhagen and were closely associated with Icelandic Romanticism and the independence movement (e.g. Jónas Hallgrímsson, Matthías Jochumsson, and Benedikt Gröndal). The publication of Hjálmar’s poetry in English translation thus offers hope that more poets from the nineteenth and early-twentieth century well-known within Iceland but less so outside of the country (e.g. Sigurður Breiðfjörð, Ólöf Sigurðardóttir, and Unnur ‘Hulda’ Benediktsdóttir Bjarklind) will have the opportunity to find their own English readership. Hjálmar Jónsson’s Selected Poems introduces readers to the work of a remarkable Icelandic poet in a well-executed translation, but the volume also helps to advance a richer image of Iceland’s vast and varied literary history.
Friday, 16 July 2021
Sunday, 13 June 2021
Thursday, 20 May 2021
REC by Marisha Rasi-Koskinen. S&S Helsinki 2020. 645p.
The book is well-written, shows clear signs of methodical planning and organisation, and has a pleasing uniformity of style and language. However, it is badly over-extended, especially in the middle sections, and would probably have benefited from thorough editing and cutting. On the other hand, the characterisation is fairly minimal, and there is a sense that the main protagonists don’t really develop from the two-dimensional figures presented in the early pages. The revelation of the narrator’s true identity at the book’s conclusion seems more like an afterthought than an integral part of the story.
Works about nihilism and the ways in which it can be accommodated within a modern world-view have become common in post-1945 international fiction, drama and cinema. Ever since Vladimir and Estragon met near the tree in 1953, the wait for a man named Godot has dragged on, until now we may expect it to continue at least for another millennium or two. The novels of writers like Paul Auster, Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace have lent the wait a vividness and immediacy that satisfies a demand for quick sensation, and the meeting with nothingness seems to have become a contemporary pastime.
Marisha Rasi-Koskinen’s novel fits perfectly into this nexus of works: its narrator’s insistence that “the stories of others matter to us only insofar as they help us build our own” mirrors the self-regard that underlies a great deal of contemporary writing, and its movement derives from the genre of the computer game. Here the problems of existence are presented less in terms of human suffering than as aesthetic constructs and calculations for the reader to analyse, compare and admire.
In 1957 Camus spoke of “the error of those who in an excess of despair… have rushed into the nihilism of the era.” Though he pleaded for understanding of that error, he nonetheless allied himself with those “who have engaged upon a quest for legitimacy. They have had to forge for themselves an art of living in times of catastrophe in order to be born a second time and to fight openly against the instinct of death at work in our history.”
Much as I would like to feel such reassurance, I am not convinced that this novel, with its elaborate facades of invented pain, assists that open fight.
David McDuff, 2021
Tuesday, 16 February 2021
Thursday, 14 January 2021
In November this year Bloodaxe will publish my translation of Tua Forsström's fifteenth collection Anteckningar (2018), with the English title I Walked On into the Forest - Poems for a Little Girl.
Friday, 13 November 2020
The theme of the new issue of Swedish Book Review (now re-conceived exclusively as an online publication) is Emerging Voices in Swedish Literature, with work by Pooneh Rohi, Kayo Mpoyi, Adrian Perera, Balsam Karam and Joel Mauricio Isabel Ortiz. There are also reviews of new titles, including poetry with Burcu Sahin's Broderier (Embroideries) - also featured in an earlier post here.
The editors of the new site are to be congratulated on its pleasing and variegated design.
Saturday, 10 October 2020
An interesting and thought-provoking interview with Estonian poet Elo Viiding in the current issue of ELM (Estonian Literary Magazine), with reflections on poetry and the poet's task that times have echoes of earlier Nordic voices including, perhaps, Ekelöf, and even Tranströmer:
Recently I've been distancing more and more from introspection as beneficial. Instead of psychoanalysis, I'm more interested in how a person can realistically act for the good of someone with fewer opportunities, be those spiritual, intellectual or material. Not society -- that's too narrow a concept; society is made up of kindred thinkers who generally thumb their nose at others -- but rather to do good for those who suffer from abandonment, socially in a certain sense, instead of delving into yourself (and even into ideas). I'm striving to do that in this phase of my life.
In general, a varied and colourful issue of the magazine -- it's now one of the best English-language literary journals in the Nordic region, at times reminiscent of the now sadly dormant Books from Finland, but more often with a viewpoint and energy of its own, and quite unlike anything currently around in the U.K. or America. There's also a quiet tribute to the life and work of Estonian literary translator Eric Dickens.
Friday, 7 August 2020
- Edith Södergran, Complete Poems
- Karin Boye, Complete Poems
- Mirjam Tuominen, Selected Writings
Thursday, 16 July 2020
Thursday, 25 June 2020
Friday, 19 June 2020
A poem has its own logic and integrity. In one sense or another it demands to be whole. The Greek word σῠ́ντᾰξῐς means order or composition. An immanent need for order will therefore be associated with crystalline form – even though it sometimes conflicts with the content. My poems want light. In yearning for calm, insight and beauty. The work of the poem is an unconscious demand that an inner connection be created within it, where each word will have its place, like the atom in the crystal.
Friday, 22 May 2020
There are many theories of translation, but from what I’ve heard, translators mostly shrug them off in practice and just keep going as they were. Is there any theory of translation or simply a translator’s creed that you hold dear? Did translating Kross put it to the test in any way?
FvN: I’m no theoretician, but I believe the practical summary of translating is an eternal question phrased by the poet and translator Martinus Nijhoff, whom the Netherlands’ most prestigious translation award is named after: “In what kind of Dutch would a foreigner have written their book if they were Dutch and have relied upon in terms of their conceptual form?” One must always keep that question in mind.
JN: Just like Frans, I’m no theoretician. Apart from a few courses on translating Russian literature, I also do not have much formal education in literary translation. I think I learned most while translating in 2014, for which I received funding and practical help (a mentorship) from the Dutch Foundation for Literature. Since Frans was the only active translator from Estonian at that time, and was more experienced, he served as my mentor. He taught me many things, but most of all, I learned to be more precise. I remember him saying, “What is lost in your first version (or first ‘working’ translation) is most likely lost forever.” I always have that sentence in the back of my mind when I’m translating. And, needless to say, it’s a very important lesson when you’re translating the work and the style of a writer like Jaan Kross.
Monday, 18 May 2020
Thursday, 30 April 2020
Saturday, 25 April 2020
I had headache, body aches, chills, cough, chest constriction but no fever. I was in bed for a week and then the symptoms lingered. I recovered. There were no tests so I don’t know if it was Covid-19 or something else, but Boccaccio’s book, which I have long loved, haunted me as I lay in bed, and I returned to it.
The publisher notes:
In many countries, the lockdown continues. We are thinking of you all.
Thursday, 23 April 2020
Wednesday, 22 April 2020
It is safe to say that Faroese writers have a difficult task to become known beyond their shores. As the Faroese nominee for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen, writes, ‘only a half-dozen or so can make a living off their writing. And in order to do that, a writer has to be translated into a bigger language, but publishing houses in other countries do not want to spend money on some book from the Faroe Islands.
Saturday, 18 April 2020
Thursday, 16 April 2020
Saturday, 22 February 2020
The slightly ambiguous ending did leave me wondering what future there was for humanity and whether the race would escape from its claustrophobic control; I guess only time would tell, in the same way as it’s hard to tell know how we will come through the present difficult phase of our planet’s history where certain elements are so busy dehumanising those whom they perceive to be different.
Saturday, 21 December 2019
My translation of Pia Tafdrup's collections SMAGEN AF STÅL (2014) and LUGTEN AF SNE (2016) is scheduled for publication as a single volume by Bloodaxe Books in November 2020:
Thursday, 5 December 2019
Friday, 4 October 2019
The reality that underlies the poems is not a cheerful one. It is a place of exile and exclusion, of exploitation and unrewarded toil, of social and linguistic isolation, of racism, alienation and anomie. Språket är inte glömt/ men raderna är brutna (The language is not forgotten/but the lines are broken) reads one of the early poems in the collection, and in their bare, sparse outlines and arching fragments the poems themselves reflect this statement. At time there is a danger that the link between language and reality may be lost altogether: det finns ingen försoning i verkligheten/ kanske i dikten/ det finns ingen försoning i dikten/ kanske i verkligheten (there is no reconciliation in reality / perhaps in the poem / there is no reconciliation in the poem / perhaps in reality) is the warning that runs through much of the volume.
In an early essay, Sahin writes of the political nature of poetry:
För mig är poesin alltid politisk. Det litterära rummet och skrivandet undflyr inte de samhälleliga normerna och strukturerna, utan är en del av att reproducera bilder, berättelser och människor. Litteraturen återspeglar inte bara ”verkligheten”, utan återskapar den på nytt.
For me poetry is always political. Literary space and writing do not escape social norms and structures, but are a part of the reproduction of images, stories and people. Literature does not just reflect “reality” but recreates it anew.
(Poesins politiska kraft, Rummet, 2014)
The book’s political dimension is reflected in its structure, which in turn relates back to social reality: the metaphorical juxtaposition of ‘stitches’ and poems persists throughout the six sections, and the fragmentary and arduous nature of the working women’s daily lives appears in the isolation and fractured appearance of the lines on the printed page. There is a constant play on the words söm (seam) and sömn (sleep), and thematic devices of this kind are skilfully interwoven in the text.
A great deal of the anger in the poems is directed at the brokenness of the social surroundings, the inadequacy of language and the careless way in which generations are severed from each other, when the traditional roles of mother and child are reversed:
det finns inget ord
för ett barn
på sin mor
there is no word
for a child
The experience of exile and the task of establishing a life in a new and unfamiliar country is encountered in the learning of words:
med kluven tunga lär vi oss
with a cleft tongue we learn
the letters’ pronunciation
But the acquisition of new words and gestures is accompanied by a raw sense of vulnerability as an outsider and by a resentment of intrusion:
vi lär oss plocka
från våra ansikten
we learn to pluck
the gazes of others
from our faces
The poet is not alone – she stands with her mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, in a strange new world where objects and words have lost much of their connection, and where human relations are restricted and determined by the need to survive by backbreaking toil. The hidden world of the textile sweatshops is invoked in cinematic flashes:
ni lever bland meterlånga gardiner
huvuddukar med rosenmotiv
skira överkast persikofärgat siden
ni lever som skuggor morgonens skuggor
händerna som försörjer maskineriet
you live among metre-length curtains
headscarves with rose motifs
flimsy bedspreads. peach-coloured silk
you live like shadows the morning’s shadows
the hands that feed the machinery
Contrasted with the mechanised and alienated environment of exile is the world of tradition, of roots and family. In the poems this is centred on the theme of motherhood, and the image of the mothers and grandmothers. There is humour here, and tenderness, mixed with irony: våra mödrar syr / vårdar andras mödrar (our mothers sew / take care of others’ mothers), the first poem in the ‘Night Shift’ section begins.
Although the poems are phrased with the techniques and stylistic features of modernism, they are also direct, down-to-earth statements about real and lived experience. The poet speaks for whole generations of uprooted people, surveys the world that is partly their own and partly given to them, and praises the richness of their inborn and self-creating culture in the face of an uncomprehending and largely hostile environment. But the future is bleak, and does not hold out much hope for the prospects for social integration and harmony in a West that is rapidly changing, conscious of guilt, but still fettered by its history of domination and injustice:
det som finns är en öppen hand
som aldrig slutar ge
det som läggs i våra händer
ska tas ifrån oss igen
what exists is an open hand
that never stops giving
what is placed in our hands
will be taken from us again
Sahin’s is an original and uncompromising poetic voice, and one looks forward to following her development in future collections.
Sunday, 25 August 2019
from Laus Strandby Nielsen: -- og andre steder, Asger Schnacks Forlag, 2019