Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Eva-Stina Byggmästar

One Finland-Swedish poet who has now produced a significant number of collections in both Finland and Sweden is Eva-Stina Byggmästar (born 1967).

Since her first collection in the mid-1980s, she has undergone some transformation as a poet. She has also moved on in publishing her poetry. Her first books appeared witt the Ostrobothnian Författarnas Andelslag, then she published with the Helsinki press Söderströms, and now also with Wahlström & Widstrand in Stockholm. Gradually, she has attained the stature of one of the more important Finland-Swedish poets.

Byggmästar has always retained a childlike sensibility about nature and the world around her. Her poems are gentle, rarely harsh. The author focusses on everyday occurences, which are then raised to poetry. Small things generate whole poems. Stones, even the dead flies on the window sill, come alive. Her love poems are often directed to an unnamed person.

The title poem in her first collection "I glasskärvornas rike" (1986), can read like this, in translation. Not the only translation, but one possible one:

Every step I take
is a step in the realm of shards of glass
Every time I swallow
razor-blades slide down my gullet.
Every flower I see is someone dead in my heart.

Who can accuse me of pessimism
and an insane belief in
the land of hopelessness.
When they never borrowed my feet, my throat
or my heart.

She was around nineteen years of age when she wrote that. She illustrated her own cover and produced linoleum prints or woodcuts inside the book. Most poems were short, quiet with a hint of unrest, and fairly conventional. Ditto, the poetry of her second collection "Amuletten":

Blood is running here
by my naked feet.

Where are the bodies?

Still the taste of
salt from the air?

There are no
streams to follow
but the blood
runs constantly past
its own being.

By her fourth collection, "Drivkrafter", she was experimenting with form. Lines were split, fragments of sentences abounded. Impressions, associations:

metal metal metal

ks ex ex

gradually advancing

take take take
how can you distinguish


one last look back

I know
where everything comes from
I know that the contents of everything is

Rek Rek

the many towers I see
all that

grazing cold, warms a finger on your cheek

a bell, a milk hare

Menthol pepper

Peep peep
Hurling itself forward, look there a little dot
rau rau rrrrr rrrr

take take take
those that no one sees hide

bell or fire



Hares appear to be her constant companions throughout her collections. But also experimentation. Even with lifestyle and religion. As critic Kaj Hedman says in a review for the Lukukeskus in Finland: "Byggmästar's approach has always been inimitable. Her thematic worlds are childhood - or, rather, being a child - and nature. Her new poetic discoveries have been a cross between these two factors. Her poetic methods have varied, the exceptionally free associations with disintegration and combination with no limiting demands have had surprising results. In her first two collections from the 2000s, Byggmästar moved onto a definitely spiritual path, which, in the first collections give expression to a quest, both for content and form. "Den harhjärtade människan" and ""Näckrosön" have an imagery that is clearly derived from Christianity, whilst in the collection "Knoppar blommor blad och grenar" (2005) there is a kind of fusion with green joy. In her latest collection "Älvdrottningen", joy is channelled into an intoxicating, irresistible love poem which covers the whole register from passion to tenderness." I think Hedman sums her up very well.

To date, Eva-Stina Byggmästar has published 11 collections of poetry. A selection of her poems has appeared in Finnish as "Onnenvaellus käydään varvasjuoksua" (roughly: "In Its Wanderings, Joy Runs on Tiptoe") in 2002.

I am hoping myself to be able to publish a selection of her poems, translated into English.


David McDuff said...

I've tried to translate Byggmästar, but have never been satisfied with the results. Her poems seem so deeply embedded in the tension of the original language that it's hard to take them out of it. A bit like the problems encountered when attempting to translate the poetry of Gunnar Björling. Nonetheless, on the evidence of these examples I think you have done pretty well, Eric!

Eric Dickens said...

I agree entirely about Byggmästar's "embeddedness". That is why I have, as yet, not managed to identify an adequate number of poems to fill a selection. Those of her poems that involve puns are often impossible to do justice to in English.

The ones I picked here, to give a taste, were ones where the pitfalls of punnery, and abysses of alliteration, were not in evidence, and you could more or less translate the poems straight from the page. But there are much more difficult ones. For instance:

Finns lindring i lindar!
Finns lönnfack i lönnar!
Men låt hundarna leka
att de gömmer sig i glesa
gluggar. Låt dem resa,
låt dem stå på glänt
mot allt som glindrar,
glittrar, glänser, glimtar.

This is worse than trying to translate Gerard Manley Hopkins into another language!

David McDuff said...

In some ways it's also a bit like translating Marina Tsvetayeva from Russian. One can really only attempt to recreate the effects - the sounds, the rhythms - in English, while the substance of the poems sometimes has to take second place. I once had a difference of opinion with Elaine Feinstein about how this should be done, and it got as far as a review of her Tsvetayeva translations I wrote for the New York Review of Books, and was published there.

Johannes said...

Hi Eric!
We're having a discussion about Byggmästar over on our blog You might be interested in that. I"ll link to this. Hope you are doing well.