Saturday, 30 November 2013

Central Song

Reviewing Gösta Ågren’s new collection Centralsång, Michel Ekman writes about the “deceptive calm” of Ågren’s poetry:
Vår plikt är att minnas grymheten, men själva minnesakten kräver ett mått av ro och avskildhet... En dal i våldet hette det stora urval ur sin produktion som Gösta Ågren en gång gav ut. Spänningen mellan å ena sidan iakttagandet / formulerandet och å andra sidan det blinda och ständiga våldet som genomsyrar tillvaron går igenom hela hans författarskap.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ark Books, Copenhagen

Ditte Nesdam Madsen writes from Copenhagen:
Ark Books, a new international bookshop at Møllegade 10 in Copenhagen from spring 2014. We are opening the doors as an English bookshop selling all types of books from classics to new undiscovered titles that normally wouldn't reach the Danish market. We are also going to have a small selection from the other big European languages as French, German, Italian etc. We are also going to promote our wonderful Danish literature to non-Danish speaking readers in Copenhagen by selling Danish Literature in translation.
We are all volunteers and the shop is going to be non-profit. 
For the moment, we're working hard to achieve the dream. However, it is difficult to get funding to a small work-in-progress project based on literature. We have therefore created a crowdfunding campaign with wonderful gifts. You can check it out here:
Besides that we're having an event December 5th in the cellar of Literaturhaus with the Danish author Helle Helle and her translator Martin Aitken. The author and the translator are going to read the book in Danish and English and afterwards they will discuss the relationship between author and translator and translation as a discipline. Feel free to join us for this amazing night! We're planning on having several events as this one, once the shop is open.

Monday, 4 November 2013


In its World Poetry Portfolio series, Molossus literary quarterly has published a selection of poems by Pia Tafdrup in my translation.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Laborare et Amare

I'm working on a translation of Tuula Karjalainen's new biography of Tove Jansson, Tove Jansson – Tee työtä ja rakasta (Tove Jansson  Work and Love, Tammi, 2014) for Penguin Press, UK. In addition to illustrations, the Finnish text also contains excerpts from Tove Jansson's letters and notebooks, and these I am translating from the original Swedish. The English edition is scheduled for publication in autumn next year.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Acceptance Speech

Here's my acceptance speech.
The Finnish State International Translator's Prize is an award that I never expected to receive, and it means a great deal to me. I would like to thank everyone who recommended me for it.

Many years ago I visited Finland for the first time, as a young Edinburgh University student of Russian: it was July 1966, and I was travelling along the Baltic by ship, with some friends, on the way to the Soviet Union. Disembarking in Finland for a few all-too brief hours, my first impressions were of the city of Helsinki, but what I remember most of all were the light, stillness and calm of the late summer evening that greeted me as I walked up from the harbour. It was a calm that I hadn't experienced in any other city I'd been to, and I remember wondering where all the people were, for at that particular time of the evening there was almost no one about. I didn’t know it then, but in the years to come I would make many more visits to Finland and meet many people there, both in life and in books.

I've spent a large part of my life studying and translating, for the most part, the literature of three languages: Russian, Swedish and Finnish (I’ve translated poetry and fiction from other Northern languages, including Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic, but the three languages I mention are the ones that have held the most significance for me). The choice may at first sight seem strange, yet if one looks at the map it does makes sense, as Russia, Sweden and Finland are close neighbours, and have a common, if not always harmonious, history – and that is the context in which I discovered them.

Although the three languages – Russian, Swedish and Finnish – are structurally and lexically quite different from one another, my university study of Russian and Russian literature (which I pursued to doctorate level) was accompanied by a study of German. This led me to learn the Nordic languages, including Icelandic at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, and then some years later, with the encouragement of the Finnish Literature Information Centre – which is now called FILI – Finnish, first under Hannele Branch at London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and later at the University of Helsinki.

In the late nineteenth century and during the early twentieth century it was not uncommon for educated people in North-Eastern Europe to speak, read and understand all three of my chosen languages, although nowadays the unlikeness of Russian, Swedish and Finnish is thought to make them mutually exclusive. That was not the case in the past, and the change of attitude may be due at least in part to political and socio-historical factors.

I put the emphasis here on “languages” rather than “countries”, for in my experience literature only rarely coincides with frontiers on maps: it exists not behind national boundaries but in language, and in a psychic and emotional space that is governed by the laws of reading and common fellowship. The novels of Dostoyevsky and the poetry of Baratynsky and Blok may tell us something unique about the Russian soul, but they also speak in universal terms. Likewise, the verses of the Kalevala and the plays of Strindberg tell us much about the psyche of Northern Europe, but they also draw inner maps of human consciousness, and of the unconscious. And indeed, in my years of work as a literary translator I have become aware that in literary terms the three linguistic cultures I mentioned tend to overlap with one another. The work of Edith Södergran, the first of the poets of Finland whom I endeavoured to translate, is one of the living confirmations of that.

My first translations of Finland's literature were nearly all of Swedish-language poets and authors, of whom there are almost more than in Sweden itself. Then I began to study Finnish, first at London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and later at the University of Helsinki. Through my own reading and my many years of contact with members of the Finnish Literature Centre and the editors of Books from Finland magazine, I developed a knowledge of both Finland-Swedish and Finnish literature. This was further helped by meetings and friendships with contemporary authors – especially the poets Gösta Ågren, Bo Carpelan and Tua Forsström, with whom I worked on translations of their poetry, learning an enormous amount in the process – and with their editors and publishers in Finland. My British publishers Penguin and Bloodaxe also gave me encouragement in my work as a literary translator.

In recent years I have been reading the Finnish poetry of the early twentieth century, and am surprised to learn how few of the poets who lived in that period are translated into English. So that is one of my projects both for the present and for the future: to try to make the voices of Saima Harmaja, Kaarlo Sarkia, Katri Vala, Uuno Kailas and other poets from that long-ago time heard in English, for they still have many things to tell us.

Again, I would like to say thank you for this award, which I’m honoured to receive: for me it’s a landmark in my continuing discovery of Finland, its people, and its extraordinarily rich and diverse literature.

Translator's Prize

News from Helsinki that I've been awarded the Finnish State Prize for Foreign Translators.

It's a great honour.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Don't Be Afraid of Life

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Don’t be afraid of life,
Don’t shut out its beauty.
Invite it to sit by your fire,
or should your hearth expire,
to meet it outside is your duty.
Don’t turn your back on its strife.
Don’t go away to the graveyard to hide
for death’s door will stay opened wide
Like a bird you should fly,
not dwelling on past life’s ruins.
Turn your attention to now,
Let what has been take a bow.
Let them lie in the grave, your doings,
then face the future, and try.
Be free as the wind, unfettered, unbroken,
the gate of death is always open.

Do not ever say:
this is mine alone.
Drink from life’s cup
and once again give its pain up.
If you never beg to own,
the world's riches are yours today.
Be bold, stake all on one card:
ahead you will always see death’s gate unbarred.


Älä elämää pelkää
älä sen kauneutta kiellä
suo sen tupaasi tulla
tai jos liettä ei sulla,
sitä vastaan käy tiellä,
älä käännä sille selkää.
Älä haudoille elämää lymyyn kulje;
ei kuolema sinulta oveaan sulje.

Kuin lintu lennä
älä viipyen menneen raunioilla
nykyhetkeä häädä
suo jääneen jäädä
suo olleen haudassa olla
tulevaa koe vastaan mennä.
Ole vapaa, kahleeton tuulen tavoin
on kuoleman portti aina avoin.

Älä koskaan sano:
tämä on iäti minun
elon maljasta juovu,
taas siitä kivutta luovu
on maailman rikkaus sinun
kun mitään omakses et ano.
Elä pelotta varassa yhden kortin
näet aina avoinna kuoleman portin.

The One who Fled

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Did I love you?
That I do not know.
In my soul I trembled
when you turned to go.

I know that you left it
with reason to flee.
No way to deny it,

From my soul was lifted
the innermost veil.
You could not bear it,
butterfly, you set sail,

fled from the gloomy
enigma in fright:
in front of you opened
a pitch-black night,

deeper than leagues, you saw the dark pit,
 - and then you fled
the cruel sight of it.

Did I love you?
That I do not know -
In my soul I trembled
when you turned to go.


Rakastinko sinua?
Tiedä en tuota.
Värisin, kun lähdit
sieluni luota.

Tiedän: kun lähdit,
et lähtenyt syyttä.
Kieltää on mahdoton

Väistyi sieluni
sisimmäisin verho.
Nähdä et kestänyt,
pakenit, perho,

säikähdit synkkää
eteesi aukeni
yö sysimusta,

pimeän kuilun näit, peninkulmaa
syvemmän – pakenit
näkyä julmaa.

Rakastinko sinua?
tiedä en tuota -
värisin, kun lähdit
sieluni luota.

In the Mirror

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Strange and truly wondrous
in the mirror you look at me.
All I really know is
that you I cannot be.

With my eyes you survey me,
with my lips you smile, too,
what I see in the mirror
is not me, but you, just you.

Whoever you are – astral morning,
eternal night – in the frame
like a wraith, a ghostly phantom,
invisible I remain.


Kuvastimesta minua vastaan
sinä katselet, ihmeellinen. 
Minä ymmärrän ainoastaan:
Minä en ole siinä, en. 

Sinä katselet silmilläni,
sinä hymyät suullani mun.
En peilistä itseäni
mina nää, näen sun, vain sun. 

Kuka liet – ylimaallinen aamu,
iankaikkinen yö – sinut nään
kuvastimesta, niinkuin haamu
näkymättömäks itse ma jään. 


by Kaarlo Sarkia

I heard the words my dreams spoke with their soul:
Who views his life with hatred, mad is he,
like one who whips and tears at his own flesh.
Life is a soil, from it your dreams break free,
and  beauty grows from under weights of pain,
and when you rise to throw off matter’s reign
your dreams, too, meet their end within that mesh,
and darkness floods in all, devours it whole.

You must  must love your life,
For that is why your father fathered you,
and that is why, through all the shame and strife,
your mother carried you and brought you through,
was grateful to her life because of yours
which she could place outside the open doors.. .

My life, I want to praise and thank you now:
Thank you for bearing me from emptiness,
a member of the beauteous human race,
for giving them to me, these human eyes
that many generations made
for seeing beauty under vaulted skies,
thank you for filling them with dreams that flow
until the number of my days
shall bring you to an end, my life,
and I am harvest for the reaper’s scythe.

Power of life, I want to love you still,
because I wandered long in mazes, made    
to feel despair and fear without a  will,        
because you early took and caused to fade
what was for me the finest of your gifts,
love you because you took my strength to kill
and let it lie in chains that weakness laid,
because your wine could also change and be
the vinegar of pain and death for me,
because when I will long for shadows tall
and give you back your gifts, and dying fall,
then it will turn, my soul, and take from you
another day, another morning, new.


Puhui mulle unieni sielu: 
Mieletön, ken elâmäänsä vihaa,
niinkuin mies, ken ruoskii omaa lihaa,
Elämä on unelmies multa, 
kaunis kasvaa alta tuskan paineen,
ja kun pääset vankilasta aineen,
loppuu myöskin unelmasi sulta,
kaiken ahmaa pimeyden nielu.

Rakastaa sun tulee elämätä, 
sitä varten sinut isäs siitti,
sitä varten sinut äitis kantoi,
vaikka painoi häpeä ja hätä,
sentään elämäänsä siitä kiitti,
että sulle elämän hän antoi. 

Tahdon, elämääni, sua kiittää:
Kiitos, että tyhjästä mun kannoit 
jäseneksi kauniin ihmissuvun, 
että ihmissilmät mulle annoit
valmistuneet monoin sukupolvin 
kauneuteen alla taivaan holvin,
kiitos, että unta niille riittáä,
siksi kunnes alta ilmain kuvun
täyttyessä päivieni luvun 
korjuumiehen viikate mun niittää. 

Rakastaa sua tahdon, mahti elon,
siksi että sokkeloissa harhain
epätoivon tuta sain ja pelon,
että kädestäni riistit varhain 
mikä mielestäni lahjas parhain,
rakastaa siks että mulle voiman
annoit heikkouden kammitsoiman,
että viinissäsi toinen puol’on
etikkata kivun sekä kuolon,
että kuitenkin, kun kaipaan varjoon
kuoleman ja lahjas sulle tarjoon
takaisin, sen jälleen sulta saa mun
sielinu, ain’ annat uuden aamun. 

Sunday, 30 June 2013


I've now finished Airmail: the Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Tranströmer (Bloodaxe, 2013, 476pp), and found it an absorbing if rather lengthy read. The letters are a mixture of the personal and the literary, and while it's interesting to follow the careers and private lives of two men, most of the really attention-grabbing passages occur in connection with the problems of literary translation. This was a two-way process, for each poet translated work by the other: the result is a kind of poetic table-tennis match, with poems constantly in transit between English and Swedish, and the inevitable occasional misreadings and misunderstandings flowing out into bursts of creative energy which save the texts as poems in the "other" language. Some of the interchanges read like almost like language lessons, but the tension thus caused is nearly always defused by humour and wit. Although a few of the finished poems are reproduced in the volume, it would have been nice to have more of the completed translations to compare with the collaborative editing process that's revealed in the letters. Though this would have added to the length of the volume, the inclusion of more actual poems might have been preferable to the often less interesting career-related letters (with details of tours, readings, etc.) that occupy many of the pages.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Putin oligarchs buy Hartwall Arena

Via Bloomberg:
Gennady Timchenko and two other billionaire acquaintances of President Vladimir Putin bought a stake in Jokerit ice hockey team, moving the club from Finland’s top league to Russia’s answer to the NHL.
Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg will also buy Hartwall Areena in Helsinki, Jokerit’s home rink and Finland’s largest event venue, with a seating capacity of about 13,500, according to an e-mailed statement from the business partners’ Arena Events Oy venture. The price wasn’t disclosed.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Pussy Riot in Finland

Via Yle: 

Two members of the Russian political performance group Pussy Riot are in Helsinki for this weekend's World Village Festival.
The women are in Finland to talk about the status of political prisoners in Russia and to plug their new book on human rights. It’s a manifesto entitled A Punk Prayer for Freedom of Speech.
They are to appear onstage at the free festival in Kaisaniemi Park at 11am Saturday with the popular Finnish female duo PMMP, who recently said they will end their career this year.


Weekend performances in Helsinki by two members of the Russian political performance group Riot Pussy, as well as scheduled interviews, have been cancelled. Concerns for their safety seem to have led to the cancellations.

Update: According to Yekaterina Samutsevich, interviewed by Hbl  in Moscow, a performance by the two Pussy Riot members at  the Maailma kylässä festival in Helsinki was never planned, as Pussy Riot does not perform outside Russia, and doesn't announce its performances in advance:

– Det stämmer att två av våra medlemmar har åkt till Finland. De skulle träffa stödtrupper och delta i utgivningen av en bok. Men det var aldrig meningen att de skulle stå på scen. Det måste vara ett missförstånd, säger Jekaterina Samtusevitj i en Hbl-intervju i Moskva.
Hon är mycket förvånad över att de finländska arrangörerna över huvud taget har tänkt sig att de båda Pussy Riot-medlemmarna skulle delta i ett evenemang som offentliggörs i förväg.
– Pussy Riot fungerar enligt helt andra regler. Vi meddelar aldrig i förväg var vi är och vad vi gör. Dessutom står vi enbart på scen i Ryssland för det är det här landet vi vill påverka och förändra. Jag förstår inte alls hur det här missförståndet kunde ha uppstått, säger Samutsevitj.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Karin Boye ebook

Just a reminder that my translations of Karin Boye's poetry (Complete Poems) are now available as a Kindle ebook, here (UK) and here (US).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Norway International

The current edition of Poetry International's website has work by Norwegian poets Monica Aasprong, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen (some of his poems are also in my translations) and Tone Hødnebø on its front page. The Norwegian PIW site, where all the material should be accessible after this week, is here.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

No Man's Land

by Pia Tafdrup

My grey cat vanishes,
or has it acquired a new life
   at Nivå Brickworks?
At night I hear it calling…
Search for it, search again the next day.
Live in a vacuum, while my father
looks for another farm,
but learn in sun and dust to cycle,
shoot myself forward like a mainspring,
   ever further out
on Vibevej, along the residential gardens.
Lilacs, laburnums,
an olfactory orgy to sweep past.
Shall I vanish like the cat,
for there is no one to play with,
   and over the summer
I lose
    tooth after tooth in my hollowed hand.
When my mother takes an afternoon nap
with no hands on the clock 
the first one falls out,
but leaving
      a bloody hole
the tongue’s tip wants to drill down into
– instead of calling, speaking.
Taste of iron in the mouth. Blood words.
Cave language. Tongue pit.
A tooth
as a daisy growing in the grass
in the garden of the house we rent
   and under whose roof my mother in the rain
now and then sings
                      "Solitude Road".
In the house with creaky stairs
and smells of strangers
   there is a studio
we may not enter, my sister and I,
   there I seek refuge –
sit for hours on the floor, contemplate
the radiant pictures’
                  vanishing grey.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Monday, 11 March 2013


The poem plays a central role in Sophus Claussen’s novel Valfart (Pilgrimage, 1896). Valfart is written as a travel memoir in the tradition of Goethe’s Italian Journey, though in Claussen’s book the narrative lends itself to the creation of a fictional world, a fantasy that is only tangentially linked to the real locations in Italy and France which the novel’s central character, the bridge-building engineer Silvio, visits. Silvio has been commissioned by a wealthy German lady to write “a treatise that was to be called Some of Italy's Oldest Bridges (Nogle af de ældste Broer i Italien)." In a sense, the novel is the treatise, in which the bridges eventually become allegorical, representing love-relationships rather than constructions of stone. The “pilgrimage” of the title is a journey to the sanctuary of the Montallegro Madonna near Rapallo, a section that forms the high point of the novel’s second part.

On the way to Italy Silvio visits Paris, where he falls in love with Célimène and has a Platonic love affair with her. The affair eventually becomes complicated by Silvio’s desire for a physical relationship, but before this happens, he attends a New Year’s celebration at which he has a hallucinatory vision of a more ancient civilization – the Persian city of Ecbatana:

Han vidste ikke helt nøjagtigt, paa hvilken Klode eller I hvilken Tid, han selv befandt sig, om han virkelig var i Paris ved et Nytaarsselskab, eller om han var med ved et nu længst forglemt Gæstebud I Ekbátana.

He was not quite sure on which planet or in which era he found himself, whether he was in Paris at a New Year’s gathering or whether he was taking part in a now long-forgotten feast in Ecbatana.

The Ecbatana poem is a curious assembly of visual and visionary, dreamlike elements, bound together in a four-footed metre. There is, however, a problem in the last line of each stanza, all of which end with the word "Ekbátana". As the Danish scholar Vilhelm Andersen once pointed out, where the metre calls for the dactylic Ek--a-ta-na, there is what he calls an “iambic dipody”, or double iamb. This has the effect of creating a slight emphasis on the "Ek-" of Ekbátana, producing a delay which means that the final syllable of the line carries a lighter stress than would normally be the case, and causes a sense of floating uncertainty, where "in a single word finite meets infinite, and materiality meets transcendence".  (For this perception I'm indebted to Dan Ringgaard's study of Claussen's poetic universe in his book Den poetiske lækage).

There are other technical problems in the poem – for example, the name ”Ekbátana” is a poor rhyme-word in Danish, and Claussen has to resort to pairing it with insignificant words like “da” and “fra”. Yet the richness of the imagery is such that this doesn’t really interfere with the reader’s appreciation of the poem as a whole.

In my English version - which I'm still working on - I have tried to maintain the metre and rhyme, though this may have led to some distortions of meaning. The Danish text follows, and after it my translation.


Jeg husker den Vaar, da mit Hjærte i Kim
undfangede Drømmen og søgte et Rim,
hvis Glans skulde synke, jeg ved ej hvorfra,
som naar Solen gik ned i Ekbátana.

En Spotter gav mig med Lærdom at ane,
at Vægten paa Ordet var Ekbatáne.
Den traurige Tosse, han ved ej da,
at Hjærtet det elsker Ekbátana.

Byen med tusind henslængte Terrasser,
Løngange, svimlende Mure - som passer
der bagerst i Persien, hvor Rosen er fra,
begravet i Minder - Ekbátana!

Hin fjærne Vaar, da min Sjæl laa i Kim
og drømte umulige Roser og Rim,
er svunden, skjønt Luften var lys ogsaa da,
som den Sol, der forsvandt bag Ekbátana.

Men Drømmen har rejst sig en Vaar i Paris,
da Verden var dyb og assyrisk og vis,
som blødte den yppigste Oldtid endda ...
Jeg har levet en Dag i Ekbátana.

Min Sjæl har flydt som en Syrings af Toner,
til Solfaldet farvede Parkernes Kroner
og Hjærtet sov ind i sin Højhed - som fra
en Solnedgang over Ekbátana.

Men Folkets Sæder? den stoltes Bedrift?
hvad nyt og sælsomt skal levnes derfra?
En Rædsel, et Vanvid i Kileskrift
paa dit Dronningelegem - Ekbátana.

Men Rosen, det dyreste, verden har drømt,
al Livets Vellyst - hvad var den da?
Et Tegn kun, en Blomst, som blev givet paa Skrømt
ved en kongelig Fest i Ekbátana.

Da blev jeg taalmodig og stolt. Jeg har drømt
en dybere Lykke, end nogen har tømt.
Lad Syndflodens Vande mig bære herfra
- jeg har levet en dag i Ekbátana.


I remember that spring, when my heart in its time
conceived the dream and searched for a rhyme,
whose glory should sink, I know not from where,
as when the sun set in Ecbátana.

A mocker advised me, with scholarly drama,
that the stress on the word was “Ecbatána”,
The sad, silly fool, he wasn’t aware
that the heart is in love with Ecbátana.

The city with terraces thousandfold sprawling,
with passages secret, walls dizzy falling
in Persia down there where the roses are,
buried in memories – Ecbátana!

That far-off spring, when my heart in its time
dreamed of impossible roses and rhyme,
has died, though the air was also light there,
like the sun that died behind Ecbátana.

But in Paris one spring the dream came to rise,
and the world became deep and Assyrian and wise,
as if still antiquity bled as of yore…
I lived for a day in Ecbátana.

My soul floated on like a syrinx of sounds
till the sun’s fall colored the parks' tree-crowns,
and the heart fell asleep in its highness, as there
in a sunset over Ecbátana.

But the people’s customs? The proud man’s feat?
What new and strange things would be left to share?
A terror, a madness, a cuneiform script
On your queenly body – Ecbátana.

But the rose, the most precious that world’s dreams know,
all life’s voluptuousness – who knew what they were?
Just a sign, a flower that was given for show
at a royal feast in Ecbátana.

I grew patient and proud. And then in my sleep
I dreamt of a fortune unemptied and deep.
Let the Flood’s waters carry me hence, afar
– I lived for a day in Ecbátana.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Sophus Claussen in English

The apparent absence of a standard English translation of the work of the great Danish Symbolist poet Sophus Claussen (1865-1931) has always struck me as puzzling. Whether it's because Claussen is still  associated in some Anglo-American literary minds with the European "periphery", or whether it relates to the difficulty of rendering his polished and elegant metrical verse into English rhyme, or whether the obscurity of some of his work has confounded the translators, his poetry has remained to a large extent unknown outside the Nordic region. It has also meant that Claussen's novels, which include Unge Bander (1894), Antonius i Paris (1896) and Valfart (1896), are not yet known to an English-language readership.

During the past few months I've been trying out some English versions of poems by Claussen in the environment of an online translation workshop, where the general atmosphere, though inevitably somewhat foggy, is none the less enlivening. The response among specialists and non-specialists alike has been interesting. Although some participants have dismissed the poems as "glib" and "flowery", others have confirmed by the general drift of their comments that in many respects Claussen's work differs little in form, style and character from that of many other Symbolist poets of his time, although they wrote in French, German or Russian, not Danish. Certainly, Claussen was entirely at home in the world of Parisian literary bohemianism, and was even photographed together with Verlaine and other Parnassian and Symbolist poets. The French translations of his work by the poet Charles Cros, though long out of print, also put him firmly into the context of the French literature from which he derived so much of the technical basis of his inspiration.

In her fascinating and amazingly detailed study of Nordic Orientalism, the Scandinavianist and literary scholar Elisabeth Oxfeldt has examined the  roots and genesis of Claussen's celebrated poem 'Ekbátana', which she sees as a central text in the historic emergence of Denmark from the cultural periphery of Europe towards its centre. She writes that "the poem expresses a longing towards Parisian modernity and cosmopolitanism as well as a built-in resistance towards a Western monoculture whose tendency it is to obliterate peripheral cultures."

In future posts I'll present the Danish text of  'Ekbátana' together with the latest version of my translation, and discuss the poem further.

Out in the Field

A small group of Finnish-English translators who hail from both sides of the Atlantic has recently set itself up as a literary "translation cooperative" - FELT.  At present the aims of the new body are somewhat unclear: apparently it's not an association along the lines of SELTA, the long-established association of Swedish-English literary translators, but rather "a community where translators can exchange news, ideas, and working methods with each other and share their work with the public", to quote the official statement on the FELT website. It seems that it also exists, in the words of one member, "to unabashedly promote our own work to general readers, publishers, and agents."

So far so good, and one wishes the cooperative all the best for the future. It's still not clear, however, whether the new community is an open one which all Finnish-English translators may join - in the way that Swedish-English translators have joined SELTA over the past few decades as full or associate members - or whether it's a closed professional club with a fixed and restricted membership and a Facebook window on the wider world. It might perhaps be helpful if the organizers would make this less ambiguous, though one appreciates that the planning of the new organization may still be in the early stages.

Thursday, 21 February 2013