Silke Scheuermann is decidedly a lyric poet, but her language is not ornamental. Instead, her lyricism is plaintive, imaginative, and humorous, and Scheuermann evokes familiar, accessible language to recall a more uncertain space. Through apparent syntactical coherence Scheuermann devises possibilities and impossibilities, wonders out loud, reimagines familiar stories as playfully unfamiliar, and tests the waters at language’s edge. In translating these pieces, I have tried to preserve the innocent, curious lyricism that I find so integral to her work, a truly unique and vulnerable lyricism unlike that of any other poet I know. Scheuermann is unafraid of cliché: she is a poet in constant state of wondering, and I hope I have translated this exuberance.
– Patty Nash
My older sister took out Niels Fredrik Dahl’s Antecedentia from the library when it came out in 1995. I was fourteen at the time, and as far as I can remember, these are the first poems that truly fascinated me. Antecedentia is Dahl’s third collection of poetry. The book has big themes: love, history and the passing of time, suffering, ill fortune, and humanity’s darkest sides. But it’s also filled with the local and specific: references to places, news events, pop culture, and real people, done in an elegant and sometimes humorous way. Dahl creates vivid stories with few words and keeps his readers on their toes. Antecedentia has always given me a feeling that the world is large and rich with hurtful detail that one can access through poetry.
When I had to pick a translation project for a graduate workshop, Antecedentia was a natural choice. I was a complete novice, but I’d been working in the territory between English and Norwegian ever since I’d started writing as a young teenager. Like everyone else in Norway, I grew up with TV and pop music in English, and started honing my knowledge of American idioms and slang early on. I spoke English with parts of my family, and it felt more intimate than Norwegian did. Writing felt natural in this English, which was full of satisfying, cool phrases. I felt free to pour out things that were too painful or embarrassing to express in Norwegian. I think I share this sensation with many Norwegians—almost all Norwegian pop stars, for example, write their lyrics in English. Later, I would translate my writing into Norwegian. When exposed to the bright light of my native tongue, these pieces curled into themselves and tightened up, until only the strongest and smallest possible structure of terse Norwegian remained. This became my modus operandi for years. I was primarily a poet until I switched to fiction and left Norway to pursue my MFA in the United States. Attempting to bring the no-nonsense clarity of the Norwegian language into English via Dahl’s poems has been a very interesting experience.
Translating poetry can be frustrating, so I consider a bonus anything I can manage that carries over a little bit more of the original’s unnamable qualities. Dahl uses punctuation sparingly, and changes verb tenses and tone midway through a poem. Translating his tightly packed sentences without losing even their most basic meaning is sometimes challenging. I hope I’ve been able to do the poems justice.
– Karen Havelin
Though Abraham Sutzkever is largely known for the poems he wrote during the Holocaust, Yiddish readers and experts consider the collection Poems from My Diary, which was published in 1977 as a collection of roughly 75 poems but later expanded to around 190 in the 1985 volume Twin Brother, to be his masterpiece. These poems range from musings on his daily life in Israel and memories of life in Vilna, to highly imaginative lyrics. They are much like what they sound like they would be from their title, while they are also much more: unlike diary entries, they are polished and mature. Most of the poems in the volume are sixteen lines long, divided into four quatrains–though there are exceptions, such as the collection’s most famous poem “Who Will Remain, What Will Remain.” Poems from My Diary is a remarkably consistent collection–it led to Sutzkever being awarded the Israel Prize in 1985, the only time the prize has been awarded for original literature written in Yiddish rather than Hebrew.
– Maia Evrona
Paul Valéry occupies a key place in French poetry, summing up much of nineteenth-century lyric practice while anticipating the preoccupations of the twentieth. His reputation was made by a small amount of highly polished verse, but he also published numerous essays, dialogues and other occasional work, and left behind the 28,000 pages of his early-morning notebooks filled with notes, aphorisms, and prose poems.
A closer reading of Charms (1922), the collection that in many ways defined Valéry as a poet, belies the accepted image of him as all charm and no substance: the polished surface of his deceptively classical poems ripple with barely contained tensions. Any translator of these poems is therefore faced with the challenge of preserving their measured sense of form and precision of language, while losing none of their underlying force.
– Nathaniel Rudavksy-Brody
The featured texts belong to assignments [tareas], an innovative long poem that has as its core the experiences of otherness, both in Cuba and the United States. assignments ponders the impossibilities of a stable identity, its infeasibility in space and time. On a formal level, assignments constitutes an homage to the number 7. It is made up of 21 sections, divided into 7 stanzas, with 7 verses each.
Thomas Boberg is probably the least insular of contemporary Danish poets. A life spent travelling and residing throughout–especially–South America has earned him comparisons to César Vallejo and Nicanor Parra, as well as the translation into Spanish of his 1993 collection Vandbærere, which appeared in Peru as Portadoras de agua the following year. This in addition to several acclaimed works of travel writing has cemented Boberg’s reputation as a kind of travelling man of Danish letters, hurling into the duck pond of his home country artistic impressions of a dizzying variety.
The book-length poem Hesteæderne (The Horse Eaters), in which the first of these poems appears, is a surreal and allegorical near-indictment of contemporary Danish society, peppered with references to T.S. Eliot, Karen Blixen, and Søren Kierkegaard, but served according to the strange, other-worldly recipe of Boberg’s genius. The society he portrays–which is and is not contemporary Denmark–is a post-apocalyptic dystopia of rampant corruption, violence and moral degradation from which no one, it seems, is spared. “I write…because I won’t put up with it,” Boberg writes elsewhere, and The Horse Eaters is really a sustained, artistic manifestation of that impulse.
A Celebration of the Obscure and the Luminous, unlike any previously translated work of Adonis, traverses the entire expanse of Arab poetics, making it a uniquely representative text. It contains the elemental lyricism of pre-Islamic poetry, the prophetic and scientific dimensions of the Islamic tradition, and the iconoclasm of his ancient predecessors who defy categorizations in time or aesthetics. Here, knowledge dances with the unknown, history converses with oblivion, and archaic forms present themselves before the reader in the robes of an eternal, luminous present.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).