Friday, October 31, 2008

blind man's bluff

Niels Hav, from Lemvig in northern Jutland, has already established himself overseas as a contemporary Nordic voice with a number of foreign-language publications in e.g. Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Turkish and Dutch. But it is in Canada in particular that he has made his mark outside Denmark. An English collection of his poetry, God’s Blue Morris, translated by Patrick Friesen and P. K. Brask was published by Crane Editions in 1993, with a second collection, entitled We Are Here, put out by Book Thug of Toronto in 2006. My own translation of Hav's poem Blindebuk [Blind Man's Bluff] will be appearing in the Vancouver-based journal PRISM International in the spring. In the meantime, here's the original.


De gav ham et tørklæde for øjnene
og snurrede ham rundt, den leg elskede han.
Svimmel af mørke tumlede han henrykt omkring
mellem sine kusiner, tre gratier
hvinende af latter. De lo ad ham, hans eufori,
som også var deres. Han fangede dem én for én,
men gættede systematisk forkert, og festen fortsatte
hele eftermiddagen. Han var lykkelig i sit mørke,
utrættelig og dristig, en grænse var passeret,
han rørte ved deres blussende ansigter;
hans hænder var lykkelige. Og han ønskede bare
at blive ved, da de ubarmhjertigt løsnede sløjfen
og trak tørklædet af ham. Han stod fortumlet
og grædefærdig, chokeret af lyset,
som for et øjeblik gjorde ham fuldstændig blind.

© Niels Hav

Thursday, October 30, 2008

the buddhist

I mentioned how I was working on two new stories by Dorthe Nors. One of them is called The Buddhist. The first paragraph here provides a good idea of where we're at: it's an acerbic, stingingly caustic portrait of a man on his way over the brink, oblivious of everything but his own transcendence. As for the Citroën Berlingo, I think I can reveal that it plays a central role in the man's nemesis. It should be noted, however, that this work of fiction is of course in no way intended to characterise all Berlingo owners. Me, for example.

Before the Buddhist became president of the aid organisation People to People he was an ordinary Christian and a government official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was he who wrote the Foreign Minister’s speeches and thereby put words into the Foreign Minister’s mouth. It was a way of lying and at first it didn’t bother him any. Then it started bugging him because he found out he was a Buddhist. It didn’t just come to him all of a sudden that he was a Buddhist. The Buddhist as an idea more like crept up and settled in him shortly after his wife said she wanted a divorce. The Buddhist came in to him and sat down at the opposite side of his desk in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He contemplated the Buddhist and thought it was a good format to step into. Buddhists are good people. They’re deeper than most. Buddhists can see connections no-one else can. These were all qualities he recognised in himself, but which all could be improved upon, and so he became a Buddhist. If he hadn’t become a Buddhist, the divorce would have hurt that much more, but a Buddhist gains insight through pain. The more it hurts, the wiser the Buddhist becomes, the government official thought and stopped being a Lutheran.

© Dorthe Nors, 2008
Translation © Martin Aitken, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a blog

Here's an interesting site. David Hahn, an award-winning translator of Portuguese fiction, is blogging here >> on the process of his translating Angolan novelist José Eduardo Agualusa's novel Estação das Chuvas (it's okay, I don't know what it means either). He says:

In this blog, I hope to examine the translation process, working through a novel from my own first launching into a first draft, right up to publication. It's not a blog about the life of a translator, but intimately about a single piece of translation work, which I hope will bring you closer to the experience, to the pleasures it brings and the questions it raises.

Since he's just got started, this should offer a rare opportunity for insight into the kinds of ongoing considerations that go towards making a (hopefully) succesful translation, even if your Portuguese, like mine, is slightly more rusty than your Serbo-Croatian.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


If I had a calendar it would tell me that next week I'm back working on the English translation of Janne Teller's award-winning novel Intet [Nothing]. The first draft has been settling a while, and now I want to work on it again. The finished book will be published by Simon & Schuster in New York sometime in the spring of 2010 (!).


The British Society of Authors recently compiled a top-50 list of modern translation greats (here >>). Who knows what the criteria were, but as far as I can see, there are only two representatives of Scandinavian literature included, viz. Sweden's Per Olov Enquist and Norway's Per Petterson, translated by Joan Tate and Ann Born, respectively. The Guardian had something to say about it all here >>. Needless to say, I haven't read any of them.

Monday, October 27, 2008


As simple analogies go, I still like this one, from an English translation of the prologue to a recent Icelandic poetry translation anthology edited by Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl (here >>):

Just as you can not translate anything between two languages, nothing is untranslatable once you realize that nothing is translatable. A translation of literary work is never the same work, but a new work related to the former – the German philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher (1763-1834) said that an artist could view a translation of his works by imagining what his child would look like, had his wife had it with another man (the gender roles of this example are from Schleiermacher – they can be reversed without getting sand in one’s vagina).

things to do instead of dying

So now I'm angling this differently. I read rule #1 and it said update the blog or it will die. Before, it was scraps of translation cast out whenever. Now I'm updating instead of dying. There'll be lots going on here from now on. Nobody wants to die. To start off, these are a couple of the things I'm doing right now:

Firstly, I've been working on two stories from Dorthe Nors' magnificent new collection Kantslag [we're calling it 'Karate Chop']. Not surprisingly, the one called Buddhisten has been turned into 'The Buddhist'. More unpredictably, Vadehavet has become 'The Wadden Sea'. This was news to me: that there is an English name for what I call Vadehavet, and that name is the Wadden Sea. I don't know if anyone has ever heard of it. But it doesn't matter: it's a wonderful name, especially in the context of Dorthe Nors' story, all Virginia Wolf-like. These stories are going off to journals in the US, maybe to Tin House magazine, maybe to McSweeney's Quarterly, maybe to the Boston Review.

Inspired by Jonathan Wichman's book Leth og kedsomheden, I recently did a selection of Jørgen Leth's poems around the theme of 'boredom'. These are still out being reviewed. In the meantime I've done another brief selection of seven 'poems and poetic fragments', as I've opted to collectively call them. There are two poems proper, both from Leth's 2000 collection Billedet forestiller [The Picture Represents]. These are supplemented by five 'fragments' which appeared in Banana Split #5 in 2005, having previously been published as parts of more expansive pieces in the aforementioned collection. The selection may become a chapbook for Calque, or they may come out elsewhere.

Thirdly, I'm working on two stories by David Foster Wallace from his 1999 collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. The first carries the portentous title 'Suicide as a kind of present' [Selvmord som en slags gave], the second, as yet untitled in Danish, is called 'Signifying nothing'. These are bound for Danish journals, or perhaps a Norwegian one if it can get its mail server sorted out and stop throwing things back at me. Wallace has only once before appeared in Danish translation, in 2001, when the journal Passage published another story from this same collection entitled 'Octet'.

So now this blog is not dead anymore.