April 2008

Olivia Cronk


A Different Practice by Frederik Nyberg translated by Jennifer Hayashida

If, as some critical theorists suggest, writing is a kind of death -- an erasing of emptiness that oddly destroys -- then Frederik Nyberg’s writing (by way of Jennifer Hayashida’s engaging translation) is an elegant, upper middle-class death. It is a thing done at summer homes and on sunny wooden floors. It is the wry comedy of the self. It is like (and I know this is a quickly aging habit of comparison I have) Woody Allen’s serious mood film, Interiors. It is sad. It is youthful and kind. It is experimental in its concern for the line, in its wobbling pattern-making. It is very, very much on the precipice of something else, something we recall without knowing.

from “Crawfish -- a poem”

Try to say poetry
long poems about a mundane and oblivious childhood

about wives’ and parents’ flowing hairstyles

It is so dumb dusty in the apartments
the snow will surely fall through us

The better part of you though rushes in another space

Frederik Nyberg is Swedish. I remember when reading a translation of the work of fellow Swede, Aase Berg (translated by Johannes Göransson for Action Books), I learned that the Swedish language offers its users the wonderful option of flexible compound-words. Berg posed a particular problem in translation because she relies very heavily on this function. So, when the translator worked through the word groups, it was a constant creative process (when to hyphenate, when to literalize, when to simply maintain mood, etc.). The result is absolutely wonderful. I offer this information for two reasons: 1) I wonder about the distinct character of languages, for example: how Swedish rolled into English is itself a kind of poetics, and 2) I think there is much to be said about poetry translation as a primarily creative act, with documentation and presentation of information coming in second. Poetry’s Translation Issue is just out and it gestures lovingly at my latter claim. Frederick Seidel (whom I now feel I might have been too harsh on in previous reviews) commits a lovely act of translation crime -- an unapologetic re-working of a piece by sixth century Arab poet, Imru’ Al-Qays, that includes references to Kansas and oil dependency. David Harsent’s notes on his translation of a Yannis Ritsos poem tell us that his notion of this process is “a creative act in support of an earlier creative act.” The issue, in fact, opens with translations of two poems from another contemporary Swedish poet, Håkan Sandell. Bill Coyle’s note suggests a purer reading than perhaps the two aforementioned, but he also relied very much on Sandell’s larger theories as a guide to the work: “There’s a stylistic generosity and openness in his work, where everyday and vatic diction, high and popular culture, modern and ancient technologies, jostle amicably.” It’s “jostle amicably” that I like most: I like the notion that we might apply a set of tensions to Nyberg’s work, as well.

Although Nyberg’s poems are mostly spare, and only warm in little, unexpected nooks, there are surely things jostling here. For one, he relies on repetition in such a way that the reader is forced to examine the poems as a group, rather than as individual gems. This removes a lot of the preciousness of singular poems. And it suggests a certain modesty, a shrugging offering of these bundles of words. I think it’s also pleasurable to catch a poet’s little fetishes, repeated with or without intent. Nyberg likes siblings and distances and to call dust “dumb.” He likes summer homes and the “place” created by family. He also likes the ephemeral nature of thought, and poetry’s role in that situation. He seems to be joyfully obsessed with the writer’s plight: to record the unrecordable.

(A transport out)

Sorrow that holds its breath
in other sorrow
To describe a park
as a place
where handshakes become lifelong—
constantly rising—meetings
So to exhale towards a faith
that one could write differently
at night
among the mosquitoes

The book that Ugly Duckling Presse, under Hayashida’s obviously artful and intelligent care, has produced is a lovely one. The Swedish appears alongside the English, unobtrusively. For someone like me, without a lick of Swedish on my tongue, the experience of the dual-language glance is unexpectedly informative. You can see the shared sounds and you can imagine, perhaps even incorrectly, the line-break choices Hayashida had to negotiate. Nyberg’s poems are interesting and usually engaging, but it’s the reading event that has the most weight. In fact, I suggest this book and Aase Berg’s (Remainland) as a pair. It’d be wise, as well, to investigate the Sandell poems in Poetry. I wonder what Swedish poets will be telling us about English-language poetry and the poetic imagination, as we read on.

A Different Practice by Frederik Nyberg, translated by Jennifer Hayashida
Ugly Duckling Presse
ISBN: 9781933254357
128 pages