Saturday 29 September 2012

A poem by the Norwegian writer
Aina Villanger (b. 1979)


in night-drenched outaness yer laid gentle-like
in mother-sea tissue yer eyes awl glood shut and
hands clenched like blind gazes inter deep water

hovverin like some plankton along the sea bed
yer swayed inna flora ev eternity
surroundid by bubbles in ecstasy en calm
yer wez nourisht by a cord
that inflatid yer
a link between yerself and wots firm
joind to the earth yer mother

yeah without yer knowin it
yer dreamt ev the land with sun
wot came through the chink
gave yer yeller trumpet rays
like wot mornins do en
woke yer from yer seevin warmf
tricklin red in sparklin black

Villanger writes poems that show traces of dialect/sociolect by use of unusual, often phonetic spellings. The English translation uses the language spoken in the area where I grew up, north-west London, back in the early 1950s.

Poem by the Flemish writer Erwin Mortier

Letter twenty-eight
(Hadewijch variation)

Should I stay silent I can hear you. What I hear
silence imposes on me. What I must keep silent

I listen to my soul tongue-tied.
When I speak your name, languages tear me open –

so I clam shut and sleep
in the temple of your night.

Bide, do not snatch from me the sheet of
all the firmament. Let your naked heaven

and its hemispheres rest on my eyes
like a roofless enigma.

Place a finger on my lips Beloved.
From one finger one can’t fall.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Time for a Komrij


Het verre postkantoor was de magneet.
Niet om de luchtpostzegels of de taal
Van overzeese stempels - nee, het deed
Op tweehoog ’s middags dienst als jeugdleeszaal.

Tweemaal, op dinsdag en op donderdag,
Verdween ik in het ruime trapportaal
En kwam weer buiten met een brede lach.
Ik had mijn voorraad boeken andermaal.

Met in mijn hoofd een eerste regel die
Ik vluchtig had gezien bij een verhaal
Werd, fietsend, al naar het vervolg gegist.

Toch geselde ik vervaarlijk het pedaal
Om sneller thuis te zijn, omdat ik wist:
Het boek is beter dan de fantasie.


The distant post office was my pole star.
Not for its airmail stamps or for the print
On foreign postmarks – no, much more by far
As upstairs library it did full stint.

On Tuesday and on Thursday afternoon,
I’d disappear across that spacious floor
And,wreathed in smiles, I’d re-emerge quite soon,
Equipped with my supply of books once more.

My head now whirling  with a new sensation
At some first line that I had swiftly glanced,
I guessed, while biking, what would then ensue.

The pedals, though, were pounded till they danced
To get home all the faster, since I knew:
A book is better than imagination.

Poem by the Dutch writer
Jan Eijkelboom


The sun shone down on Engelenburgerkade.
Clad in plus fours I rode there on my bike.
A backlight tinged with autumn
came over the Catrijnepoort
and cast the shadow of half-open shutters
onto the gable of an old warehouse.
And suddenly within myself lay stacked
a load of happiness that scarcely could be borne
yet was so light I wished to cycle on
through that gateway and across the water
into the world and never to return,
though my home’s here if anywhere,
as nowhere else would be my home.
And briefly all the pain was gone
of being young, of grappling hard with God,
with Calvin’s hold still on
my throttled throat.

That quiet sun, that instant in my head
when life was luminous soon passed.
Within the week all was interred, more dead
than living, in a sonnet firmly cast.

Monday 24 September 2012

Five poems by the Flemish writer
Stefan Hertmans

Fireworks she said

On five etchings by Karel Dierickx


Fireworks she said,
I see black fireworks in the night.

We have to wait for a hand’s
light touch.

We looked inside through the window.
Saw the unwritten tablet,
Borne by Moses from the mountain.

Scratch the glass with your finger,
You taste the acid that
was in my eyes.

Haze can now condense into a graze.
Writing was once: drawing from nature.

How bright the night becomes –

You see that distant dawning?
Who’s brought along those eyes so


That arm she said,
You saw that sweeping gesture in the night?

A face seemed suddenly
To loom up in the sky,

Nostrils, formed and shaped
By this great sweep.

Forehead, borne by this
Unthought-of light.

Your hair barbed wire, my love,
So strange to us the night becomes –

You see those lightning darts
Of gravers in the distance?


A bouquet she said,
I see a bouquet without flowers
In the night.

Who is it scatters all those things
Above our heads just like
A form abandoned
By its contours?

Do we not have to pass by
The spray that awaits us?

And who is it firmly holds our hands
Whenever expectantly resigned

We search for you,
Small god, Morandi,

And scrape upon night’s copperplate?


Calvary, she said,
I see the Hill of Suffering
In the night.

I took her in my arms.
But hush, it is the morning
that awaits us.

Do you know for sure?
We kissed.

The world is a hollow skull
she said.

I want the dream that waits
For us in that cavity.

Golgotha, Goya’s head,
Countless are the memories

Of what the night snuffs in due time.

Can you hear how proximity
Has promised us the skyline?


Oh, tiny heads she said,
Just look there, small heads rocking in the night.

I thought that we were inside now;
Didn’t a vase stand here with something red?

The twilight came.
Shadow trickled, like a puddle,
from its place.

Wasn’t there a hand lie next to
Those small objects in the studio?

It seemed as if we’d passed by
Here some time before.

The maker with his hands
Still full of ink awoke, he saw us
standing there in great confusion.

He seized a rag
And drove us deep, deep
Through the inking in his head.

For more poems in English by Hertmans, go to here 

Saturday 22 September 2012

Poem by the Afrikaans writer
Wilma Stockenström


One day the creator held
his creation like a child a butterfly
in his hand, and quivering
the enamelled wings parted.
Wondrous the colours that glow as deities

glowed, open, shut, with great
display, the wings for day and night.
The creator still feels the small feet
delicately on his fingers and is astonished
at what he has been capable of: the unfolding

of an everything, gold-dust-covered light,
and as it is with creators, he
conceives, proud and humble, one more
one more such lovely, light-hearted butterfly,
repeatedly, for the sake of eternity.

To see the original poem, go to here.
There have been many revisions of this translation at the blogspot site - the latest, and perhaps most important, is that 'oopvou/van 'n al, goudstofoortrekte lig' would seem to contain two nouns, i.e. the word 'al' means a cosmos or universe and is not an adjective.

Friday 21 September 2012

Time for a weekend Hock!

Time brings fruit, not the soil,
Practice makes one learned, not reason

The year brings fruit, let none dispute,
Which soil and field can’t master,
Though tended, can’t grow faster:
All things will ripen in due time
Fruit, crops and grain – and even wine.

Thus in the field, by winter sealed,
No flower you are espying,
From cold it would be dying,
Strawberry, swallow vainly seek
As on the highest alpine peak.

The iron share will need repair,
Though moist the soil and willing
The plough grows dull from tilling;
A raindrop bores through rock’s hard crust,
Oil’s cleansing force can banish rust.

You’re needs aware how iron will fare:
Unused, rust will impair it;
And clothing, lest you wear it,
By eager moths will be devoured,
Like wood by insects gnawed and scoured.

And frequent use can e’en reduce
Stone, iron ring’s dominion:
For ’tis a proved opinion
That not by force do things occur,
But time alone all can bestir.

One should not just in reason trust,
Memory praise be giving
For teaching, art in living.
Despite a good Ingenium,
True learning’s only gained by some.

Capacity and memory
Won’t make you wise or learnèd,
Time though can make you earn it:
Practice and use, I now confide,
Can art – and length of days – provide.

Let practice be your firm decree,
You liberal arts be tending,
Time daily on them spending;
Through practice stones hurl of such weight
That no one else can imitate.

A long pole raise that greatly weighs,
And horse-shoes rip to pieces,
And draw a bow, caprices
That always danger can contain
And human strength may overstrain.

Both practice and restraint’s fair hand
Mankind full well are serving,
From many ills preserving:
So use and practice here on earth,
Not reason, give to learning birth.

Thursday 20 September 2012

Two more by Lennart Sjögren

A Theology of Memory

Wanted to go downward to the fishes’
where no alliances
apart from eating occur

Wanted to ask about the world’s origin
fins, eyes
and other such things beyond
the range of asking.

A clear and late summer evening

In among the ash trees
that the years have hollowed into a morgue
holes of dark light wait.

The night more entrapped than at any time

The stones on the road say
that they met a man
walking in the direction of the end of his life.

Someone carries a basket of grief in her hand.
Here is my life, she says
this is what my life has become.

Birds that no longer were birds
died on the branches along with the sunlight
but still sat there.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Poem by the Danish writer
Henrik Nordbrandt


There is more sun than shadow in the shadow
and more shadow than sun in the sun.
The weather is tatty like a three-day-old
shirt over the back of a chair
and on my retina there is a spot
where the sun has produced a fly
in a winter-white room.
It will never go away
and just as distant as she is
she will never go away either
and the door she took with her when she left
so that house will never be shut
and the heart pumps in vain
because the heart’s doors are open like the house’s.
I cannot get up from the bed
and find no rest
because I cannot feel myself for flies.
‘I’ll find another woman all right,’
sounds tempting at first
but then sets my teeth on edge like sugar.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Poem by the Swedish poet
Lennart Sjögren

Thought of speaking more simply
the simple that is better than the cryptic
but the simple also changed to the point
of unrecognisability and departed.

Thought of speaking less of death
death that even so is all we have for certain –
but the mornings too wear graves
in their eyes.

Finally only a flicker was left
and that was
before the first and after the last.
Yes, the light green
of the first coming into leaf
when all language falters.

(from: En ljusare eld, 2004)

Saturday 15 September 2012

The Belgian poet Jan H. Mysjkin writes in both French and Dutch.
This translation is from the latter.


La mer était un glacis rose, mauve et gris perle,
sans une ride de surprises.

* * *

Je croyais jusqu’ici avoir vu des poissons volants.
Ce n’était pas vrai. J’en ai vu
aujourd’hui : de six heures du matin à six heures du soir,
ils s’enfuyaient à tire de nageoires.

Quand ils sont loin, ce sont des papillons. De près
ce sont des oiseaux.
Jamais ils n’ont l’air de poissons, sauf
quand ils se replongent dans l’eau.

Je les voyais, absolument semblables à des hirondelles
quand la pluie d’été menace, rasant
les méduses comme de grosses perles d’améthyste.

* * *

À l’heure du couchant, ils ont l’air
de patineurs microscopiques.


De zee was een roze, zachtpaars en parelgrijs glacis,
zonder de minste overrimpeling.

* * *

Ik dacht dat ik al eens vliegende vissen had gezien.
Ik heb me vergist. Ik zag er pas
vandaag : van zes uur ’s morgens tot zes uur ’s avonds
schoten ze vinwiekend voorbij.

Van ver zijn ze vlinders. Van
dichtbij zijn ze vogels.
Ze zien er nooit als vissen uit, behalve
wanneer ze opnieuw in het water duiken.

Ik zag ze – absoluut gelijk aan zwaluwen
bij een dreigende zomerbui – scheren
over kwallen als amethisten reuzenparels.

* * *

In de ondergaande zon zien ze eruit
als microscopisch kleine schaatsenrijders.


The sea was a pink, purple and pearly glaze,
without a rimple of surprise.
* * *

I thought I had seen flying fish before.
I was mistaken. I only saw some
today: from six in the morning to six in the evening
they whizzed fin-flapping past.

From afar they are butterflies. From
nearby they are birds.
They never look like fish, except
when dipping back into the water.

I saw them – exactly like swallows
at the threat of a summer shower – skimming
over medusas like giant beads of amethyst.

* * *

In the setting sun they look like
microscopically small skaters.