Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mistranslating from the Danish in Early Morning Pajamas




there should be a stadium

where we may stand together

our hair sticking up for

what we all believe in

the distant bells for instance



* * *



For some reason, I couldn’t sleep tonight. Perhaps I had one too many coffees too late into the evening. It used to be that I could drink coffee all night and it didn’t affect me. I think that this is one more change that I can attribute to ‘middle age.’ I’m not so good at flying off buildings anymore either. At least, not without my extra powerful cape.

I did a lovely little poetry workshop at the Burlington Public Library for three great teens last evening. I was expecting more kids, but unfortunately the BPL did another lousy job of advertising & describing the workshop. They did this a couple weeks ago for a reading that I did there with Paul Vermeersch and Souvankham Thammavongsa. Again, a small but wonderful audience. The kids were marvellous. Talented, droll, flexible yet willing to ask questions. One girl was willing to tell me what she was really thinking and not just accept what I said. I was really happy that I was able to win her over and convince her to try things outside of her comfort zone. There were two Grade 7s and one Grade 11. An interesting mix but it worked. The hour-and-a-half passed really quickly.


I got up last night at about 4 after tossing and turning. I had the idea for a poem:


There is a careful sign on their rumpled double bed.

“We have gone into the hills.”

His mother’s mauve skirt catching on a nettle.

His father hiding grammatical error.

But didn’t get very far with it, though it went into some interesting territory. I remembered when I used to expect to always write two or three lousy poems in a session before I got to ‘a keeper.’ I’d forgotten that. It’s good advice for myself. When I’m not writing absolutely regularly, and my days are filled with other concerns, it’s easy to try too hard when I begin.

I was reading a bit before I got up, using the old shirt-over-the-lampshade -so-as-not-to-wake-my-wife trick. She woke up anyway, so I got up. What I was reading was Matthew Zapruder’s great The Pajamaist. I’d love to quote the ending of the opening poem “Dream Job,” except that it needs the rest of the poem as set up. It’s hard to quote specific lines because they work better in context. (“How could you know/mosquitoes love my blood/because it’s full/of something they love”) Check it out, though.

After my first failed poem attempt, I someone settled on trying a sound translation from a Danish translation of Proverbs that I mined from BibleGateway.com. I was just playing around, seeing what I could come up with without, excuse the expression, gating myself too much. I’ve been working on editing my forthcoming Coach House poetry book and some of the words of my editor are weighing too much on me, shutting me down somewhat.

I ‘translated’ about three quarters of the Proverb, and then extracted the little bit that I’ve stuck at the top of this post. Not exactly biblical, but quite nice. Sometimes, even a little poem seems to make being up most of the night of value. It’s been a while since I’ve been unable to sleep due to no particular feeling of anxiety or worry. It's been I while since I felt that strange altered out-of-time half un-focused / half very focused feeling that it brings.

But now it's time to wake up & get ready for work.


* * *

OK, so here's that poem that I thought was a failure. I've done a little work on it and it's getting more interesting:


There is a sign on their rumpled double bed.

“We have gone into the hills.”

His mother’s mauve skirt catching on a nettle.

His father hiding grammatical error.


Finally they sought the hut of the little rain

the misty paddock where they met and became

m and h and m n


if we knew the pink arms

that the sun would shine h

the glass dolls w b in the ferns


the lambs never far from their own wool

O dust and systolic dawn

pushing us along the road to our shells

h and m holding the thrush

our hands soft crabs thrust into the river to pray


h h and d

h h h and r

the dark masks of the leaves

rob the trees of their small change

the children

their parents’ slow breath

1 comment:

gary barwin said...

Here's the full translation of the Danish Proverb:

debt sings the bare arms
the huge snake of the year.
we have a king who seldom flickers.

a kiss is my grandfather
for in the din of his car
you shall certainly find wine
like a perfumed spider
who doffs his underwear in the presence of the barometer

come in under the flicker
it is getting late in the ditches of Alaska
late in the follicles of medicine.

and here comes the spring, flickering
the king’s hair in the palace of no longer
skating til the salmon arrive in their muttering cars

I remember the ditches of Alaska,
the flickering of Jerusalem.
the men lost in the cedars

though they carry torches and salt for the Salmon king
the flickering of their firebrands in the cedars,
the shudder of their thought in the forest

there should be a stadium
where we stand together.
our stolen hair sticking up for
what we believe in

distant bells for instance.