Posts Tagged ‘Håkan Sandell’

Farewell to Sigtuna! A few last glimpses as I leave Sweden….

Sunday, September 4th, 2016
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We’ve written about last week’s Sigtuna Literary Festival outside Stockholm. We’ve written about Syrian writer-in-residence Iman Al Ghafari and Danish poet Ulrikka Gernes and the Swedish poet (although he lives in Oslo) Håkan Sandell. Now it’s time – alas! – to say goodbye to the Sigtuna, where we were delighted to be a guest for a few days. What a better way than with a few random photos from the mansion where it all took place? Top to bottom (first photo provided by the festival; the rest by Humble Moi and cellphone).

1) I joined a panel on Eastern European poets and the poetry of exile with Swedish poet and novelist Malte Persson (left) and Prague-based Ukrainian poet and journalist Igor Pomerantsev (right). The lively and witty Ukrainian stole the show – a good thing, too; he had a lot to say. Please note the statuary on the bookshelves: on the left, a relief of the Russian poet Regina Derieva, who is greatly honored in Sweden, the place where she made her home after many peregrinations. And on the right bookshelf, Dante Alighieri, of course.

2), 3), 4), 5) The charming literary mansion that hosts the festival is a delightful place to roam and get lost in. Every room has delightful nooks and crannies where you want to curl up with a book – and there are plenty of those to peruse, too.

6) A memorial corner for Regina Derieva, with some of the seashells she loved and collected.

7) Last day in Stockholm, with award-winning Swedish writer Bengt Jangfeldt, author of acclaimed biographies on Vladimir Mayakovsky and Raoul Wallenberg, with Alexander Deriev and Igor Pomerantsev at right.

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Oslo poet Håkan Sandell: “Poetry rejoices even if the culture dies.”

Thursday, September 1st, 2016
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Sweden’s suave poet. (Photo: Dagfinn Hobæk)

Earlier this week, I discussed the Danish poet Ulrikka Gernes. I met her at the same time I met a very different Scandinavian spirit – breezy, debonair, ever so slightly sardonic, as we chatted at the reception for the gala dinner at Sigtuna’s literary festival. Håkan Sandell is one of Sweden’s leading poets … or is it Norway’s? He writes in Swedish, but lives in Oslo. But really, most of the words are the same, he explained to me; the pronunciation is a bit different, that’s all.

The Irish poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill calls him “a stunning poet.” A mutual friend, the Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis, said, “He’s a modern metaphysical poet, a lover of the world who, while praising it, never stops probing it with his formidable poetic intelligence.”

We met again at the panel discussion he shared with Ulrikka. Afterwards, he gave me a copy of his newest book – as I waited, he scribbled a quick inscription in what appears to be crayon, but what I recall as a very worn pale blue felt-tip (he appears to have signed a lot of books). We corresponded later about the translations in Dog Star Notations: Selected Poems, 1999-2016 (Carcanet, 2016).

“You must remember that the Scandinavian languages are a bit different from English – very musical but also harsher. We tend to flatten out just a little bit in English,” he explained.

Håkan is “one of the chief agents of the renewal of metrical poetry in Swedish,” according to his translator, Bill Coyle. “His most common criticisms of the drafts I have shown him was not that they were inaccurate, but that I hadn’t captured enough of the original’s verse music, that they didn’t sufficiently swing. I hope that the translations included in the present volume do, when all is said, swing.”

The slightly skeptical Swede is optimistic about poetry. As he put it, “Poetry rejoices even if the culture dies.”

Rejoices over the rain on the Faroe Islands,
over rendezvous on the Champs-Elysees at evening.
It rejoices over Japan, over Korea,
over arts refined over a thousand years –
the art of swordsmanship, or of drinking tea.
Rejoices over the poet, that his heart still beats.

Most of his poems are longish, and I looked for a short one to include for the Book Haven. I was sold on his Stanzas to the Spirit of the Age when he told me that he composed each 12-line section (three stanzas, four lines each) during his long walks. Twelve lines is as much as he could remember at a time. That’s an intriguing notion in an era when hardly anyone memorizes anything at all.

I also thought it struck a very different note from Ulrikka’s contemplative poem about an open book in the dark. He added a crisp Nordic bite to a damp Swedish week:

from Stanzas to the Spirit of the Age

xix.

I prefer after raucous Saturday nights
to stroll and at the most nudge with my shoe
the shattered glass and blood left after fights,
rather than joining in the party too.

It’s early June but feels like fall to me.
I cried on the street, I miss my daughter so.
Autumn wind stirs the leaves, and from a tree
a flock of black birds glares down, sated, slow.

This happy, fjord-side, ice cream-licking scene
could I decide, would be dark, arctic cold.
Expansive life, a new beginning’s green,
like this, for these, proved more than I could hold.

– Håkan Sandell, trans. Bill Coyle

Danish poet Ulrikka Gernes: bringing light to darkness

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
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(Photo: Christoffer Regild)

One of the more radiant presences at this year’s Sigtuna Literary Festival in Sweden was Ulrikka Gernes, one of Denmark’s leading poets. Ulrikka, daughter of the international artist Poul Gernes, published her first collection at eighteen, and has followed with ten more collections in the years since since. As far as radiance goes, you can judge for yourself by the photo at right. (She was wearing the same trademark pearls last week.)

The Copenhagen poet is also generous. I attended the Sunday morning panel on “Border Crossings in Language.” She shared the conversation with Oslo poet Håkan Sandell; it was moderated by Swedish writer and journalist Maria Küchen. I didn’t understand a word, of course – it was all in Swedish. Ulrikka ended the session with a shout-out to Humble Moi, and read the poem below – mercifully, in English.

It’s from her most recent collection Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books, 2015), translated from the Danish by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen:

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On the table in the room in the dark

On the table in the room in the dark
house lies the book you didn’t know
you were looking for, opened to the page
with the poem about solace you didn’t know
you needed; at first the letters
then the words, little by little
the lines disappear as you read them
in the light of the faint dawn that trickles in
between the venetians’ dusty
slats and unites you with someone
you didn’t know you are.