I suppose this one breaks the rules: it’s not (I don’t think) an actual collection, but a selection of poems that another poet, Robin Robertson, has translated – or as the cover has it, his ‘versions’.
(While we’re talking about the cover, a quick moan: it’s nasty. The photo looks like it’s been oddly processed, turning an interesting image into a weird one, and the typography and design is just horrible. Honestly; it looks much, much worse in the flesh than online. And all this from Enitharmon, a publisher renowned for its beautiful editions of poetry – I have their absolutely gorgeous Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, which I recommend highly.)
Another moan, though I feel a bit mean saying it: there wasn’t any indication on Amazon that this is a bilingual edition, so when I got the book and realised that I had a rather measly fifteen poems for my £8.95 I felt a little short-changed. I understand that contemporary poetry is, largely, a loss-making venture, and translated poetry even more so (I have been on the other side of that fence, working in publishing for a small press). But still. They did get sponsorship as well as Arts Council funding.
Anyway, that’s enough of the moaning. Slight though it was, I enjoyed it. I thought I’d take a punt on Swedish poet Tranströmer having read a couple of his (translated) lines at the Poetry Library a while ago – sadly I can’t find them online now, though I do have them copied out somewhere.
I don’t know if it was a conscious selection on the part of the translating poet, but all the poems seemed stereotypically Swedish – about the cold and the dark, about winter. All rather bleak, and something that might have fitted my mood better in autumn or winter (rather than on a summer holiday). Most of it seemed rather melancholy – but then, I quite like that (in poetry). What I really liked about it was the quality of being wistful and bittersweet, but at the same time very absolutely concrete and crafted.
Favourites were ‘The Couple’, ‘To Friends behind a Border’ and ‘Black Postcards’. I find it hard to choose between the ‘Black Postcards’ and ‘Face to Face’, but the latter wins – just because it features spring as well as winter, and seems almost a reverse of Louis Macneice’s ‘Snow’…
In February life stood still.
The birds refused to fly and the soul
grated against the landscape as a boat
chafes against the jetty where it’s moored.
The trees were turned away. The snow’s depth
measured by the stubble poking through.
The footprints grew old out on the ice-crust.
Under a tarpaulin, language was being broken down.
Suddenly, something approaches the window.
I stop working and look up.
The colours blaze. Everything turns around.
The earth and I spring at each other.