(left to right) Juris Kronbergs, Hildred Crill, Daniel Weissbort, Johann Hjalmarsson, Bengt Jangfeldt, Andrey Gritsman, Gleb Shulpyakov, Valentina Polukhina, Les Murray, at the poetry reading "Poetiska Skärningspunkter" (At the Point of Crossing) in the Nordic Museum (Stockholm, October 2004).  Photographer: Petra Isaksson

Poetiska skärningspunkter


Poetry, Poetry in Translation and an Unusual Literary Event in Stockholm
From Periphery to Hub?

It was a rare event in Stockholm when nine poets from around the world came together in Kulturhuset to read their poetry to a large and interested audience on 29 October 2004. The evening's title, "At the Point of Crossing", gave some indication of what was in store: a convergence of poets and poetry from far and near. What most people arriving there did not know is that they were about to experience not only an international poetry reading, but also what was in effect a celebratory event.

What had brought the much-honoured Les Murray from Australia, Daniel Weissbort from London, Jóhann Hjálmarsson from Iceland and the young Gleb Shulpyakov from Moscow (to name only four) to Stockholm? The answer lies in an audacious new publishing venture that has chosen Stockholm as its base. In less than a year Ars Interpres Publications has brought out three book-length literary volumes: the three issues of the new literary journal, Ars Interpres. It was this journal which organised the evening of readings, with the support of the Swedish Academy, the Swedish Institute and the Ports of Stockholm.

The multi-lingual event was indeed a "point of crossing", culturally and linguistically. Whereas Les Murray, Daniel Weissbort, Andrey Gritsman and Hildred Crill read from works they had written in English, the poems read by Regina Derieva and Gleb Shulpyakov (in Russian), by Jóhann Hjálmarsson (in Icelandic) and Juris Kronbergs (in Latvian) were accompanied by English translations. Swedish-born Aris Fioretos read from his works in English, but then added, for the delectation of the Swedish audience, a light-hearted poetic declaration of love to "Fröken Ur" (the "Miss Clock" whose recorded voice announces the correct time).

The double aim of presenting poetry written in English, and of making available English translations of significant poetry from other languages, characterises not only the evening at Kulturhuset, but the internationally oriented philosophy of the whole Ars Interpres enterprise.

All nine of the evening's poets appear in one or more of the three Ars Interpres volumes. In fact, the opening section of Number 1 (Winter 2003) is headed, like the poetry evening, "At the Point of Crossing". Among poetic works from diverse cultures published in this volume, we find poems by four Kulturhuset readers: Les Murray (Australia), Regina Derieva (Sweden, formerly Russia), Gleb Shulpjakov (Russia) and Aris Fioretos (Sweden/New York/ Berlin).

Intersecting Senses is the title of volume Number 2. This brand new issue was presented at the October 29th event, and in its first part (eighty-some pages of contemporary poetry) we meet, in addition to most of the aforementioned, works by Jóhann Hjálmarsson (Iceland), Andrey Gritsman (U.S., formerly Russia) and Juris Kronbergs (Sweden and Latvia).

Number 3, which was introduced simultaneously with Number 2 is equally new. It bears the title, Blessing of the Beasts, and contains an infinitely varied anthology of encounters with the animal and insect worlds. In it we meet Hildred Crill, a New England poet living in Sweden, who introduced the poetry evening's participants and read the English translations.

To assume that disseminating poetry in translation is the raison d'être of the Ars Interpres volumes would be to miss the point. The art of translation – linguistic challenge and mine-field though it may be – remains a means, not an end.

There is no doubt, however, that a number of the poets who read at Kulturhuset are superb translators of their own and others' verse. One need only mention the pivotal role Daniel Weissbort has played in introducing Russian poetry to the West, Gleb Shulpjakov's translations of Auden and other contemporary English-language poetry into Russian, as well as the official recognition Jóhann Hjálmarsson has received for his translations from Spanish into Icelandic. There are, further, the versatile Andrey Gritsman and Juris Kronbergs, who write poetry in two languages.

Moreover, although the act (and art) of translation is a means rather than an end, it poses substantial challenges. The editor of the Ars Interpres volumes, Russian-born Alexander Deriev who now lives in Sweden, gives this challenge full recognition in the volumes he has put together. To cite only those poets who participated in the October reading, Andrey Gritsman has written on translating Mandelstam (Number 1) and on translations of Anna Akhmatova (Number 3), while Daniel Weissbort discusses Brodsky and translation in Number 1.

The audience at the poetry reading was served a rich and varied menu, ranging from Les Murray's profoundly personal poem about his son, to Daniel Weissbort's quatrains, "Birthday Poem with Cats"; from Gleb Shulpjakov's octaves on Italian cities to Hildred Crill's distillations of the Arctic experience. There were Juris Kronberg's poems on the mythic Wolf One-Eye, and the poetry of Regina Derieva where the metaphysical and the classical meet, not to forget Jóhan Hjálmarsson's surreal snapshots on a train in "Advertisement for Spanish Scenery".

Sweden is a relatively small country on the periphery of the European literary world. Thanks to the Nobel Prize and to a few major figures in the spheres of literature and drama, Sweden has acquired some literary stature beyond its borders. However, it continues to partake more of periphery than of the quality of hub.

For Alexander Deriev and the Ars Interpres editorial board, Stockholm has the capacity to be a hub, situated as it is between eastern and western Europe, having long-standing continental and Anglo-Saxon ties, and with English as a de facto second language. As Russian and other Slavic literatures become more available to western readers, and as a renewed spirit of cultural community develops all around the Baltic Sea, Sweden is in a strong position to take the lead in cultural exchanges and to become a significant "point of crossing".

The October 29 poetry reading in Stockholm, "At the Point of Crossing", celebrated the simultaneous release of Numbers 2 and 3 of Ars Interpres. It was also the first of a series of literary readings planned by the journal's staff. Of course, nine distinguished poets from three continents who come to read their works in Stockholm hardly constitute a hub. They can be seen, nevertheless, as a signpost pointing to the innovative, inter-cultural direction in which the Ars Interpres venture is resolutely headed. Keep an eye on Stockholm!

Publicerad: 2004-11-30

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