#PoetryMonth – @MariaHaskins on Translation

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Maria Haskins is on the blog today for her second Poetry Month contribution! She’s sharing another poem from her collection ‘Cuts’. This time it’s a little bit different. Maria is sharing both the Swedish (original language the poem was written in) and English versions of a poem. If you remember last week’s post with the audio for S.M. Boyce’s poem A Life for Sale, I talked about how interpreting a poem can differ between reading text and listening to it. Another way a poem can change is through translation. In may ways this can be more drastic.

Before I start rambling on about this, I’ll hand the blogging reigns over to Maria. She’s more qualified to talk about translation than I am anyway. But this post has challenged me to read more work in translation, along with the original languages…even if I can’t speak them. At least I can understand some of what Lorca writes (thank you high school and college Spanish!)

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‘Bird-Cloak’ is from a collection of poetry called ‘The Third’. It was originally written and published in Swedish in 1995. I was already living in Canada, but still writing in Swedish. When I self-published my new collection of poetry ‘Cuts’ in 2015, I translated my three previously published Swedish collections of poetry and included them with that release.

It was a bit of a nightmare to translate my own poems. I am a certified translator, and fluent in both English and Swedish, so I have the linguistic skills, but translating poetry is a bit like trying to embroider while wearing a blindfold and ski gloves. You just feel horribly clumsy and inadequate. Poetry relies so much on the precise meaning, the sound and rhythm of words. Poetry also plays with, and uses, the way words often mean (or imply) more than one thing: infusing a poem with resonance and depth beyond the surface of the words. All these shades and nuances can’t always be captured in another language. Whatever you do, and however good you are, you end up with an interpretation, something close to the original, but unable to fully replicate it. To quote Umberto Eco: “Translation is the art of failure.”

For this poem, I will mention three specific words that illustrate the translator’s conundrum.


1. The first problem was the title itself. “Fågelhamn” is a word that means a bird-costume or bird-disguise, but it is a specifically magical disguise, one that makes you look like a bird, and able to fly like a bird. The old Norse goddess Freyja had one of these. So in Swedish, it’s a word that carries a lot of meaning and weight: it hints at something magical, something ancient. There is the English word “hame” (as in Gandalf Greyhame), but I didn’t really like the sound of the word “Bird-hame”. I eventually settled on “Bird-cloak”, even though it doesn’t capture all the meanings of the Swedish word. I chose it partly because “cloak” carries its own depth and nuance of meaning. As a noun, it’s something you can wear, and as a verb, it’s something you can do. So basically, I traded one kind of wordplay for another.

2. Another word I had to ponder was “förbanna”. Usually, I would probably translate the word as “curse”, rather than “condemn”, but in English, “curse” is a very heavy and loaded word, and I felt it carried a darkness of meaning that I didn’t really mean to convey with the Swedish word. “Condemn” isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t change the feel of the sentence as much as “curse” did, so that’s what I ended up with.

3. A third word I had to labour over was “vägen”. In Swedish, this word can mean both “road” (as in: “driving on the road”) and “way” (as in “being on your way”). There’s a duality built into the Swedish word that isn’t quite conveyed when you have to pick one of the meanings in English. I did consider using the word “path”, since path also has a layers of meaning built into it – it can be both a physical path in the woods, and more of metaphorical path you might be choosing, as in “your path through life”. But for this poem, path didn’t feel right: I wanted the mental image of a road rather than that of a path, so again, I considered the options and chose the one I felt was closest to what I was trying to say in Swedish.

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Jag vaknade långt borta från elden,
klamrade mig fast vid markens välvda buk,
hon vände sig,
Min andedräkt tinade fram gryning ur stjärnisen,
och då,
inte förrän då,
kom du.
Jag lyfte mina vingar
för att följa dig
men jag fann bara dessa armar,
ändå vet jag att jag är en fågel
som du.
Tag mig med dig
som ännu kan flyga,
dina vingar utbredda.
Förbanna mig inte
även om jag förtjänar det
även om jag inte längre kan flyga
lyft mig
med döden smalnande till en tunn svart springa
i dina ögon
(sluts aldrig, vägen alltid öppen)
livet i röda stänk runt näbben
lyft mig
tag mig med dig
tag mig ännu längre
bort från elden.

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I awoke far away from the fire,
clinging to the round belly of the earth,
she rolled over,
My breath thawed the dawn from the frozen stars,
and then,
not until then,
did you come.
I raised my wings
to follow you
but all I could find were these arms,
even though I know that I am a bird
like you.
Take me with you
who are still able to fly,
your wings spread.
Don’t condemn me
even though I deserve it
even though I can’t fly anymore
lift me
with death narrowing to a thin black slit
in your eyes
(never closing, the road is always open)
red stains of life around your beak
lift me
take me with you
take me even farther
away from the fire.

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Would you like to read more poetry from Maria? You can find the collection that this poem came from, Cuts, on:

Amazon | Smashwords | Kobo | B&N | iBooks

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Cuts - Maria Haskins‘Cuts’ is Maria Haskins’ first collection of poetry written in English. Also included in this book are her three previously published and very well-received collections of poetry: ‘Blå’ (‘Blue’), ‘Honung’ (‘Honey’), and ‘Den tredje’ (‘The Third’). All have been translated from the original Swedish to English by the author, and are available in English for the very first time.

Maria Haskins made her literary debut in Sweden in 1989 with ‘Blå’ (‘Blue’), a well-received collection of poetry published by Swedish publishing house Norstedts. Her two other collections of poetry ‘Honung’ (‘Honung’) from 1992, and ‘Den tredje’ (‘The Third’) from 1995 received many favourable reviews in Sweden, and her poetry has been included in several anthologies.

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About the Author:

self3Maria Haskins is a Swedish-Canadian writer and translator. She was born and grew up in Sweden, but since the early 1990s she lives just outside Vancouver on Canada’s west coast with a husband, two kids, and a very large black dog.

Her English language debut ‘Odin’s Eye’ – a collection of science fiction short-stories – was published in March, 2015. Her book ‘Cuts & Collected Poems 1989 – 2015’ was released on November 9, 2015, and includes both new poems written in English, and her own translations of her previously published Swedish poetry. She is currently writing fantasy and science fiction short stories. Two new short stories that will appear in an anthology in the Mind’s Eye Series, set to be published in 2016.

Find out more:

One response to “#PoetryMonth – @MariaHaskins on Translation

  1. Reblogged this on Maria Haskins and commented:
    My second post at Robert Zimmermann’s website for Poetry Month is all about translation and poetry. I used one of my poems, ‘Bird-cloak’, to illustrate some of the challenges of translating poetry.

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