Thursday, February 14, 2013


If you like Billy Collins, you'll like Benny Andersen, the wonderful Danish poet—

I've expressed my admiration for Collins many times on my various blogs, I think he's a magnificent poet, one of the best living poets on the planet—

I'm jealous of course of his success and popularity, but even more, I'm envious of the verse itself:

I don't think I've ever finished reading a Collins poem without muttering to myself something along the lines of "Gee, I wish I'd written this," or "God, I wish I'd thought of that idea," or "Huh, I wish I could write a poem half as good as this," or other whimpers of that nature—

Anyway, back to Andersen—but wait, I wasn't thinking of him today, I was thinking about finding a poem to post for Valentine's Day and what came to mind was Esther Jansma,

do you know her work?   A Dutch poet, born 1958.  A Selected Poems in English is available (I'll post a link below) . . .

Here's two of her rather astonishing love poems, translated by the late great James Brockway:

The Lovers

He lay washed up on red rocks
and dreamed her voice was calling him, sand
scattered over him and blowing away.

The sea lay itself down on his breast.
His heart was the breeding-ground of
colourful birds.  The wind came back.

One by one the birds rose up,
they shrieked and fell upwards, helpless,
they were swept aside.

When she found him his heart was a wound,
a deserted chamber, the difference between him
and the ground was love, no more.

She lifted him up.  Gently she tried
to close his lips.  In the ship
she tried to close his mouth.

She grew silent and pressed his lips together.
She grew silent and laid his arms round her neck.
It worked.  His head lies on her shoulder.

He is silent.  They set sail.  They are everything
to each other.



We crossed the Styx.
The ferryman lay drunk in his boat.
I took the helm and we sank like stones.

Water like the earth consists of layers,
transparent ribbons, glistening strata
of ever less life, less warmth.

Bubbles blossomed in your hair,
the current tugged your head backwards
and caressed your throat.

Stones waved with algae and ferns,
gurgled softly, sang of 'peace'.
They sliced your clothes away.

Fish licked the blood from your legs.
I held your hand tight.  I wanted to comfort you,
but we were falling too fast and no words can exist

without air; my love
lay above, blue balloons, brief buoys,
marking the site of the accident,

before flowing on.  Your mouth fell open,
your face turned red, your two hands sought
for balance, sought my arms.

You tried to climb up inside me.
You were a glass blower with a cloud of diamonds
circling his mouth.  I hugged you like a kitten.

I stroked your fingers.
You held on tight.
You fell asleep.  I stroked your fingers, let go.


Link to Esther Jansma, Selected Poems in English book:


Looking on my Scandinavian poetry shelf for the Jansma book, I noticed Benny Andersen and pulled out his book of Selected Poems in English—


In addition to recommending Jansma and Andersen, I want to direct attention to the John Irons blog (see sidebar blog list for link) which features his bravura translations from Scandinavian poets, and which very amenably has a downloadable list of all the versions he's published there— If you are in any way interested at all in Scandinavian poetry (and if you're reading my blog, you darn well should be!), his site is a must for your don't-miss list—

Here hopefully for your delectation are the Andersen translations he's posted there, with titles and dates, in his archives:

Andersen, Benny: Adultery and love
Andersen, Benny: Closet Swedes
Andersen, Benny: Diet
Andersen Benny: The muddy tongue (Svantes Viser)
Andersen, Benny: High time
Andersen, Benny: Little Song for Nina (Svantes Viser)
Andersen, Benny: Morning Anthem
Andersen, Benny: Svante’s black song
Andersen, Benny: Svante’s drinking song
Andersen, Benny: The poetics of preservation
Andersen, Benny: The seasons


Thursday, February 7, 2013


I've been putting together a new edition of my Collected Sonnets for publication, and was going to include this squib below as an afterword, but didn't . . .  I post it here instead, for what it's worth—

Around 2000, Rain Taxi Magazine interviewed me and one of the questions they asked was why I was writing sonnets.  My answer (somewhat edited):

Like some others of my generation, I wrote short poems in the 1960s under the influence of Robert Bly . . . but then in 1971, as a result of reading Paz and Tomlinson’s book, Renga, I started working with the sonnet.  The short poems had led to an interest in haiku and tanka, but I felt unable to write these authentically, they were so indigenous to Asian culture and so foreign to mine.  Pound and the Imagists, although greatly influenced by these forms, rarely pursued them per se: how many actual haiku/tanka/renga did they write?—not a lot that I've seen.  —And then Renga was published and had an immediate impact on me.   To quote from Paz’s forward: “Looking for a western equivalent of the renga, one thinks of the sonnet . . . it is composed, like the tanka, of semi-independent and separable entities.”  From the Paz book I began to think of the sonnet as a putatively composite form, a sort of 'solo renga' or elongated tanka.  Quatrain, quatrain, tercet, tercet: these units [could be] autotelic, self-enclosed . . .  I would take four isolate bits written at different times and juxtapose them, sometimes arbitrarily, sometimes purposefully.  And gradually, over the years, this collagiste method has resulted in quite a few of the sonnets I’ve done, though many others were composed in a less piecemeal fashion.   But I think too of the sonnet in this way: it’s like going to the art supplies store and buying a lot of canvases all the same size, a size appropriate for your studio (or mental) space.  In other words, it’s handy.  Though like all conveniences it has the potential danger of being too easy, too readily and reliably a temptation shortcut.  And doubtless I have succumbed to that fault at times.