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6 December 2019


Later this month my translation of a book of poems by Elisabeth Rynell, Night Talks, will be published by World Poetry Books.  This has been in preparation for many years and I'm thrilled it will finally be tangible.


In the more than five years since I last made an entry here, I have been translating a novel by Elisabeth Rynell, Hohaj, which does not yet have a publisher.  I've also translated more poems by Göran Sonnevi and other Swedish poets.  The greater part of my professional life has been as a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education.  I have been a Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner since 2013.  Please let me know if you would like to know more about this somatic practice.

5 May 2014

In the summer of 2013, I became certified as a Feldenkrais Method® Practitioner. During my four prior years of training I largely neglected this website. Sorry about that, but I have not been inactive as a poet and translator. On 13 November 2012, The Brazen Plagiarist: Selected Poems by Kiki Dimoula, one of Greece's greatest living poets (b. 1931, Athens), was published in the Margellos World Republic of Letters, the same Yale University Press Series in which my translation of Sonnevi's Mozart's Third Brain appeared. It has been translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and myself. As you will, I hope, read in my Translator's Note, "The Somatics of Semantics," had I not begun Feldenkrais training, I would not have been open to translating poetry--or any literary text--from a language I did not cognitively know. We just learned that our co-translation has been awarded the 2014 Greek National Translation Prize. I am simply astonished, and delighted.

Another large project, funded partly by a translation grant from the NEA, is the translation of a novel entitled Hohaj--this is a place name--by the Swedish author Elisabeth Rynell. Somewhere in the NEA website's writer's corner there is a link to this translation. The book is now complete and in need of a publisher. From time to time I quietly work on a companion piece to the novel, a collection of her poems Nattliga samtal(Nocturnal Conversations).


At latest count, the Finland-Swedish poet and writer, psychiatrist, jazz pianist, and politician had published twenty-two collections of poetry and six prose works. In March Claes Andersson wrote me that he had turned in a new manuscript of poems, now called Mörkrets klarhet (The clarity of darkness) to his various publishers in Finland and Sweden.

What Became Words, my translation of a selection of work from his first seventeen books of poems came out from Sun & Moon Classics (Los Angeles) in a bilingual edition in 1996. (The book is out of print.) In subsequent years I published additional translations in the journal Books from Finland. The texts reprinted below appear by permission of Claes Andersson.

(the new theology)

Illness is the body’s conscience
where would we be without our ailments
Many of us marry them just to be
on the safe side
Some advertise: Looking for
discreet, stable case of diabetes
Well-off lump with a lust for life seeks soft bosom
Replies to: Yours Forever
With group sex Paul Tillich tried to burst symbiosis’s bonds
Then death came and took him—, but what interesting
times those were, his 83-year-old widow writes
Sphygmomanometry is also a form of caressing
There are people who love having their hearts listened to
(the stethoscope leaves a wedding ring on their chests)
Elderly gentlemen prefer prostate massage
Some youngsters slash their skin with razor blades, the wounds
cry out for love
Our ailments make us feel we’re not alone
We can count on them as on friends we’ll have for life
We can talk to them, take them
with us on vacations: to spas, sanitariums
They’ll never abandon us
And the neighbors won’t start talking
We can love them with at least half our hearts

—from Claes Andersson’s Tillkortakommanden (Shortcomings), 1981; translation © Rika Lesser 1996

When I was born, Helsinki was a medium-sized
town with cobblestone streets
A few years later the war broke out
I had just learned to keep my mouth shut
Old ladies lay strewn about the streets
after the bombs fell   They were trying to kill us all
All order was gone   One furious night
that came rushing down, blacking everything out,
Mother carried me down to the cellar
Then she vanished, she had no eyes
It got cold and wet and dark
You felt it in your lungs
There was an iron door you were not to open
When I screwed my eyes tight the house was composed
of swinging cobwebs, and they strung all
the dead from long ropes in the cellar passage
Just when a bomb dropped quite close by, Mother
and Father embraced for one last time
as in a film adults alone may view
The sirens had gone wild, they invaded
my ears through my earflaps
Father was away all the time, though this slipped my mind
I carried my white cat into the cellar   We sat there
so long it went blind, ran away
Someone found it with its head blown off in a box
I recognized it all right, I understood you
couldn't trust anyone
I did not cry, I was all dried out
I seemed to take off, rise out of myself, saw
myself lying there below without a head
I held my breath until my cat was whole again
It never worked
My lungs were useless, soon I would die
We lived in the water under a crust of ice
I was a quiet child, I shot the heads
off rats with my BB gun
It was far too difficult to breathe
Something moved back and forth like a pendulum
along the bottom under the water
It looked like the remains of a little boy
in knickers frozen solid under the ice

—from Claes Andersson's Under (Wonder), 1984; translation © Rika Lesser 1996

Andersson is making a damned racket
Andersson can't even stand up straight
Andersson really won't ever amount to anything
Andersson is a coward
Andersson had better start thinking things over before it's too goddamned late
Andersson quivers like aspic
Andersson drinks too much
Andersson should not smoke in his sleep
Andersson, as a matter of fact, is away a good part of the year
Andersson had better start giving some thought and pay some heed to a thing or two
Andersson ought not to go to Mallorca now that his old mother is lying at death's door dammit
Andersson eats like a pig, like a hog
Andersson is fat
Andersson should practice the clarinet instead
Andersson shouldn't imagine he has any rights he doesn't have
Andersson should keep his hands to himself
Andersson should join the local trade union instead of sitting there blubbering, for Chrissake
Andersson should not dream so much
Andersson ought to know that intimate hygiene needs attention for Andersson's own sake as well
Andersson isn't much to hang on the Christmas tree
Andersson ought to know Andersson is not solely Andersson's concern
Andersson ought to consider that done is done and cannot be undone, hell dammit to hell
Andersson ought to realize that he can't just lie there like some kind of cadaver and enjoy
Andersson has gotten really fresh lately if the truth be told
Andersson should uncross his eyes
Andersson is not to come later and complain that Andersson was not informed in good time of
    Andersson's situation
Andersson should stop whistling or damn
Andersson should not forget to take his medicine or Andersson will clearly die
Andersson where in god's name is Andersson now
Andersson cannot very well have
Andersson ought not to have jumped, I'll say straight out
Andersson could at least have closed the window behind him

—from Claes Andersson's Under (Wonder), 1984; translation © Rika Lesser 1996