Cornelis van der Wal in Hvedekorn

A few months ago we let you know that six poems by RIXT-poet Cornelis van der Wal would be translated into Danish and published in the renowned Danish literary magazine Hvedekorn. The issue with the translations has been released now. You can find one of the translations here below.

The translations are from Geart Tigchelaar and Carsten René Nielsen.

Listen to the original poem ‘Wêr haw ik west’, read by the poet.

Elmar Kuiper – January

Elmar Kuiper is the RIXT poet of the month January. In November 2019 he wrote the poem cycle ‘Mother Ganges’ in Kolkata (Calcutta), where he performed at the Chair Poetry Evenings. On the last day of the poetry festival he and some fellow-poets made a long pleasure cruise on the Ganges river. Kuiper: ‘I stared into the water and had to think of my mum, who was terminally ill this summer. In the poem I make a link between the polluted, holy river and my mother whose illness was incurable. She always used to say: ‘when it’s my time it’ll be my time.’ The cycle will be included in Kuiper’s new poetry collection: Wite Mûle, Swarte Molke (‘White Mouth, Black Milk’), which will be published by Hispel in the spring.

For Kuiper’s other poems of the month, in Frisian, see here 

MOTHER GANGES

I

In the source bathes a word, from the river bank
a cow bell rings. Mother Ganges carries her pain

in her vest. A bird with pointed wings
hangs still in the air. Another bird circles

rings around grey apartment buildings. Yes, God
I flung overboard. Yes, the mind pounds away,

its mouth filled with dirt, shouts filthy
things, shouts with a mouth full of poison.

II

The sun above Arundhathi’s eyebrows
is Prussian blue, as our boat pushes off

a priest sings. Lovely, isn’t it, being here
in a country where English sounds so funny.

But you’re distracting me, with your rank body,
floating sweetgrass and the refuse of the city.

Are you my mother, who says humanity will be
wiped out? Do you dare to call yourself mother?

I listen and lean over the railing and look
into your mustard yellow visage, Ganges.

III

You are my mother on the floating help and I
stay with you, hold your hand. Your veins, so

strangely thick. Yet another scan and you don’t
believe the results. But the spot in your head is

not an island where we can just sail to and
go on holiday and sunbathe. It is death,

mum, death who plays hide and seek with his
black face in your frontal lobe, making you so

quiet and mild. You whisper hoarsely: Then it’s
my time, my son. Are you giving up? You are

and will stay my mother, who washes my sins, incredulous
though I am. A raptor cries out in the air particulates.

IV

When evil cleanses itself from evil, I will be
clean and pure, mum, and I shall stream

quietly, until death will shiv me violently with his
sickle. When there’s no end or beginning, I’ll lie

on your bank and drown in the source. Oh well, let me
leave it there. Someone says: ‘Hello sir, picture please’

and I make strange faces, can’t think of
any excuse and say abashedly: ‘Okay!’

V

We sail a long way upstream. Kolkata lies like
a white haze in front of our eyes. Katyayani wants

a picture with the friendly giant. Humanity still
lives in the dark; I can almost hear you say it.

I stretch my back and put on a routine smile. Good
will triumph even though I don’t believe in evil.

Ashutosh laughs and Anindina says my eyes
are as clear as the Himalaya.

VI

Tagore, I want to wash the clay off of me, strike
a light tone, throw a coin into your being.

You don’t have to check the lights, mate. The tongue
of your lantern burns. What could I curse you with?

After all, life is just a dew drip on a lotus leaf.
But what about death, Tagore, it’s so hard and hungry.

VII

God, I’ve read Krishnamurthi over and over again, but what good
does it to me, 7500 km from home, I stare over the railing

into the water and see my father under the cow’s udder,
squeezing and pulling on the teats. I catch a glimpse of you:

your tongue sticks out and you stitch and iron
the seams. I hear Brian, compatriot, war veteran

and great poet say you have to put the parts in
different bags. He writes verses like cat’s-tails, like

smoked eel. Now I fly back and wrap up this poem,
mum, as Keisang serves me, pours water into

a plastic cup, the steel bird quivers
above the ocean, only for a moment.

© Elmar Kuiper
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

Sipke de Schiffart – December

Sipke de Schiffart was RIXT-poet of the  month December 2019. You can read his original Frisian poems of that month here. The translation of one of them – ‘generation gap’ – is published below.

generation gap

my dad was an old-fashioned farmer,
every morning he went to work
at half past three
and expected the same of me

but I was half a century younger
and went to bed late,
after having watched TV,
Veronica and the VPRO,
so, I would get up later in the morning

now I think: getting up between five and six,
that’s still quite early
for a boy of around twenty years old

in the mornings I struggled
to wake up, every morning
my father got angry with me,
because I didn’t hurry up

one morning (now I think: middle of the night)
in December of 1980 he came
to my bed at half past three
to announce that Mick Jagger
had been shot in New York

the message had its intended effect:
I was immediately wide awake,
satisfied my dad went back to the barn
to feed the cattle

but when I heard on the clock radio
that it was John Lennon who was shot,
and not Mick Jagger,
I rolled over
and went back to sleep

© Sipke de Schiffart
Translation: Trevor M. Scarse

An Evening of Prose Poetry

Last October 24th there was a sociable gathering in café De Basuin in Leeuwarden. As the Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen was staying in Groningen for six weeks to write new material and to translate work by Nyk de Vries, amongst others, RIXT invited him for a performance. Nielsen is a prose poet pur sang, so the evening was centred around that genre. Because of that, our own prose poet Nyk de Vries was invited as well.

The varying occasional formation Reade Runen – consisting of Elmar Kuiper, Cornelis van der Wal, Syds Wiersma and Geart Tigchelaar – which has a connection with Denmark as they were there last April and are busy gathering and translating a collection of Frisian-Danish poetry, performed as well. As said, the composition of the formation varies and Hein Jaap Hilarides replaced Tigchelaar for the evening, as Tigchelaar was hosting the evening.

Tigchelaar started the evening by asking the audience if they were familiar with the term prose poem. Only a couple raised their hands shyly. So, Tigchelaar hoped that the rest of the audience would be familiar with the genre as well by the end of the evening.

Hein Jaap Hilarides

Hilarides was the first to perform with verses in Biltsk and even a few in English to allay Nielsen. However, it has to be said that Nielsen is learning Dutch and understands a fair amount of the language already.

Nyk de Vries

De Vries was able to showcase his prose poetry, utilising music and images alternately in his performance. Thus, his set had a more multimedia approach. His performance was superb and it added some variety to the evening as well.

Syds Wiersma

Syds Wiersma travelled through Ireland during the summer, so he poured all his experiences and meetings over there into the mould of prose poetry. Full of narrative and with a rich language he took the audience with him on his travels.

Carsten René Nielsen had made a vibrant selection of his poems from his latest collection Enogfyrre tin (Forty-one things) and Tigchelaar read translations of them in both Dutch and Frisian. Some members of the audience were able to understand Danish, so Nielsen was pleasantly surprised when some laughed along during his original language performance.

Elmar Kuiper

After the break it was Elmar Kuiper’s turn who was in high spirits and in-between his poems he told some vivid tales about his expeditions as a young boy with his dad, a cattle photographer.

Nyk de Vries

Next up was return performance by De Vries. He took us along with him to an interview he and others from the Blauwe Fedde literary magazine had had with the Frisian author Rink van der Velde, we sat with him atop a crane in LA, and the next moment in the clubhouse in Harkema. Nielsen added that in his view the Frisian word for clubhouse, ‘kluphûs’, only has a good translation in the Danish ‘forsamlingshus’. According to Nielsen, no other language comes close to the full width of the meaning in Frisian.

Cornelis van der Wal

Following this, Cornelis van der Wal read four translations of prose poems by Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Revérdy. The last poet is less famous than the others, and Van der Wal had to concede that he himself hadn’t heard of him before either. Van der Wal had translated the poems superbly and the somewhat raw verses accorded well with his own distinctive style of performance.

That the French invented prose poetry can be asserted as fact comfortably. Which was a nice bridge for Nielsen to step in after Tigchelaar asked him to explain to the audience what exactly a prose poem is. It all started in France, but today the genre is mostly practiced in the United States and Canada, not so much in Europe (anymore).

Prose poetry is closely linked to so-called flash fiction. A prose poem often uses narrative as well and is a short form of prose, but it is more poetic in language and more concise. Nielsen would categorise some of the poems in the collections of De Vries as short prose, but Nielsen concludes that the best identifying mark of a prose poem as a prose poem is the author’s own identification of it as such. The covers of De Vries’s collections state that they are prose poems, and thus they are prose poems, according to Nielsen, because this provides a framework for the reader.

No one in the room could add to that, so Tigchelaar thanked the poet collective RIXT and Boeken fan Fryslân in particular for the (financial) support and ended the official proceedings. This allowed everyone in the cosy De Basuin to drink one more with the poets.