Empty Stairs // Tóm Trappa

Translated from the Faroese by Matthew Landrum with co-translators Tóta Árnadóttir and Paula Gaard. Faroese is a North Germanic language spoken as a first language by about 66,000 people, 45,000 of whom reside on the Faroe Islands and 21,000 in other areas, mainly Denmark. Icelandic is the language’s closest extant relative.

Empty Stairs

I say earth
Bedrock beneath the feet
Say sun
The smell of moldering seaweed
Say moon
My heart sticks to my ribs
Say darling
Empty stairs

Tóm Trappa

Eg sigi jørðin
Hella undir iljunum
Sigi sól
Angin av brunnum tara
Sigi máni
Hjarta klebrar móti rivunum
Sigi góða
Tóm trappa


by Jóanes Nielsen


From Cagibi Issue 2: In Translation: Three Poems by Jóanes Nielsen, trans. Matthew Landrum


About the Author

Jóanes Nielsen, a former dockworker turned political activist and writer, is one of the pre-eminent figures in contemporary Faroese literature and culture. He has published seventeen books including the novel Brahmadellarnir which was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Counsel’s Literary Prize and is forthcoming in English as The Brahmadells from Open Letter.

Jóanes Nielsen
Photo by Randi Ward

About the Translator & Co-translators

Matthew Landrum.jpg

Translator Matthew Landrum holds an MFA from Bennington College. His translations of Jóanes Nielsen have appeared in Image Journal, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Michigan Quarterly Review. He is author of the chapbook The Homeland (Cold Hub Press)translations from the German of Katharina Müller. He lives in Detroit.

Tóta Árnadóttir.png



Co-translator Tóta Árnadóttir holds an MA in Faroese language and literature from the Faroese University, where she is currently an assistant professor in oral tradition.



Co-translator Paula Gaard holds an MA in Faroese literature and language from the Faroese University, where she is currently doing a Ph.d. in literary reviews.

Paula Gaard


About the Artwork

The artwork is an untitled painting by John J. Donnelly, oilbar on wood panel, 6×6 inches, from his Chasing Faroe series. Other Donnelly paintings are a feature on each poem by Jóanes Nielsen.

John Donnelly.jpgJohn Donnelly holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Recently he created an installation of 1000 of his paintings and drawings, Chasing Faroe, stemming from a four week residency to the Faroe Islands while sailing aboard the ship, Johanna. Other residencies and fellowships include The Skowhegan School of painting and Sculpture and The Vermont Studio Center.

Artist Statement // The Chasing Faroe series are oil painted works on paper, wood and wool, which speak to the pursuit of the transient nature of a place or an event in life. They document the memory of travel, or the imagining of a new destination on the line that divides the heavens and earth seemingly within our grasp yet unreachable. The surfaces of the paintings become both figurative and literal landscape with the resonance of a well-weathered wall. The paintings are arranged and pinned to the wall as evidence of an investigation. A delightful deterioration, of the scraped and sanded surfaces reveal embedded color striations and a history—a visual lapse of time. Consequently there is a descent into a more ambiguous space, which is beneath the surface on several levels, where form is no longer clear yet not melted away either, searching for a language to borrow to tell of the journey.

Appears In

Issue 2

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