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.
This poem celebrates the first modern Faroese poet, commonly called Janus Djurhuus (1881- 1948).
Where ships’ ladders hang and the century began
Where dreams loiter
Beneath boulders where blind creatures dwell
That’s where he came from
He still lingers in the streets
In a coat that smells of cigar-smoke and loneliness
His lovely insensitive no man’s land
The most renowned in our literature
The days were clauses
The nights words
Fingers crooked around lines
While others spanned rivers
He bridged nations
For a hundred years
The jester of the intellectual elite
Malicious, boozed up, intoxicated too
With love for his mother tongue
The smell of loneliness and cigars
Still lingers in the streets
Niðri ígjøgnum har leytararnir hanga og øldin byrjaði
Har dreymarnir drála
Undir steinunum har blindu verurnar halda til
Haðani kom hann
Framvegis rekst hann í gøtunum
Í frakkanum sum luktar av sigar og einsemi
Hansara fagra bonska ongamannaland
Hitt gitnasta í okkara bókmentum
Dagarnir vóru paragraffar Næturnar orð
Fingrar krøktir um reglur
Meðan aðrir bygdu brýr um áir
Reisti hann brýr millum lond
Í hundrað ár
Rukkan hjá intellektuellu elituni
Óndskapsfullur, hálvfullur, etandifullur
Eisini av kærleika til sítt móðurmál
Lukturin av einsemi og sigar
Rekst framvegis í gøtunum
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.
About the Translator & Co-translators
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.
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.
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 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.
Cagibi Issue 2
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