Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Bathroom Poetry Reading in Sweden

I am a bathroom reader. Magazines especially, but books also. Of course Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers are classic. So when I find myself in a foreign bathroom I am always appreciative when there are reading materials strewn about. Magazines are the easiest of course, but I believe that those bathrooms that have actual books in them show some real thought. It’s as if they knew I would be there.

And so it was that I found myself reading a bathroom poetry book. In Swedish.

Now, as I have mentioned before, I consider myself pretty fluent in the Swedish language. My speaking skills are so that I can fool most Swedes into thinking I’m Swedish for a little while at least. My reading and writing continue to improve and are by no means equal to my English reading and writing skills, which still chaps my ass to be honest, but I’ll settle for improvement.

Anyway, reading poetry in my native language is not something I do on a regular basis. I have a few favorites that have stuck with me from all of the schooling (“What work is” by Philip Levine, “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas, and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley), but I don’t seek out poetry of my own accord. Which might be a shame.

But even when reading poetry in English, I sometimes struggle to delve into the deeper symbolism that every literature teacher would have me believe is there. Mostly because sometimes I just want to believe that the author wrote what he meant. And the tree is just a tree. The whole say what you mean and mean what you say thing brought up Lewis Carroll. What it really boils down to is that I have become so intent on extracting a deeper meaning from poetry that I tend to just avoid it.

But in the bathroom it couldn’t be avoided. So I grabbed the book and flipped through the pages a bit. Browsing if you will. Because reading poetry is one thing. Reading poetry in another language is a very different thing. I wanted something that I could ease myself in with.

And there she was. Eeva Kilpi. Finnish. Born in 1928. And one of the best poems I have ever seen. Short and sweet. And simple. Whether this was written in Swedish or translated to Swedish I don’t know. But either way it was glorious: “Ring mig innan världen exploderar/vi säger hejdå.”

And that’s it. “Call me before the world explodes/we’ll say goodbye.”

That’s good stuff.

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  1. Poetry when good is like food, leaves you satisfied in way.
    One of my favorite Swedish poems must be "Ja visst gör det ont" by Karin Boye. In English it's "America" by Allen Ginsberg

  2. Ernest Hemingway claimed that his best work was a story he wrote in just six words:

    "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

    Conjures up powerful thoughts and images, isn't it?

  3. Poems are terrific but they need too much of my brain capasity. Even my own poems are not 'real' poems, since they are more like wysiwyg stories and thoughts. It's me who's to blame this time. Poetry is plain beautiful.

  4. I think Eeva Kilpi wrote everything in Finnish. If you are interested in more modern Finnish LOVE poetry, read some of Tommy Tabermann. That should do the trick, at least my wife likes his stuff.

  5. @freya - well said. and I actually know a bit of boye. read a bit of her stuff at university actually a bit of poetry and then Kallocain.

    @mogli - thats good stuff right there. stig dagerman has a short story that is very simple, short, and powerful. Att döda ett barn.

    @smek - see I think thats why I like the short ones. dont have to use so much of my brain. good work on the info about Finnish poetry too. Ill have to check it out.

  6. Your post is now up on the Carnival of Embarrassing Stories here:

    Thanks for submitting!

  7. Hmm... I love that poem... and poetry is love, by the way.

  8. @emily - yeah woo!

    @nereid - it is good stuff. and that was deep. and simple. I like it.

  9. Din översättning fick mig att se dikten i ett helt nytt ljus. Då var det ändå säkert 20 år sen jag läste den för första gången.

  10. very cool to hear. it really is an amazing short poem.