fallen / spoken

“fallen / spoken ” began with the discovery of the book valda dikter by par lagerkvist at a used bookstore. i had been looking for lagerkvist’s poems in english ever since discovering his novels around 1988; and finding the book on a shelf in a frequent used book haunt seemed to be an incredible find until i opened the book to discover it was the original swedish with no english translation. still, i couldn’t leave without it, and was hoping at some point to use it to trigger a series of visual works, maybe finding some way of using the swedish text as a score. for years it sat gathering dust in my studio until one day i happened to try reading the swedish out loud.

after listening to the words, i decided to try an “intuitive translation” – to find corresponding words in swedish and english based on their sounds and visual make-up. the title was easy – valda just kind of sounded like fallen, and dikter seemed related to diction, which i shifted to the word spoken. i was unsure of the idea of creating a dictionary, as i felt that it would have a tendency to lead the translations towards nonsense – and what i really wanted was for the new poems to exist within the landscape of lagerkvist’s writing… which i love very much.

even though i hardly considered myself a writer at the time, i didn’t want the idea to be the center of the work, as much as i really wanted his poems to generate my own – so that my own poems could never have been possible without conversing with the originals, and i wanted the results to be bound to the originals. in a lot of ways the ideas that came out of the writing had an enormous impact upon the trajectory of my visual works; where text no longer had a visual role, but evolved into the guiding principle of the works’ hidden structures, translation systems and scores…

for some reason, once i began to write, i decided to do the translations in the book itself. it was difficult to find logic in certain words and their use, especially when in a single poem, a specific word would be repeated many times. the first poem – angest, angest ar min arvedel – went relatively smoothly, in that angest could easily become angels, and min became small (related to miniature), and arvedel sounded a lot like marvelous… so the title became angels, angels small and marvelous… and then, rather easily: sar became stars, strupes became stripes, varlden became verdancy, and so on.

some of the poems flowed like water, while others felt like clapping hands and making no sound. i’ve been conversing with both my own texts and the swedish originals for nearly 12 years, and i am hoping at some point to finish the task…

two translations:

angels, angels small and marvelous

angels, angels small and marvelous,
small group of stars,
with glowing skin of verdancy.

your vine laden sky
and mitten covered hands,
your sticks of silver
and stones of gold
as large as mountains
have no value.

for your heart is everything,
your silence, spark of stillness!

that familiar sound i hear while drinking rum,
that clean dripping water moving through my finger,
that river moving upstream through my hand
where blood leaves motionless frozen traces.

now, my voice slides from your fingertips,
my hand’s river goes slowly, over

the breath of morning fog
the hills of colored yarn
and the garden of clouds!

angels, angels small and marvelous,
small group of stars,
with glowing skin of verdancy.

the loser sits sullen with sad blond hair

the loser sits sullen with sad blond hair
frost at his graying temples
his thoughts blossom – glimmering
over better days and other tall mountains.

over a tank full of water, swimming for days
through blooming green kelp,
the loser is lost in the truth of a woman’s rose like face,
though men foretold him of this dreaming.

over ladders of smoke, smog and air,
over ladders far above the wind.
the songs of the barren are quietly sung
while gentle lichen are swirling.

men have taken the woman away;
should he be happy or sad?

above the darkened sky the north star is feeling
the coldness of weightless gathering.

the loser sits, hair like butter, and waits,
while moments slowly tremble;
dreaming of verdant skies and floating clouds
and rays of sunlight glimmering.