Interview with Jennifer Hayashida

Calque 3 featured poems by Fredrik Nyberg, from A Different Practice and Clockwork of Flowers - Explanations and Poems, translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida. A Different Practice will be published by Ugly Duckling Presse this February.

Calque: You recently attempted to interview Fredrik Nyberg. What did this exchange teach you about the poet and his work?

Jennifer Hayashida: This is a kind of circuitous answer… When I first began to translate, I made a conscious decision to work primarily with living writers. I completed my translation of A Different Practice in 2004, and when I got in touch with Norstedts, the Swedish publisher, they put me in contact with Fredrik. When you asked me to do this interview, I went through some of my initial correspondence with him and was reminded that he to begin with was quite surprised that I wanted to translate Practice; he had at that point completed two more collections, and to him, Practice was “dead.” At first, I was disheartened by his response; to me, Practice was such a lovely and intelligent piece of work, and I hadn’t really developed a relationship to his subsequent books. Our exchanges initially centered on individual poems, and after a while, we took on the collection in its entirety. I feel like I not only had to gain his trust as a translator, but that I also had to convince him that the book was far from dead. As I review the old correspondence, I see us gradually becoming more comfortable with each other: his comments becoming more direct, my questions less oblique. Even though I had initially felt that the translation was completed, our e-mail exchanges quickly showed me that I was nowhere near done: although he liked the translation overall, he had questions and comments about some of my decisions, and he was also eager to explain the context of some of the pieces so that I could better grasp the origins of his word choices.

So, when we finally met last summer, I had very high expectations, but of course meeting in person is very different from e-mail banter, and I think we were both as tentative as we were in the beginning of our e-mailing. I think I was initially surprised by how the poems somehow felt like a very separate part of our conversation: we talked about his collaborations with sound artists, his kids, making a living as a Swedish poet, and he described his experience visiting New York in September of 2001. We didn’t, in the end, really discuss individual poems. We talked a lot about scaffolding, about the conceptual structures that have followed since Practice – scientific nomenclature and taxonomy, figures from history and family – and as a poet, I found it very helpful to learn more about the methods he finds generative for writing.

Calque: What kind of particularly Swedish or Scandinavian poetic tradition is Nyberg writing into and/or out of?

Hayashida: I know less about Swedish and Scandinavian poetic traditions than I’d like for people to know – perhaps not a good thing, then, to reveal in an interview – but I feel (based solely on citations in each collection) that Fredrik’s work is in dialogue with Swedish poets such as Göran Sonnevi, Bengt Emil Johnson, and Marie Silkeberg. Regarding influences and/or traditions, though, one of the things that’s exciting for me as a translator is that Fredrik has a – to me, more explicit – relationship to writers like Roubaud, Ashbery, and Susan Howe. Because he sometimes borrows lines from other writers, I come up against these really interesting intertextual moments where I am forced to reckon with someone else’s translation of, say, Howe, and thus borrow another translator’s translation. When I was working on Clockwork of Flowers, I happened to be in Paris on vacation. For some reason, I unexpectedly had to send off an excerpt from the translation, and had to hustle to get it in shape. The missing piece of the introduction to the collection, “Prologue,” was a quote from Ashbery’s Hotel Lautréamont. As a result, I hunted all over Paris to find the English original and eventually found myself in the library of the Centre Pompidou, stepping over students who were hanging out among the stacks, and was then able to include the correct version of the English rather than my back-translation from the Swedish. The anecdote has less to do with the translation than it does with the fact that the library was packed with people in a way I’d never seen a library be packed before, and I always think that if I could, I’d love to go back there again.

Calque: Tell us something about Nyberg's recent book, It won't be fair just because both close their eyes. Are you translating it?

Hayashida: When Fredrik and I met, one of the things he said to me was that he felt that It won’t be fair… is closer in spirit to A Different Practice, and I'll admit that the process of translating It won’t be fair… has been pleasurable in the same way that working on Practice was. It’s kind of contradictory, but from a translating point of view, the serialized poems (i.e. the bulk of the poems in Clockwork) can feel kind of predictable, where the knowledge that they are part of an overarching concept for some reason takes the novelty out of the approach to each poem. It sounds strange – after all, each poem is still an individual piece, whether part of a bigger project or not – but I say that only because working on It won’t be fair…, which has a greater number of freestanding poems, has felt much more exciting. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the context for each poem feels new – what I was saying earlier about the origins of Fredrik’s word choices – and so the approach to each poem feels less like re-calibrating a machine and more like an opening onto something new. Having said that, I of course want to add that I really love the poems in Clockwork – they aren’t machine-like in the least – and that these thoughts have more to do with translating than with reading, even if translating is the closest form of reading I know.

Calque: In the introduction to the selections from A Different Practice and Clockwork of Flowers - Explanations and Poems published in Calque 3 you speak some about how translation affects your own poetry. Could you show us a couple of poems where this happens?

Hayashida: I think the influences are more apparent to me than they are to others. As I mentioned earlier, I’m really interested in the relationship between systems (and then especially taxonomy or indexes) as generative structures for writing; however, whereas Fredrik’s work reveals those systems, I find that my poems eventually obscure them. I may begin in response to a more ordered concept, but the writing inevitably takes a turn where that concept falls away and no longer shows up in the final piece. The poems I’m including here – “Variations: M.K.” and “A Machine Wrote this Song” – both started off in response to a quote or concept, but “Variations” is the only one that, to me, gives it away, and then in the most oblique sense. I am loath to write poems about writing, but because that poem consists solely of found text, I can live with it. “A Machine Wrote this Song” has more to do with the kind of spatial, public/private concerns that come up in Fredrik’s later work, especially his most recent collection, It won’t be fair...

I don’t know if this is a particularly Swedish thing, what I see as a private gaze looking out on public space, superimposing domestic concerns onto an external, public, reality. Privacy, to me, means something very different in the U.S. than it does in Sweden, where it’s not guarded with the same kind of political and legal vigilance, perhaps because the concept of the common good remains a central part of Swedish national ideology. Private interests are more or less expected to somehow intersect with collective needs, and so private concerns are more easily attached to public welfare. I guess I’m thinking of lines like “…The private can like a map/be unfolded in the wind,” from “From The Year East” in Clockwork, and also the closing sequence of poems from the new collection, a suite entitled “Red Days,” which is a reference to how holidays are marked in the Swedish calendar, as they are in most calendars, I suppose. Rather than “holiday,” though, many people simply say that a day is a “red day,” and that usually, then, means that you have the day off. On a side note, days that are not holidays but fall between, say, a Sunday and a “red day” are called “squeeze days” (klämdag) because they are squeezed between two days when you may not have to work.

Calque: What are you working on now?

Hayashida: I am just now starting to feel done with Clockwork, and am trying to place it with a publisher. I have started work on the most recent collection, but feel a little bit strange about the fact that I’ve largely neglected Fredrik’s second book, The Years. When he and I met, we talked about how that book was the one that had a kind of tough critical reception, and I have to admit that I’ve had a hard time wrapping my mind around it. Interestingly enough, some of the poems are from when Fredrik was in upstate New York, although that has little to do with translation, I suppose. I want to sit down and really re-examine it, though, since I feel that my understanding of the other three books can help me get into it. Now that the semester started up again, though, I’m short on time to translate or do reading that’s not for work. I am, however, really enjoying working on It won’t be fair…, not only because of the title, but because it, to me, bears a more direct relationship to the concerns in Practice, and I can really start to see an arc in terms of Fredrik’s poetic concerns and experimentation. As a translator, it was very easy for me to inhabit the poems in the first collection, and I suppose I feel that same kind of ease in relation to It won’t be fair…

* * *

Variations: M.K.

A system of omissions
produced and positioned, authorial
work of the artist, of the image
How are we erased
in practice, in gaps?
Images, the emphasis of writing
reproduced points of the visible, outlined
as readers are erased
A question pertains to a particular, the book
reproduced as the image of the system, the critic
points and emphasis is erased
Readers are the work
writing the erased text of omissions
Pictorial emphasis reproduced, visible practices
outline the writing
Writing is erased by the book
Work is erased by the visible
now How is the system?
Erased emphasis is certain through gaps
the artist constructs a question
of the author, the reader, and the text

A Machine Wrote this Song

People live in stations like they never had mothers or fathers
National Guardsmen in chubby camouflage pixels

Fit moms with legs like parentheses worry restroom machines
Olive and khaki static makes “leaves” and “branches”

Diapers are expensive, as are strollers and formula
Private in public means dermis on the train

Do people who say “home away from home” have homes to go to?
There is no formula for having children

Sexual dreams about machines pixilate the day
Stand in the aisle to save time

Worry less if the military formula looked more fit and less fake
Pixilated people usually carry deadly machines

Trains are not made for worry or for leaves or for branches
The song plays even though people live here

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