Thoughts on Poetry

I love reading poetry. I like writing poetry.
I haven’t though, for quite a while, written a poem. It’s often as if the poem writes you, instead of you writing the poem. I know it’s sounds like a cliché but I don’t know how else to put it. Something overcomes you and you start to scribble down words and before you know it there is a pile of them trying to decide which way to lie.

Mostly, of course, I write poetry in Icelandic. Recently though I’ve written a few in Swedish. Rarely do I write poetry in English and up until now I haven’t exactly known why. It’s just been that way.

But last night as I lay in bed trying to sleep something occurred to me.

Could it be because of the rhythm of the spoken word?
My grasp of the English language is good but I mostly write prose. These days I rarely speak it. I do however speak Icelandic and Swedish quite a lot.

And poetry is all about rhythm. The rhythm in your language has to be special.

I grasp English better than Swedish but whereas I might not be able to write good prose in Swedish I do occasionally manage to put together a few Swedish words that sound good together. And to me that is a very important part of poetry.

But rhythm is essential in any writing, not just poetry and I do write a lot in English, so why not poetry?

It might simply be from lack of trying.
Whatever it is it seems to be my last outpost, an obstacle to climb.

Let me share with you two poems. One I wrote in English a while ago. It’s one of the few poems I’ve written in English that I do like.

Maybe I should become like Charles Bukowski

Maybe I should become like Charles Bukowski.
I would write self satisifed poetry,
like a drunk who knows better how to put one word after the other
than how to put one foot infront of the other.
I would built degenerate sandcastles and be happy with where I was
even in the mud
in the puddles
on the street.

Maybe I should become like Charles Bukowski.
Drink sangria in a topless bar
just to feel the taste of the beach
in the gutter.

Maybe I should become like Charles Bukowski
be pissed of at Camus and love Kafka only for his filth.
Maybe I should change and become a shovenist with an attitude
and do nothing but write, drink and lay.
Maybe I should become like Charles Bukowski
and see the soul in everyman
no matter their mask.

Maybe I should
but you know that I won’t.
Maybe I should
but the part that has it in me
dies thousand deaths each time I read him.

The next one is a translation from a poem I wrote in Icelandic and translated. It is an art in itself to translate poetry, perhaps the hardest thing a translator ever has to do and many don’t, of course. And I struggle with it. I have changed it slightly from the original version and although the rhythm is different it is essentially the same original Icelandic poem.

The Poetry Dragon

I have a dragon living in the attic
it feeds on verse
and very big words.

is its favorite
the dragon slurped and swallowed
the word lasted a week.

Have you ever seen a dragon slaughter words?

It is a beastly sight
when it ramms its teeth deep into the letters
tearing them apart from one another.

Afterwards it chews the cud for a long time
until there is nothing left
the letters melt like a lump of sugar
in the mouth of a child.

When it starts to devour poetry
there is nothing that can stop it
roaring, it attacks
starting with the props and the head-staves
then it gnaws through the rhyme
and the verbs, the nouns and the adjectives
until nothing is left
but the dot at the end.

As I was translating this it hit me that it wasn’t mainly the rhythm that was different in the two poems. There are thoughts that are so different in one language that they seem almost impossible to relay in the other (read a little about props and head-staves here). And perhaps that’s where the shoe pinches? So far mostly what I’ve tried to do is translate poems that I’ve found “worked” from Icelandic and into English – rarely have I let the English steer the words and the rhythm but tried to force something “foreign” upon it.

And poetry can never be forced…!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. E-J says:

    Fascinating thoughts here.

    I have long since given up attempting to write poetry because I was so embarrassingly bad at it, but I do think it’s possible that you might never find a natural “fit” between your feel for English and your feel for poetry. It’s maybe analogous to the differences between various painting and drawing media. If I take a ballpoint pen or artist’s crayon I can end up doing imaginative or abtract stuff, while soft pastels take me to very traditional subjects: still lifes, flowers, etc. To an extent, the medium is dictating what it wants me to create. I told a colleague once that I found this a bit odd. He shrugged and said, “It makes sense. You wouldn’t play Slayer on an acoustic guitar.”

    Now, of course, I’m just itching to hear Slayer unplugged. 🙂


    1. Eygló Daða says:

      I like that idea. Which makes me wonder why different languages would be so different. It is in the feel of it (being born with a language is always best when it comes to that) but there is something more there…! I like the idea of different mediums making different things- it makes a lot of sense.

      And now I have that Slayer itch as well! 😉


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