Matthew Landrum and Sámal Soll translating Katrin Ottarsdóttir

HOUSE

a house
six outside doors
seventeen inside doors
twenty-three keyholes

so many doors to lock
so many doors to kick
and slam open or shut
only one of them was permitted to do that
only she
not he
and not the child

so many keyholes
so many near-identical keys
and the child didn’t know which was which
only she
and sometimes he

doors leading to wailing and gnashing of teeth
heady impotence echoing through the keyholes
cursing of feet against a rickety hollow core door
nights full of pent up sounds from doors
but no keys

so many doors
still he had to climb through the basement window
the same window every time
under the stairs where nobody could see him
after all it was a disgrace

and the child was left behind
 


HÚS

eitt hús
seks úthurðar
seytjan innihurðar
trýogtjúgu lyklarhol

so nógvar hurðar at læsa
so nógvar hurðar at sparka
og bresta upp og aftur
men tað slapp bara ein
hon
ikki hann
ikki barnið

so nógv lyklarhol
so nógvir næstan sama slag lyklar
men barnið kendi ikki lyklarnar
bara hon
onkuntíð hann

hurðar inn til grát og tannagrísl
ørandi máttloysi ekkóandi gjøgnum lyklarholini
syngjandi leysir hurðaklædningar fullir av forbannilsum
nætur fullar av innistongdum hurðaljóðum
men ongir lyklar

so nógvar hurðar
álíkavæl mátti hann fara út gjøgnum vindeygað í kjallaranum
sama vindeygað hvørja ferð
undir trappuni har ongin sá
tað var jú skomm

men eftir stóð barnið

WALLS

hope sits in the walls
of the house
where tears
rage
pain
hold sway

joy is an outlaw here
together with stiff smiles it stamps out the rhythm
of a mad dance in darkened room
snight and day
so that children become adults before the sun rises
and adults lose faith in themselves again

despair is best friends with fatigue
added together they make impotence
which mercilessly takes its seat in the house
so that he and she
no longer can bear to see the child
sitting in the walls waiting for them



VEGGIR

vónin situr í veggjunum í húsunum
har tárini
øðin
pínan
hava valdið

gleðin er friðleys
saman við stívnaðu smílunum trampar hon rútmuna
í ørliga dansinum í myrku rúmunum
nátt og dag
so børn gerast vaksin áðrenn sólin rísur
og vaksin aftur missa álitið á sær sjálvum

vónloysið er besti vinur hjá møðini
saman skapa tey máttloysi
sum uttan náði fær sær sess í húsunum
so hann og hon
ikki longur orka at síggja barnið
sum situr inni í veggjunum og bíðar eftir teimum

KEYS

numberless doors
that forced him
to climb out the window
when he wanted out
all the way out

implacable doors
between him
and her and joy
and then the child
that damn child

doors to pass through
and never return
back through
empty handed when the world sticks out its tongue
and spreads its legs for you
and wants to be taken right then and there
and people are starving
and getting murdered
and can’t afford keys or salt

so the child thought
looking out the window
for footprints
in long since melted snow

doors to lock
with jangling keys that came at a price
that never fit into a child’s small pockets
because doors lock both ways
every way
from the inside and outside
backwards and forwards

to come to a locked door
meant something in that house

can we go now
asked the child
if the door lets us
he answered

she didn’t reply
because the keys were so loud
and in that moment
the lord was no longer lord of the keys

once the child left
and almost couldn’t find the way back
 again



LYKLAR

óteljandi hurðar
sum noyddu hann
at fara út gjøgnum vindeygað tá hann vildi út
heilt út

hóttandi hurðar
millum hann
og hana og eydnuna
og so barnið
á hatta ólukksáliga barnið

hurðar at fara út ígjøgnum
og aldrin koma aftur
aftur
sum av torvheiðum tá verðin gálvar og gleivar
og vil verða tikin her og nú
og menniskju svølta og verða dripin
og ikki hava ráð til lyklar og salt

soleiðis hugsaði barnið
og hugdi út gjøgnum vindeygað
eftir fótafetum í kavanum
sum langt síðani var horvin

hurðar at steingja
við illsintum dýrgoldnum lyklum
ið aldrin passa niður í smáar barnalummar
tí hurðarnar steingja báðar vegir
allar vegir
inneftir og úteftir
frameftir og aftureftir

at koma á stongdar dyr
hevði ein serligan týdning í hesum húsinum
fara vit nú
spurdi barnið
um hurðin vil
svaraði hann

hon segði onki
tí lyklarnir larmaðu so illa
og beint tá
var harrin ikki harri yvir lyklunum longur

einaferð fór barnið
og mundi ikki funnið aftur
aftur

LUDO

they embrace on the kitchen floor
he
and she
her fury has passed for now
the quarrel seeps through the walls
and into the floor

the child just stands there
watching
holding their breath
is allowed a goodnight hug
wants to
doesn’t want to
play the game anymore

at any moment fatigue will come
and the game of ludo beneath the kitchen lamp
where darkness holds sway
on the red wax tablecloth

they let their thoughts keep an eye on each other
the game is more than a game
an entirely different game
a dangerous game
no longer a game of ludo
but a deadly game of reality set to explod

ea look
a tic
a breathless yawn
a father’s fragile eyes almost smiling
a childish giggle that lasted too long
or too briefly
can send it all to hell so that doors slam again

and make things break
around them
inside them

so here they sit again
he and the child
sick to their stomachs
as the night laughs



LUDO

tey klemmast á køksgólvinum
hann
og hon
øðin er uppi fyri hesa ferð
klandrið seyrar út gjøgnum veggirnar
niður í gólvið

barnið stendur bara har
hyggur
heldur ondini
sleppur álíkavæl upp í klemmið í nátt
vil
vil ikki
spæla spælið longur

um eina løtu kemur møðin
og ludospælið undir lampuni
har náttin ræður
á reyða voksdúkinum

tey lata tankarnar ansa eftir hvørjum øðrum
spælið er ikki bara spæl
eitt heilt annað spæl
vandamikið spæl
ikki ludospæl
deyðiligt veruleikaspæl sum hvørja løtu kann bresta

ARE COPPER PIPES IN HEAVEN

do they use copper pipes anymore
or are they banned because she used them
to terrorize him

anyone can learn to use copper pipes to terrorize someone

beg god for a two-story house
a man who locks himself in the basement
looking for fugitive rest in a narrow bedroom
that’s right beneath the kitchen

don’t forget the copper pipes

the man doesn’t dare count the darkened hours
because the banished sun will surprise him again
and you must always be ill-tempered and insomniac

when the fight is finished and you yet again
have beat him into himself
or have attacked him with a knife
and he wounded in body and soul has gone to sleep in the basement
turn on all the taps
let the water creak its dizzying angel song through golden copper pipes
and don’t forget to flush all the toilets at the same time
so that the heavenly demon will gurgle in the cisterns
unceasingly

the kitchen is the highlight
let the tap sharpen its glass-shard spear on the steel sink
please don’t turn it up too much
let the water stream spine-snappingly sharp
so it becomes unbearable
unavoidable
just over the head of the man
who is still fumbling for a pitiless sleep

the chair’s restless metal feet are waiting too
drag them across the floor
teeth-grindingly against the linoleum
again and again
and again
all night

do it all night long
which you’re more than capable of

the stage is set
your heavenly stage
it’s all up to you now
and the endless yards of thin copper pipe
inside the walls
and beneath the floorboards of the house
to set the balance
make the water sing just the right
ominous tune
so lovely
so endlessly sad to the ears
his ears
as he lies awake staring at the ceiling
just below you and the kitchen
with his big dry eyes
unable to ask
why
as they sink into a stiffened resin flux on the wooden ceiling
and forget any thought of the child
who is lying alone in between the copper pipes
singing so it will remember

everything



ERU KOPARRØR Í HIMMIRÍKI

brúka tey koparrør longur
ella blivu tey bannað tí hon brúkti tey
at terrorisera hann við

øll kunnu læra at terrorisera við koparrørum

bið guð um eini hús í tveimum hæddum
ein mann sum læsir seg inni í kjallaranum
leitandi eftir friðleysari hvíld í einum trongum kamari
sum altíð má liggja beint undir køkinum

gloym ikki koparrørini

maðurin torir ikki at telja myrkaløgdu tímarnar
tí bannsetta sólin fer enn einaferð at taka hann á bóli
og ringa lagið má vera á tær sum aldrin fer í song

tá bardagin er av og tú enn einaferð
hevur sparkað hann inn í seg sjálvan
ella hevur lagt á hann við knívi
og hann særdur uppá likam og sál er tørnaður inn í kjallaranum
koyr so allar kranar frá
lat vatnið gnísta sín ørandi einglasang í gyltu koparrørunum

gloym heldur ikki at skola øll vesini niður í senn
so himmalski demonurin kann surkla í sisternum
uttan íhald

køkurin er hæddarpunktið
lat kranan hvessa sítt spíska glarspjót móti stálvaskinum
koyr endiliga ikki ov hart
frá lat vatnstráluna vera akkurát so mønustingandi hvassa
at hon verður mest óúthaldilig
óundansleppilig
beint yvir høvdinum á honum
sum enn trilvar eftir náðileysu hvíldini

metalbeinini á stólunum bíða ótolin
drag tey aftur og fram eftir gólvinum
tannapínugríslandi móti linoliinum
umaftur og umaftur
og umaftur
alla náttina
endiliga alla hesa friðsælu nátt
sum tú orkar so væl

Translators' Note

Rare sunlight lit the green fields and grass roofed houses of the valley below and pooled in rectangles on the wood floor of my co-translator Sámal Soll’s kitchen floor. We riffed back and forth on idioms and phrasing and debated meanings trying to suss our way through Katrin Ottarsdóttir’s poetry collection, Are there Copper Pipes in Heaven. In it Ottarsdóttir pries back the screen of privacy to reveal the dark and dysfunctional private life of a home where a mentally unstable, drug abusing mother terrorizes her weak husband and neglects her daughter.

This book is the most confessional and auto-biographical poetry ever published in Faroe. In a country that is also a small town and no one is farther than a degree or two of acquaintance or relation, a country where poetry sells just as well as novels, this style is controversial. When I told people I was translating Are there Copper Pipes in Heaven, I got a mixed response. Quite a few people said something to the effect of, “she’s very talented but I don’t know about her writing about this.” A few said, “my parents knew her parents and they don’t see the situation the way she writes it.” It wasn’t the controversy or the shock—which comes through even to an English speaker accustomed to confessional poetry— that drew me in. It was the spare sparse language and the overarching vision of the Ottarsdóttir’s verse. I sank into it and tried to put myself there, a fly on the wall of that house.

Sámal and I got through half of the manuscript that day. We went back and forth and
tense issues, idioms, and biblical references. One thing that kept tripping us up is gender transference. In Faroese, all children are referred to with the pronoun “it” since child is a neuter word. In English, this brings to mind the book A Child Called It. Though this book is about domestic abuse, that gives the wrong sense. We opted for referring to the child as “she” but were later corrected by the author who explained that he (the father), she (the mother), and it (the child) represent a trinity. She was insistent that only the mother had the right to the pronoun “she.” It’s this give and take between the original language and the target language where the impossibility of translation becomes apparent. It’s also where translation becomes the most fun – how to solve the puzzle in the best way possible, even when the pieces won’t fit perfectly? Those sunlit hours translating poetry in the islands of fog were almost hypnotic. And that liminal space of light and language and conversation is to me what translating is all about.

When we’d finished the day’s work and had dinner, I asked Sámal to point out my way home to downtown Tórshavn. “This may sound a bit Holmesian,” he said, “but look down toward the black falls. Do you see that man in a black trenchcoat? Follow the trail he’s on.”

Matthew Landrum

Matthew Landrum holds and MFA from Bennington College. His translations from Faroese have recently appeared in Asymptote Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, Image Journal, and Modern Poetry in Translation. He lives in Detroit.

Sámal Soll

Sámal Soll is a Faroese writer and translator. His first short story collection titled Glasbúrið was published in 2015. He has an MA degree in English Language and Literature from Aalborg University in Denmark and has just completed a degree in Faroese Language at the Faroese University in the Faroe Islands. He is currently working on a translation of Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time. You can read more about his work at www.samalsoll.wordpress.com.

Katrin Ottarsdóttir

Katrin Ottarsdóttir is a pioneer in Faroese filmmaking and has made several feature films, documentaries, shorts etc., e.g. the award winning feature films Atlantic Rhapsody (1989), Bye Bye Blue Bird (1999), and LUDO (2014). Born 1957 in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands, she studied film directing at the National Danish Film School. She debuted as a writer in 2012 with the poetry collection Are Copper Pipes In Heaven (awarded the Faroese Litterature Award 2013). In 2015 she published the poetry collection Mass For A Film, and in 2016 a collection of short stories, After Before.

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