I Know the Word “Stradivarius”: Why I Chose Aase Berg’s Transfer Fat for The Rumpus Poetry Book Club

by on Jan.17, 2012

Article on Rumpus about Aase Berg’s Transfer fat (which I translated).


This month at The Rumpus Poetry Book Club we’re going to talk about translation, hard work and why we love the sheep’s head. We’ll be looking at the work of Aase Berg, specifically her book, Transfer Fat, which has just been translated into English by Johannes Göransson and is being published by Ugly Duckling Presse. We’ve been wanting to talk about translation for a long time in the club but it’s a tricky business. If we were going to talk about translation we needed to be able to talk about the whole difficult, magical, risky process. It’s easier to end up disappointed in a translation: a can of something that sounds and sort of feels like a poem instead of the real, fallible, madething. For my part, I didn’t want to pick a translation until I could feel all the hands and voices involved. Everyone uses the words artisanal and sustainable these days but I’m not sure what they mean in a lot of those cases.

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    This is great Johannes. I am a Bibliophile Subscription supporter of UDP, so I’ll be seeing this book.

    In the spirit of translation, allow me to mention this: Issue #7 of the New Delhi journal Almost Island has just been released. Should Montevidayoans dip into its rich contents, I hope they might take a look at the translations I have there of Amanda Berenguer, one of Uruguay’s greatest poets of the past century. Her poem “The Asses of Bosch” is particularly “out there,” as is so much of her work. I’m currently preparing, with other translators, the first book selection of her work in English.

    Among other fine writers here, young and old, are Ben Lerner, Bhanu Kapil, Stephen Burt, Xi Chuan, Han Yu, Lucas Klein, David Herd, Ravi Shankar, and Michael Scharf. Further description of contents from the AI editors below.


    Dear friends,
    The seventh issue of Almost Island is now up. We wanted to do something different with this issue, to “talk” and to think. But what do you get writers—that most nebulous of designations anyway—to talk about? Which is also to begin by asking, what is it that makes “literature” a field, what is it that “literature” has to give? “Creative writing” is a term I’ve always detested and resented, so as an alternative I thought of the more modest word, “style”, knowing immediately the dangerous territory I was getting into. Yes, I know that we tend to think nowadays of style as an affectation, that style is not supposed to matter, and yet, it does, does it not? How would we revise and deepen our understanding of style’s microcosmic power?

    In the editorial for this issue you can see the provocation we sent out to a number of people; this was what came back. I don’t know that we’re much closer to understanding style, frankly, and still, what I can also say is that we got a fantastic and wide-ranging set of replies.

    Up front, I’m thrilled to have, very pertinently, Kent Johnson’s translations of the great Uruguayan poet, Amanda Berenguer, who has had very little presence in English before. Let me just say that these four poems produce in me a maddening desire to go and read everything Berenguer has ever written (and also to read Hotel Lautremont, Shearsman’s book of contemporary Uruguayan poetry just out, with its star cast of translators). There are more poems in the issue, including linguistic ecologies from a. rawlings’ epic in progress, The North Suite, and poems, followed by reflective notes on what it means to be singular and corporate, yourself and something more–by Ben Lerner, John McAuliffe, Stephen Burt and Xi Chuan.

    The last of those writers comes to us in a poem translated by Lucas Klein and separately in an essay written in English by the author himself, which tugs at, among other things, the touchy question – or sometimes imposed requirement – of a national style. (As a bonus, we have a piece by the Tang dynasty thinker Han Yu that, along with Han Yu’s bio note, illuminates a reference to him in Xi Chuan’s poem, its mock-staged-fight between poetry and thought in the Tang Dynasty.)

    This is an insistent burden, nation and style and inheritance, and it is explored further in pieces by Claudio Magris (on the relationship between language and literature), Nikhil Govind (on the “scars” the Hindi language carries), and Bernard Bate (on the poems and performances of the foundational Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi).

    Then, there are unsummarisable essays – short and long, lyrical, playful, brutal, careful – by Bhanu Kapil, Ravi Shankar and the Cybermohalla Ensemble that zoom out and zoom in from there.

    Do we learn anything fundamentally new or surprising about style, from the thrall of this issue? You tell me, please, but I would like to end by pointing to three remarkable essays that have shifted the ground a little for me: David Herd, Michael Scharf, and Sonam Kachru say so eloquently what I guess I knew but hadn’t quite realised: that style is not about unity and essence but about schizophrenia, disjunction, falling apart, holding and keeping at arm’s length. Kachru’s essay (about the texture of the Buddhist poet Asvaghosa’s Beautiful Nanda) tells me this over 60+ hard-won pages; be forewarned that, while not requiring prior knowledge of the language, this essay does require you to eventually chew for a while on the actual transliterated bark of the Sanskrit. It will reward your effort, for style exists nowhere but in the details.

    You may not agree, you may have more to add, and indeed you should. If you have any responses to the issue or to the initial provocation of the editorial, we’d be very happy to consider them: .

    –Vivek Narayanan, Co-Editor

  2. Johannes

    Yes, Kent, I read those poems. Liked them a lot.


  3. Michael Peverett

    Hey congratulations Johannes!! I’m so glad this book is finally being published and I’m thinking its meatsealedshudders will blow open just as many doors as With Deer did.

  4. Johannes

    Shoot, Michael, I had meant to thank you for all your help in the book but in the melee of the fall, I forgot to put that in. Well, make sure that you send me your current address and I”ll send you a copy.