Forsla Fett/Transfer Fat – by Aase Berg

by on Feb.03, 2012

If you go to the Ugly Duckling website you can now buy my translation of Aase Berg’s 2002 book Forsla fett (Transfer Fat). I have written quite a bit about this book in the past, in part because’s it’s a great book and in part because translating it really led me to develop my ideas about translation more than any other text. It’s in some ways about translation (transferring fat so to speak). Though I remember when Aase first sent me the book, she told me that it was probably impossible to translate. And whenever I talk to Swedes, they express skepticism about translating such a dense, loaded text with such an unstable, slippery, punny, interlingual use of language. For the book, I wrote an afterword on “an ambient theory of transation” that I developed as part of the process (over years!) of translating the text. I’ll post that in the future.

[I also want to note that I should have – but forgot to – acknowledge in the book that British poet Michael Peverett was a great help to me in this process, reading through various drafts and making invaluable comments.]

For now, a few contextual sentences. This book was published in 2002 originally. It was quite a break from her past books (Hos Rådjur 1996, published by Black Ocean in 2009 in my translation as With Deer; and Mörk materia 1999, to be published this fall as Dark Matter by Black Ocean). The first two books are incredibly visceral, visual books; prose poems stuffed and contorted with hallucinations. In Forsla fett, the poems are short, sparse little echo chambers.

This is how she put it in a brief essay for the online journal Double Room:

As my two first books were in many ways waking dreams or hallies [hallucinations], it was natural for me to use the prose poem format. The things I wanted to show were accompanied by a pounding rhythm. And they were almost sickeningly kitschy. The rhythmic and screamily exaggerated word-images gave birth to the form– there was no talk about choosing the right form for the content. Form and content came together.

In my third book I started to compress and ended up in the form of the pure lyric. I wanted to see how much mass I could push into every word. It was also the path to images that were more open, images that yearned to become dance or music. Like small imploded stars I imagined them, insignificant but – were one to weigh them– very heavy. Like small pigs in a sack, a mixture of brawl and tenderness.

One thing that went into this shift is that Aase had a kid and simply did not have time to lose herself in these hallucinatory “worlds” of the first two books. Instead she wrote them largely while taking a break from parenting – she would write the poem in part while going for swims in the community swimming pool (thus perhaps the echoey/lullabye quality), so perhaps this book could be said to be in communication with the strand of poetry Steve Burt has called “mommy poetry” (or the poems in the Fence anthology of poets writing about motherhood).

But there was already a shift towards these echoey lyrics at the end of Dark Matter, so it’s not the full reason for the shift. As in Dark Matter, there is also a lot of appropriation (of string theory and astronomy, B-movies, Solaris etc), but the language tends to be even more charged with puns and “vibribrations” (ie “fat”), more sonically focused. She has also told me that reading Susan Howe had a big influence on her work.

With this weird little book, Aase actually earned a kind of mainstream acclaim, going from more of an obscene underground figure to getting nominated for Augustpriset (their pulitzer) to everyone’s surprise. She’s now a very prominent Swedish poets. As I noted in a post a few days ago, she won Aftonbladet’s prize for best book of poetry of the year.

Anyway, I’ll have more to say about this book later and feel free to ask me about any questions you may have. Aase and I are doing a chat with Rumpus later this month, so I’ll post the results from that.

I’m really pleased with all the positive feedback so far, and I’m really happy that Ugly Duckling and Black Ocean are putting out these books that I’ve spent many many years translating. To me Aase Berg has been one of the most essential poets around the world from the past 15 years, and hopefully these books will bring her more readers.

Here are the blurbs from the back of the book:

“Transfer Fat distends time-space, makes it seize, stutter, and repeat itself. These minute (in-)verses offer temporary microarchitectures no bigger than a duct, an eyelash or a black radioactive grain which might collapse or reboot the Universe in the very next frame. But not here, not yet, where ‘rabies is freedom/in the Year of the Hare//here in the black fathermilk/of loneliness.'”
—Joyelle McSweeney

“The super-electron microscope Berg has used in her research shows the world’s smallest particles—the vibrations of strings (belly buttons, violin strings, super strings)—announce that matter is music and music is language and language is matter. As in the singularity of a black hole, the reader will find that time and space have become one, and that there are words in all directions.”
—Daniel Sjölin

“Johannes Göransson’s translations of Aase Berg are themselves a kind of gorgeous, dripping fat transference, a ‘carry[ing of the] smelt / across the hard lake,’ an extra, extra ‘pouring’ of the ‘runny body.’ Görannson’s radical theories of translation, as satanic addition and glorious mutation, are at their absolute best in Transfer Fat. And Berg’s ‘meat which flows / between the fingers’ is fat to bursting with the sick, slick permeations and violent political possibilities of language/bodies gone haywire. Make that hare-wire.”
—Kate Durbin

5 comments for this entry:
  1. don mee

    Thank you and congratulations! Fantastic blurbs. I can’t wait to read your translations and afterword. I am ordering my copy from Open Books.

  2. Kent Johnson

    Congratulations, Johannes. I look forward to getting this in my next UDP sub mailing!


  3. Lara Glenum

    I’m peeing in my shoe with excitement!

  4. Kent Johnson

    Worth peeing about in one’s shoe, too… Claudius App, issue #2:

  5. Derek White

    Really looking forward to this.