Aase Berg jedna je od najistaknutijih suvremenih švedskih pjesnikinja. Totalno je in u mnogim avant krugovima. Poezija gusta poput nafte. Na engleskom su izišle tri njezine zbirke. Najnovija je Transfer Fat.
"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.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).
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.
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." - Johannes Göransson
"I tend to think about the work of Aase Berg as gasoline: slick dark liquid fed from underground through machines into machines. Her lines read often like several hundred other lines condensed into thick cuts of petroleum, flammable and ripe. The images she tends toward lend themselves well to this sensation: fat stuffed with death, whales spurting rubber rooms, gorges overrun with multiplying ravenous guinea pigs, fur growing over water. Her language flails in little packets, objects that might seem tiny or translucent in how they sit surrounded with white space on the paper, though over time feeding in viral, connective ways. Get an Aase Berg book and leave it out on your desk and see what starts to happen to the words inside the files on your computer…
In Sweden, this is no secret. Since 1997, when her first book Hos rådjur was published by Bonnier, the largest and most esteemed publishing house there, Berg has been regarded as one of the most vital voices in operation; her poems have been broadcast via radio signal at the constellation Lyra. She is a founding member of the Surrealistgruppen in Stockholm, a prominent and sometimes controversial group who wield surrealism not quite in the traditional dream heavy mode most associated with the idea, but more with an interest in quantum science and the puzzles of natural space. Three books published in translation in the last seven years have spread her dark milk across the waters—first in a collection of selected work, Remainland from Action Books in 2005, followed by With Deer, her first full length in English from Black Ocean in 2008, which Michael Gira from Swans said possessed “the scent of a lost hermetic text extracted from the oily black clay of a ruined forest.”
Berg’s language throughout seems capable of most anything, packed into layers like the fat she constantly invokes. Space feeds off itself and feeds off the space beside it, knitting bloated yards together in which sound and image force the very words in which they are carried to malform. The syllables won’t stay apart. Some kinds of words you’ll find calcified among the bloat: strungtime, fetusfat, crawlanimals, doughtnut-fatso, Peacebeaten, snotcrow, wax girl, scratch hare, shock-muffled, crampgrip. Translator Johannes Göransson writes of the volatile nature of working through Berg’s manipulation of the tongue, in which so many words have multiple meanings, forced misreadings, puns where even simple terms like “killer whale” mutate into “blubber biter.” The radioactive nature of the science force behind the lines seem to impregnate the simple image into a cell that means to replicate, and stick. It feels both evasive, and somehow more built in. “Following hand in hand with the surprise at the possibilities of language,” Berg writes, “comes the hatred of language, and the demand for a new, more human language: a language that looks like us, instead of trying to discipline us.”
Berg’s longer prose blocks operate like machinic clay, a kind of science fiction that actually feels volatile, transmutative. “The perverse nature continued to take place,” Berg writes, in The Snail Ancestry. “The fontanels felt unstable. The ices exploded and bellowed and broke, and the noise reached across the meager fields all the way up to the small hut that had put its roots down at the foot of the bent, brooding Gloam Shell. The earth oil bubbled out of cracks and seams. The mountains were somewhat loose, loose from worry, like teeth in a cancer mouth. In the river fold a poisonous mush was boiling. The end was nigh. In the fjord the whales bawled and blustered, hit their plate lobes against each other in ringing thrust. The perverse nature continued to take place, and through the fibers the hideous lymph spread.” Burial and recovery, spore and fetus, mouthful and bellyful: each little pocket here is sticky, heavy, ripe. You can kind of chew it. It makes you want more, but that’s what hunger is.
Berg’s most recent translated volume is Transfer Fat, released this month from Ugly Duckling Presse. These poems are perhaps her most hypercompressed. Opening with an epigraph from the dying HAL machine from 2001: A Space Odyssey—“I am afraid”—the space here seems hungry from being overfed, then starved. Natural space here, in seeming flat from outside, wields wicked access to something bigger inside itself than it should be. Animals operate as little mobile rooms that grow and flood and die around us. Bodies accrued here like lakes and fields and bridges all have undersides, perhaps even many potential undersides, in which others have been stranded, including the reader: “your meat which flows / between the fingers / which flow.”
Berg’s preoccupation with incubation and layers becomes more apparent as each little blockade takes on the shape of a seedling or egg that accumulates its body over time. “It will take many thousand years to raise fat,” she writes, and this is some beginning, many beginnings, the potential in which contains a space meant to unfold to worlds, would we not die. In this way, these language lards contain a previously impossibly seen future, such that eons from now this 118-page paper object might be wider than all the combined human chub you ever knew. You can call this hyperbole if you so require, but then now prove it. There’s a reason you never realize you’ve breathed in spores until you’re sick.
So now, come here and meet your plague-mom:
The hare is also a constellation
in the listless, frigid hydrosphere
Same cosmic fatstiff freezefearflood
same cuntstiff looptrack fatflood
We like suckle animals, egg animals, whalenut animals
prefer not to give birth to live young
In the hare the hydrophore
which pumps heaves heft
move the instrument’s degrees
of formless retarded freedom" - Blake Butler
"“Estonia: The Fat Stone’s Transparent Catatonia.”
“The Hare Infects Dad with Rabies.”
“Open the Voter.”
These are some of titles from Aase Berg’s Transfer Fat, as translated by Johannes Goransson. Such supple and engaging titles are typical of this work and also typify the way the work itself functions. The titles act like membranes; they catch your attention; your attention becomes a little prod or probe. You push at the membrane of the title and move through it into the shell meat of the poem, carrying gummy traces of the title with you, covering your eyes, nose, mouth, changing your vision and your breathing. You’re now half-digesting, half-gestating the poem, which, by the sci-fi logic by which the book operates, means that you might now be destined to supernova in a slickly bloody birth.
Feel fur in milk
The white fluff wads
scattered flinches through the forest
through the hare wolf
This is a four line poemlet in its entirety. The volume is made up of brief units like this, one or two to a page. This creates a delicious uncertainty to the whole. Like the individual protein strands which make up the helical DNA, the individual verse fits into the overall structure of volume both minutely and instrumentally; it could be the fuse which disrupts the transcription or a bit of fluff, fur in the milk, a white redundancy. Here the ‘fur in the milk’ cascades ‘flinches through the forest’ and breeds a mutant creature, ‘the hare wolf’, a mutation of both predator and prey in one which then recharacterizes the flinching forest (a single surface spasming with both fear and predatory instinct) and the harey-milk which inundates the poem, the page’s white space. The hare-wolf can no more be separated from the flinch forest than the poem from the page or the fur from the milk.
Another mechanism of Transfer Fat is its saturation with key words, including ‘hare’, ‘whale’, ‘milk’, ‘voter’, ‘Hal’ (the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey), “shell”, and especially “fat”. As the series proceeds, these words cluster and agglomerate, diving into and rising from the syntax, giving the series an ectoplasmic-like continuity from which indentifiable shapes thrust up through but never entirely separated from the poem’s translucent mucky surface. Other poems pry one or two keywords from the word horde and fling them out into the chronosphere to carry its antigens of toxic mutation into new registers.
When undead Harey is locked in the capsule
which is slung out into the cosmos murk
and the demented computer sings
its plancktime songs in weightless space
This ‘crustling,’ however, alerts us to another gestation, the forming of a crust of sound and lifedeath which suggests that these hares and whales will continue pursuing their cell-by-cell mutation until they crinkle the very horizon, force it to duck down and admit the rise of no or another sun. Transfer Fat’s tiny yet accruing scale represents a permanently cascading pile up of morbid microbial time, a death dance between genetic and chemical damage, a space opera, a catastrophe movie that will air again and again on the dimming private screen of the mind’s eye as it descends into darkness, with its dark and livid strings.
Hearing has a strungtime
twitches faster than the string strikes
harpy births child
pilots child across fields
of the as-of-yet unprepared." - Joyelle McSweeney
"Read the full “Forest of Flinches” here. Kate Durbin writes of Goransson’s translations that they “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.’” You can find out more about the book here; and enjoy (if you haven’t already) Goransson’s specially edited issue of Typo, which featured a terrific survey of major Swedish-language Modernists and contemporary poets."
"My cousin was disappointed that he didn’t like the taste of the sheep’s head. We were sitting in my dining room last night having a farewell dinner of sorts because my partner and I are heading off to Austin until May. We were talking about all the places we want to go. Iceland came up and my cousin said his Icelandic friend sent him sheep’s head, which is a traditional specialty. “He sent you the whole smoked head?” I asked. “No, it wasn’t the whole head. It was pre-packaged.” My other cousin said when she was last back home in Italy she went to friend’s farm and they served a whole sheep. The head was placed at the head of the table. Then she thought for a moment and said, “Wait. No. It was a goat.”
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, made thing. 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.
A great translation is an artisanal act in the deepest sense. First, you’re given the gift of Aase Berg and her poems that take the Swedish language and, as she says, create a “deformation zone” of sampled texts on everything from science fiction to string theory. Then you take this experiment, this charged imagining and place it in the hands of Johannes Göransson, himself a highly respected poet, essayist, translator and magician. I imagine him listening to the letters and the nights growing longer. I imagine him sitting in the distant light of the barn and carrying the milk pail home before first light. In his notes on the translation, which are almost as beautiful as the poems themselves, he says:
To translate such a book makes impossible the common illusion of bringing over a pristine “original” into a necessarily flawed “translation.” Rather, it forces the translator to be a kind of conductor of interactions between languages, a “transfer-er” of “fat” into the English language.
Here “val” can mean both “whale” and “choice.” One might say that in the blubberiness of the whale, we get a blubbery language that refuses to coalesce. To invoke this mutability of “val” I have tended to translate it in a number of ways:
all whales are
the same whale
I don’t want a canned sheep’s head. And I don’t want to hear about Jacob wrestling with the angel if I have the option of being in the room with all that sweat and those wings. We talk about artisanal cheese and pickles and bags, but what about poems and the people who wrestle with them and bring them to us in another language and the men and women in cities like Brooklyn and Minneapolis and Detroit who get off work and make their way to a warehouse and stay up all night so those poems can come into the world? I was reading Berg’s poems in Swedish even though I don’t know Swedish and I saw the word Stradivarius and I knew what that meant. That was a thing someone made that’s priceless and has a history and may have gotten stolen or lost and searched for and fought for just to hear it again.
Ugly Duckling can’t get us the books by early January so you’ll get a PDF instead. And then at the end of January you’ll get the book in book form. You’ll get it right around the time Aase Berg joins us from Sweden and Johannes Göransson joins us from America and the book’s editor, Garth Graeper joins us from the kingdom of Ugly Duckling so we can all chat online. That’s a first for us, too.
We’re in this together. We are making something beautiful and real and I hope you’ll join us in the barn." - Gabrielle Calvocoressi
Aase Berg: UPPLAND
Uppland lightland hovercraftland
Good yellow circles
lightband after lightband
All my shooting stars
sparkle over Uppland
See how all of Uppland
stands in flame
steer softly out of hullwreck
crushed sewn whole
Creep under the skin
Hold on to your skin
wake up spindlefly
In the slenderfly’s balance
clothograph mealy time
but small stings
Sees hummingbird drunken
Plane on plane
Hold on to your skin
fasten the wing skin
Dragon situation unfolded
in a standstilldance
High clear september air
Urmountain of day
heads hurriedly southwards
We want to be remains here