Boel Schenlaer is a whirlwind of a poet, playwright, editor and literary impresario in Sweden. She is also a bit of a nomad and writes about that, writes about the interzone where the familiar begins to fade and the Other, strange, foreign, crowded and confusing, begins to infiltrate consciousness with a tumult of sensation, gorgeous unknowable words, and fleeting, enigmatic encounters. This is the zone of translation (between cultures, peoples, languages) and transcendence. It’s ironic then that we also have here translations from the Swedish (by Alan Crozier) of Schenlaer’s translations of her experience, experience doubly displaced — something in this about the nature of poetry. Lovely to read.
En route to Marrakech
Cane making. Afriqua is the name of the
filling station, lovely clusters of cactus.
“A new life is born” it says on
the sign. Birdbath fountain. Repair shop.
Donkeys shrieking like donkeys.
Afriqua. Oilibya and Marrakech begin.
Round buildings, holes in the walls
pink stone houses, built-up areas.
Orange trees, cars, a mosque, swimming baths.
Red stone houses, red wall. Yellow-pink houses.
Café Ourika. Moped riders. Africa depicted.
When there are too few things to observe…
…children become poets…
A roof of cloth
Never before have I seen such a swarm
the medina, souks, the square full of people
like one big dark mystic mass
in which I move, which moves round me.
A vault of cloth above, a roof of cloth, the sky
the soft, dark night of creation, black
and all the lanterns, fires, lights, the glare
Djema el-Fnaa, fortune tellers, madrasas.
Who is frightened by large open squares with
smoke, fires, snakes, horses, drums, food
begging children, jewellery, carpets, shawls
scents of incense, the darkness, the throng…
Encircled by darkness and people
When we got out of the taxi the darkness was there
enclosing, embracing, the closure
and the opening of night in movements
in tension, in encounters that come closer.
The square a roundabout of bustle, rhythms
three spells, the fairytale, the hostilities
dynasties of believing Arabs
the Muslims, the women’s clothing
– heavy yellow-pink, soft orange, jellyfish-green –
beards, roving eyes, the heat in the air
the teapots, the drinking vessels, hats
carpets, patterns and the arabesques
the conmen, the beggars, and the
hands cupped before one’s eyes.
To give, always to give, to be a poor
Swede, but poor gives to poor and I can’t
remember such vulnerability
just my own former poverty and
the children’s blind trust, a destitution that
makes them want to abandon the draught animals
with caked earth hanging from their bellies.
The teapots, symbols of pause.
A girl pursues us up on to the roof
she wants her dirhams. She stands her ground.
When we have drunk our tea she is at the foot
of the stairs, tugs our clothes, loses her temper.
She gets twenty dirhams but wants a hundred
she doesn’t give up, we have to chase
the child away and what does that make us?
In that moment I lose my dignity
to the red pisé walls of the medina.
At home my friends are exposed to
hate crimes and I protest vehemently
to those who made the damage possible.
Anti-Semites are growing in numbers.
Night in the square is the darkness and mumbling
of rapture, the gloom of a spirit.
My black nightmare is of a different kind.
Poetry is the dark muzzle of a
confiscated horse left in the stable.
The four-legged steed, chained fast and
inside the horse another one like it
a velvety creature we call a foal
with the well in its eyes and a hoarse cry,
a whisper that has become mute, that lives
its life concealed, born into uncertainty
that strides through fire on weightless hooves.
I am standing in water up to my dream.
The clay houses, walls of dissected life.
Stone-paved sugar which for centuries has
got stuck together with corroded souls
terms of abuse, smears, disparagement, hatred
in a broad horizon of bridge abutments
underground passages, burnt sand, desert.
The same incurable torrent of words that
is an act of kindness to scornful faces.
The man who’s fit for fight flinches away.
A panegyric from purgatory, a gob of spittle.
Some ancient poems the door of which
cannot be seen without a protective film.
The pilgrimage of the seven shawls. An awkward hand.
Everything I lay down here agrees with what
he said about his own will to breathe:
You reach true depth on the surface level.
Mellah is Hebrew for salt, the
Jewish quarters, the salt regarded
as poison, strewn for murder victims, I
cannot put up with the lies, never,
not in situations where the clothes pegs
in our outstretched hand, our fellow feelings
are constantly questioned. Our hook on life.
How the button that Lenke Rothman kept as
a bridge over all time away from the end,
how candy floss, barbe à papa, ceases.
The shoe-cleaner in a black jacket with a red
collar, dressed like a dirtied bellhop
on his low stool at the café guests’
shoes makes me burst into sudden tears.
Just like the grubby little boy
who handed me a packet of tissues
to give something in exchange for a few
paltry dirhams, and the youth who sold
a box of raspberries, took the note and ran.
—Boel Schenlær, from the collection I Dream of Blood translated by Alan Crozier
Alan Crozier was born in Ulster in 1953. He gained a Ph.D. in Germanic philology at Cambridge University in 1980. For the past thirty years he has lived in Sweden, married, with two children. He works as a translator, mainly of Scandinavian academic texts, and more recently of poetry, including the latest two collections of poems by Boel Schenlaer. His spare-time interests include folk music and writing comic verse and
Boel Schenlaer is a poet and playwright who made her debut in 1992. Her poems have been translated into eleven languages. She is also editor of the poetry magazine Post Scriptum, and of the literary journal Merkurius. For the past eleven years she has arranged the annual Södermalm Poetry Festival, where some three hundred Swedish and international poets have appeared. Her latest collection of poems is titled Nomad in Exile, and a new one is to be published this winter: I Dream of Blood (Symposion, 2014).