Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen, Thomas E. Kennedy


In 1961, in a short story anthology, I read a short-short entitled "Miss Brill." It was about an old vulnerable woman whose joy of life is destroyed by two thoughtless young people. The story, by turns, filled me with sorrow and fury. I was furious at the author for what, I thought, she had gratuitously subjected this vulnerable old woman to. I had not yet learned the difference between a human being and a fictional character or a real occurrence and a dramatic one. Thus, I believed that the author of the story was responsible for the old woman's pain. I was seventeen years old and decided to marshal all my linguistic powers to write a scathing letter to the author, Katherine Mansfield, to convince her that she should top abusing helpless old women.

Reviewing the bio notes at the back of the book, I learned that Katherine Mansfield was beyond scolding, for she had been dead for some forty years. So the author was dead but her character was still sufficiently alive to upset me. Her pain had been immortalized by the power of Katherine Mansfield. It was as though she had reached out of the grave and into my teenaged heart. This was a power that I wanted to make my own – so I decided, on the spot, to become a writer, a decision I have followed ever since.

This year, 47 years later, the brilliant expatriate writer Linda Lappin – American by birth, living in Italy for many years – has published a novel based upon the life of Katherine Mansfield, from the focus of the final period of her life, dying of tuberculosis in France. It is a beautiful novel which presents a moving, insightful portrait of this brilliant New Zealand writer who lived a mere thirty-five years and produced a body of stories capable of reaching into the human heart and changing people, making them feel. Mansfield may have immortalized her characters, but Linda Lappin has immortalized Katherine Mansfield in this novel about her final years.

My colleague, friend, and frequent collaborator, Walter Cummins ( has written a review of Linda Lappin's novel which appears in the current issue of The Literary Review (Vol 52, No 1), published by Fairleigh Dickinson University. I have been given permission to reprint that review here, which I do so with pleasure because I find it concisely and beautifully discusses a beautiful, powerful novel which I hereby recommend as I do Linda Lappin's other remarkable, powerful writings (; and, for anyone who might not be aware of it, Mansfield's work as well which, influenced by Chekov, has been powerfully influential itself ever since.

Linda Lappin. Katherine's Wish. La Grande, Oregon: Wordcraft of Oregon, 2008.
A review by Walter Cummins (reprinted from The Literary Review)

"The more Katherine Mansfield approaches death, the more she comes to life in Linda Lappin's Katherine's Wish. That's not to say that she isn't a vivid character from the very first paragraphs of the novel, in 1918, on a train pulling its way through a blizzard, trapped in a compartment "pervaded by the sickening smell of mothballs, perspiration, and wet galoshes," taking "short, tremulous breaths to keep herself from coughing." This initial image of her in a coffin-like carriage on a frantic journey to Mediterranean sun, in pain, immersed in white embodies her condition and the struggles she will face throughout the next four years in a desperate and futile effort to stay alive.

"Many luminaries populate the novel, from D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf to the more rarified characters, such as Chekhov translator S.S. Koreliansky, Lady Ottoline, and P.D. Ousepensky, along with Katherine's intimates, her wealthy, distant father, Ida Constance Baker, her smitten, service companion since childhood, her self-absorbed, philandering husband, John Middleton Murry, and his mistresses.

"Lappin spent nearly two decades researching and writing Katherine's Wish, as evidenced by the consequent specificity and vivid details. The interiors of the many rooms and the exteriors of the many landscapes are described with a cinematic richness: "This cool, wet August had plumped the blackberries on the bushes along the garden wall. She could almost taste their tartness with her eyes, but the leaves of the willows were edged in brown . . ." This is hardly a typical costume drama, decorated with dusty artifacts and burdened by the mythology of its famous protagonists.

"Of particular note is Lappin's ability to create original portrayals of Woolf and Lawrence, a fresh way of seeing people whose identities are almost clichés, as in this meeting between Mansfield and Woolf:

"'Conversations with Virginia were agonizingly slow to ignite. One had to break through the cocoon of isolation Virginia spun around herself, with her perfect demeanor, her flawless chitchat, even those ludicrous hats and dresses she wore were a deterrent to keeping others from coming too close.'

"But most crucial is the evocation of Katherine's consumption, the painful stages of her dying, her struggles for survival, her growing debilitation. Lappin reveals the spots on the lungs, the dysentery and fevers, the "ominous heaving rumble" of her coughing. Ultimately, she makes readers care about a writer dead for more than eighty years, and share Katherine's own wish that she could live forever. Lappin's achievement is to succeed where medicine failed and, through her words, give Katherine Mansfield ongoing life."

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stephen Kessler Interview

Stephen Kessler is the translator of some of the best Spanish-language poets of the twentieth century, including Vicente Aleixandre and Luis Cernuda. Click on the following link to see what he had to say when I interviewed him at this past ALTA conference in Minneapolis:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Classical Education

Children in Sofia often go to a secondary school devoted to one particular language. In a country of under 8 million and a certain amount of emigration, it’s important to know foreign languages. So there’s the French School, the German School, the Italian School, the Russian School, the Spanish School, the Classics School and the English School (popular but apparently poor on discipline). Here pupils devote much of their first year to acquiring skills in their chosen language (4 hours a day) and then go on to study other subjects in that language so that they leave school with reasonable fluency in their adopted mother tongue.

I have been interviewing candidates from some of these schools in English. The most inventive, surprisingly enough, were those from the German School, but I was struck by a fifteen-year-old candidate from the Classics School. When asked about advertising, he described it as “useless”, aimed at promoting the product and not at informing the consumer. When asked about his favourite mode of transport (others answered plane, car…), he replied that he preferred to travel “on foot” since it was generally more reliable. And I noticed that, unlike the other candidates, he seemed to be able to observe everything that was going on around him, including the building across the road. It seems to me these are the traits of a student of these so-called dead languages (apart from good grammar): detachment from the world, detachment from time – and peripheral vision.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen, Thomas E. Kennedy


Benjamin Katz lives in Copenhagen, a psychologist with a private practice bordering on the north side of the center of the city. His advice to his clients is clear, strong, practical, tactical and strategic, effectively illustrated with references to story and art.

"Remember Lot's wife," he might say to a person trying to leave behind an untenable relationship. "Remember what the angel said to her, 'Don't look back.'"

Or he might illustrate the need for change with reference to the Tales of the Dervishes – the river meeting a desert which threatened to destroy it transforming into a cloud and gliding across the sky to bypass the desert, then raining back into a river when safely on the other side.
Or, on the need to continue to function despite contradictions, he quotes Whitman: "Do I contradict myself? I am complex!"

Or to a man destroying his life by succumbing to excessive appetite, he might tell the story of Odysseus and the sirens who would lure him with seductive songs to wreck his boat on the rocks.

Or he might enlist images – Goya's charcoal, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters – as a cautionary instrument to reinforce consciousness when assailed by the monstrous images of self-doubt.

Benjamin Katz's book The Fifth Narrative described the state of humanity and its future journey from the point of view of five great stories. In it, he wrote, "…great narratives influence us as well as we influence them. In the long run, we will, if we give ourselves a chance to survive, transform ourselves to creators, which is our utmost purpose and meaning in our existence." The creation he refers to is the creation of a sustaining life narrative, filled with stories to illuminate our way through the labyrinth we face.

Benjamin Katz's wisdom is rich with illustration – from literature, art, film, music: from the Bible to the Beatles, Buber to Buñuel, Carroll to Candide, Hemingway to Huxley, Simon & Garfunkel to Goya, The Deerhunter to The Little Prince… His intellect is informed by and well-furnished with ready illustrations from Greek and Hebrew writings, Kundera, Lampedusa, Lao Tse, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Orwell, Erasmus, Hesse, Swift, Tolstoy, Turgenev and many others.

And what is more, he has that exceedingly scarce characteristic in our complex massive society: a world view.

And now, I am delighted to report, he has written a new book. It is a brick of a book – nearly 600 pages – yet at the same time it is a gem, with many facets. The book is titled Global Psychology, a title which might immediately sound too big for the heart or soul of one man or woman, but this global view is addressed to the individual in his attempt to live a satisfying, feeling, rational, spiritual, individual life amidst the complex network and seductive sirens of our contemporary world.

Ben Katz was born in Palestine, in 1943, when it was still an English colony. His childhood was shadowed by atrocities and wars and the trauma the holocaust had inflicted on his parents, who left Poland in 1933 to start a new life, "liberated from heavy Jewish mentality and centuries of traditions" to follow their vision of building a just, socialist society. They never saw their families again. Eleven members of Ben's family died in Nazi gas chambers or concentration camps.

Katz says that every conscious person must have a story of his or her life which must make sense to him and grant him some control and meaning if he is not to be doomed to lose his nerve and spirit. Our stories, he suggests, are always built upon our relation to three questions about person, society and species: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where do I go?

"The need to have a meaningful life story," Katz writes, "which sheds ultimate significance and meaning upon ourselves and our lives, is so profound for us as to make us easy prey to our own mental and other agencies' manipulations, be it religion, ideology, or tribal, clan, or national history and identity."

Katz book has two main purposes: to make the reader aware of the most debilitating mental traps and problems that sap life energy from most humans and to present a variety of working tools and techniques, insights and attitudes to reduce psychological, social and existential problems and doubts.

The first half of the book focuses on the micro reality of the individual life and the attainment of a fulfilled life. The second half focuses on the individual's macro reality and the attainment of a new, sustainable and evolving vision as a robust human being in a global setting.

In essence the book discusses the negotiation of the labyrinth of a poorly evolved consciousness – avoiding the many sirens waiting to seduce us into self-destruction – toward the creation of a conscious and meaningful life narrative.

For anyone who does not wish his life to be a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, Benjamin Katz's Global Psychology ( is warmly recommended.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy (
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Literary Translation on Youtube

At the past ALTA conference in Minneapolis, I recorded a few panels as well as some interviews I did with translators there. The idea is for these videos to eventually form part of the revamped ALTA website. Meanwhile, I'll be putting them up on Youtube. You can now see Alexis Levitin, who translates Portuguese poetry (including the work of Eugenio de Andrade), discuss translation at this link: He addresses how he got into translation, the importance of translation, translation and the ego, and the value of being a member of ALTA. I'll be posting more clips soon.

Monday, December 8, 2008

You Say You Want a Revolution ... in Greece?

Rioting continues in Athens and other areas following the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old by police in Greece. According to the New York Times the Communist Party organized protests against the police, which later became violent.

Panagiotis Sotiris, 38, a spokesman for Uniting Anti-Capitalist Left, a coalition of leftist groups that helped take over the Athens Law School on Monday, told Reuters that the violence was not only connected to the killing, “but is a struggle to overthrow the government’s policy.”
“We are experiencing moments of a great social revolution,” he said.

Must all "great social revolutions" require violence?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finlandia Prize and Russian Booker

Some recent prize news:

Writer Sofi Oksanen has won this year's Finlandia Prize for literature for her novel Puhdistus ("Cleansing").

Additionally, the Russian Booker has been awarded to the writer Mikhail Yelizarov for his novel Библиотекарь ("Librarian").

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Price a Language?

I was shocked recently when I walked into the British Council library in Sofia to discover that half the books had disappeared! Poetry, the great Millennium Library (published by Everyman, a collection of the world’s literary classics in English original or translation), Geography, History, Political Science, Law had all but vanished, leaving a large array of English-language coursebooks, contemporary fiction, children’s literature, music and films. While I could understand getting rid of some outdated books that no one looked at (no, I don’t mean poetry), I was unsettled by the cause of such upheaval: to make way for a “One-Stop Shop” on the ground floor of the British Council’s premises in the Bulgarian capital. A “One-Stop Shop” where prospective students can come and register for courses and exams without having to climb the stairs to the first floor.

“One-Stop Shop” is making your intentions only too clear! I was disappointed by my experience as a locally hired teacher at the British Council. Where I had expected high things and mused on poetry readings, nay, even performances of Shakespeare, I found that all the talk was about money. I was also not a little embarrassed about the cost of our courses – a 48-hour General English course currently costs $500 (€390) in a country where the average monthly salary is $350 (€270). Were we not an “educational charity”, as it said on the headed notepaper? This was for accounting purposes, I was informed.

So I decided to make a comparison. What are the relative costs of learning English, French, German and Spanish here in Sofia? Well, for an hour’s tuition at the British Council, you will pay a little over $10. Next up are the Spanish: an hour’s tuition at the Cervantes Institute will set you back $4.50. Then come the Germans: an hour’s tuition at the Goethe Institute costs $2.80. And finally, with a Republican flourish, come the French, an hour at the French Institute setting you back a mere $1.60. Thus, for the pleasure of its services, the British Council charges roughly twice as much as the Spanish, four times as much as the Germans and six times as much as the French.

Colonialism is the art of going into a country that is poorer than yours and extracting some of its wealth. Meanwhile, the first snow has come and already melted. It hid our excesses, muffled our activity, but not for long, signalling the transition to winter.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Best Translated Book of 2008: Fiction Longlist

Over at Three Percent Chad Post has announced the 25 titles on the 2008 Best Translated Book of the Year Fiction Longlist. The finalists will be announced on January 27, with winning titles announced on February 19.

The twenty-five longlist titles are:

The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Simon & Schuster)

What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire? by António Lobo Antunes, translated from the Portuguese by Gregory Rabassa (W. W. Norton)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions)

Tranquility by Attila Bartis, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein (Archipelago)

2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (New Directions)

Voice Over by Céline Curiol, translated from the French by Sam Richard (Seven Stories)

The Waitress Was New by Dominique Fabre, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (Archipelago)

The Taker and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca, translated from the Portuguese by Clifford Landers (Open Letter)

The Darkroom of Damocles by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke (Overlook)

Homage to Czerny: Studies in Virtuoso Technique by Gert Jonke, translated from the German by Jean Snook (Dalkey Archive)

Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy, translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes (Telegram)

Detective Story by Imre Kertesz, translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson (Knopf)

Yalo by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Peter Theroux (Archipelago)

The Great Weaver from Kashmir by Halldór Laxness, translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton (Archipelago)

I’d Like by Amanda Michalopoulou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich (Dalkey Archive)

The Enormity of the Tragedy by Quim Monzo, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush (Peter Owen)

Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (New Directions)

The Lemoine Affair by Marcel Proust, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell (Melville House)

Death with Interruptions by José Saramago, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge, translated from the French by Richard Greeman (New York Review Books)

Camera by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, translated from the French by Matthew Smith (Dalkey Archive)

Khirbet Khizeh by S. Yizhar, translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange (Ibis Editions)

Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, translated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis (Melville House)

The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg (New York Review Books)

A Shout from Copenhagen, Thomas E. Kennedy

The Danish Xmas Lunch: Eating, Drinking & Dancing It.

Julefrokost, the Danes call it, and those three or four syllables evoke a complex of delight and shame to all who have truly experienced this most Danish of institutions. The big Gyldendal Danish-English dictionary gives “office party” as the English equivalent, but that is not sufficient, is a mere slice of what a julefrokost actually means. Danish Xmas lunch is my preferred translation, but don’t let the singular form deceive you: one may well – indeed is likely to – enjoy multiple Danish Xmas lunches in a single season, and the Xmas lunch season in this ancient kingdom stretches from approximately the penultimate Friday in November until some few days before Xmas Eve.

But a Danish Xmas lunch is far from only an office party, though that too is one of the masks it dons. And a piquant mask it is – an opportunity for men and women who have been appreciatively and more or less obliquely eyeing one another all year to let loose for half a day and half a night and partake of the original Roman Bacchanal that was the pagan antecedent of the birth of Christ: eat to excess, drink to excess, hold speeches fraught with erotic double entendre, tell lewd jokes in mixed company, sing parodies of endeared sweet Xmas songs:

Christmas time is here/Dad is drinking beer/Mother’s lyin’ underneath the table!/No it isn’t true/Yes, it is quite true/Drink another snaps if you are able… (Compare with the American equivalent: Please, daddy, don’t get drunk this Christmas/I don’t wanna see my mamma cry…)
And to dance, dance closer, closer, closer… And for the lucky, daring few, yet closer, into the sofa corners, closets, behind locked or barricaded office doors: Ah, at last! I’ve always wanted to kiss you there, my sweet, there and here and…

And because it is, after all, a Christian nation, to drink a bitter dram of guilt next day, to know the horror! the horror! of morality’s hangover (or as the Danes call a hangover, tømmermænd, carpenters sawing and hammering in the head) for the next several days, weeks months – for the most morally susceptible of us perhaps until the next Xmas lunch.

But that is about the Danish office Xmas lunch. There are also family Xmas lunches, club Xmas lunches, pensioner Xmas lunches, society and associational Xmas lunches. There are Xmas lunches celebrated as traditions among friends, school friends, army friends, cooperative apartment friends… There is indeed an Xmas lunch for every excuse and occasion.

A Danish Xmas lunch consists of food, drink and company – much of the former two, at least two of the latter, although in a pinch, one can conceivably eat an Xmas lunch alone, though that might end in a honeymoon of the hand. It requires, first of all, a table, preferably a long one with many chairs, and every place setting, if one is doing it right, will include two small plates, one atop the other, separated by a napkin, to the left a butter board and two forks, to the right two knives (one set of cutlery for the fish, one for the meat – who said Danes are not kosher), and two glasses, one for beer and one for aquavit (aka snaps or schnapps, about which more later). There might also be a tiny candle, a small figure of an Xmas elf, a sprig of pine or the like.)

Along the center of the table, if one is doing it right (as for example my ex-mother in law used to) will be ranged somewhere between a dozen and two dozen or more plates containing: herring (pickled, sherried, curried, fried, other spiced varieties), smoked eel with chives and scrambled egg (all ready for the ground pepper), perhaps a bit of boiled cod roe and caviar, shrimp with mayonnaise, smoked salmon, gravid salmon (which formerly was buried in the earth to be acted upon by its microbes, now is treated chemically) with sweet mustard sauce and dill, breaded and fried filet of plaice with remoulade, roast pork with crackling and chopped, stewed red cabbage, headcheese with pickled beets, sliced meats (boiled ham, roast beef, salted beef, rolled pork, salami) with Italian salad and picadily relish on the side, cheeses (of the cow, of the goat, of the sheep), and an array of condiments and garnish: chives, cress, dill, raw onion, capers, horse radish… And of course, baskets of sliced dark rye bread as only the Danes can bake it, “French” bread, flat bread, a variety of biscuits for the cheese. And, naturally, a variety of bottles of aquavit and bottled beer. The former might include Brøndum and Aalborg and Krone (all flavored with carroway and other spices) and the Norweigan Linje (which is shipped, after distillation, in sherry kegs across the equator – the linje – so it sloshes about in the keg and is flavored by the sherry residue). The latter will certainly include Tuborg and Carlsberg lager, most likely Christmas Brew (5-7%) and possibly also Gold Beer, Giraffe Beer and/or Elephant beer (which goes up to 8 or 9% alcohol).

The way to enter the dining room where an Xmas lunch is being served (or any formal Danish lunch of this variety) is quietly, with reserve, even a bit shyly. You may give your hand to the other guests who are milling about, waiting for the host or hostess to seat you. It is usual to shake hands German-style, in the order of the others’ gender, “importance,” and age: Visiting foreigners are given precedence (no doubt in recognition of the fact that as outsiders they cannot be expected to know their place in the pecking order) as are women and the agéd. “Importance” may be decided by rank or achievement or popularity. This might sound snobbish, even dog-like, but in a certain way it makes sense and is not as difficult as it may sound. Normally, the guests will make themselves available for your hand at the right time, instinctively knowing their and your order.

Conversation will be sparse at this phase. No aperitif will normally be offered, and people will seize upon any tidbit of banter – for example, if someone has recently won a prize, completed an education, or had a promotion or an accident or some other bit of bad luck, a brief word of congratulations or condolence might be offered. This is and is allowed to be a somewhat awkward vestibule to what is to come. This reserved manner will continue as you shuffle to table, to your appointed place (if there are no table cards you will be told by host or hostess where to sit – obey!)

Once seated, the reserve will continue until the hostess says, “Be so good as to seat yourself,” and then, “Be so good as to eat.” This does not mean to eat whatever. It means to take a slice of dark rye bread from the basket(s) being passed, to spread butter or fat on the bread, fork on a bit or three of herring from the passing dishes, raw onion, capers, and when every one has on their plates a perfectly composed open herring sandwich, to cut and fork a mouthful into your gob, chew, and wait – until host or hostess lifts his/her aquavit glass (which by now will have been filled), looks around the table at each guest and says, “Skål!”

Only then do all at the table lift their glasses, look around to meet the eyes of all others, say, “Skål!” and – this is a very important, oft overlooked detail – glance at the host to see how much of his glass he takes. A snaps glass is about 2-4 centiliters deep, and the rate at which it is to be consumed, if one is following the rules of traditional Danish julefrokost, is set by the host. If he takes a single sip, it will be a slower start to the festivities. If he “snaps” (bites) a half or even a whole glassful, it will be faster. After the snaps comes the beer chaser, perhaps with an uttered or muttered “Skål.”

Once you have eaten the one open sandwich of herring, you will want to try each of the others, followed by the other courses on the table – fish first (although salmon and shrimp might come later in the meal if one is of such a mind.) Glasses will in due course be refilled, empty beer bottles replaced, and more or less slowly, formality will fall away. The quiet around the table will be broken by conversation, laughter, jokes, perhaps even song. Perhaps someone at the table will sing a Danish Rifle Club or Swedish fishing song – for example, about the eel, a song in which the eel children express dismay to their eel mother about the fact that their eel father has been caught by a fisherman – each stanza followed by a skål.

By now, you may initiate freely your own toasts (“skål!”), though it is very important not to do so before the host’s initial skål, which may result in confusion or chill silence or, as once happened to me, a cutting reprimand from the hostess – which is how I learned about this rule. Still, there are Danes who are not aware of this, by which they expose their breeding, or lack of same.

But after the first snap, there will be many others, and you might freely toast the others. You may even single out a specific person along the table whom you wish to salute and say, for example, “Annelise!” (You gorgeous bitch, you!) “Skål!” The intimate meeting of the eyes, the sip (or snap), and you have announced your wish to be friends, perhaps more.
Not always, but often, after the lunch has been eaten – which is a slow and joyously extended affair – the dancing will begin. If the Xmas lunch is indeed an office party (where partners normally are not present) the dancing will almost certainly begin, and even if you are not normally a dancer, you will almost certainly dance, moved by the snaps to do so. You will, at least at some Xmas lunches, dance fast and slow and long and briefly with many or all of the opposite gender. At bold, blurred moments you may also take liberties – not lewd liberties but decided ones: tips of fingers climbing firmly up the spine, a grasp of a tender flank, a seemingly innocent palm brushed across a luscious buttock, even perhaps a thumb upon a delectable nipple.

Remember that now you are tipsy, as is your dancing partner. That the darkest time of year is approaching, that you are honor-bound in a discreet manner to confirm the life force, and what is the life force if not the attraction of male and female (although in some cases this might be the attraction of female and female or male and male, and some people like that, and I am not putting it down).

Dancing is an interesting custom. Once I asked a Greek fellow whom I sat alongside at a dinner, “What would you say is the function of dancing?” This particular Greek fellow had bad teeth and consequently bad breath and, no doubt related to that, a bad complexion and pitted nose and was also short – even shorter than me – and fat – even fatter than me – but he spoke with great authority when he said, “It is for thee women to move thee sexually-interesting parts of the woman body before thee men and thee men to move the sexually-interesting parts of thee man body before thee women.”

In this manner, at a Danish Xmas lunch, sometimes, though far from always, for the bold and fortunate, the dance progresses to a shaded corner or a chamber separée – and for those still able to perform – the ultimate confirmation of the life force: the two-backed beast.

But in most cases, it is but a flirt, a refreshing flirt, a mutual appreciation of eyes and touch.
And whether or not you do or you don’t, next morning you will regret it. But soon – in days, weeks, months, you will be looking forward the next opportunity, the approach of the next winter solstice, the chance to do it all again, from sober start to staggering conclusion. And if you have a good long life, you will have some three score plus chances to make such a fool of yourself in celebration of the fact that the darkness may be deep, but the light will come again, life will continue.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy (

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

International Literature Online

The December issue of Words Without Borders is up and spotlights works dealing with "domestic conflicts," including a story by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft), who appeared in Absinthe #4.

In addition, the December issue of Poetry International is available and features the Irish poets Billy Ramsell and Ciaran O'Driscoll, and Portuguese poet Luis Miguel Nava, among others.

The future of the book

Check out this fascinating New York Times editorial by James Gleick (science writer and author of two of my favorite nonfiction books, Chaos: Making a New Science and Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything) on the future (though, really, I need to say the present) of the book in light of the Authors Guild v. Google case:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Archipelago Books Fundraising Auction

If you're in New York on Thursday you might want to attend an event to benefit the excellent publisher Archipelago Books. More information is available at their web site.

Where: The Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 972 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan (between 78th and 79th)
When: Thursday, December 4th, 6:30 - 8:30
Why: To support Archipelago Books, a not-for-profit press, in its mission to publish outstanding and overlooked works of international literature.
What: Silent and live auctions, with refreshments.

The Sex Trade in Europe

Today is International Day for the Abolition of Slavery and at the Huffington Post there's an interesting blog by Ambassador Swanee Hunt and Lina Sidrys Nealon describing efforts to end sexual slavery in several European countries:

After years of parliamentary debate, in 1999 Swedes passed the Sex Purchase Law, which criminalized buying and decriminalized selling sex. This placed the emphasis on the buyers, while allowing women to seek help without being fined or deported. In five years, the number of prostituted women in Sweden dropped 40%. Today, the government estimates that less than 400 women are trafficked into the country, while in neighboring Finland it's 17,000.

and apparently...

Sweden has inspired a trend. Norway recently made it illegal for its citizens to purchase any sex acts anywhere in the world. And Britain's Home Office just introduced a new law making it an offence to pay for sex with somebody who is "controlled for another person's gain," including pimps, traffickers, and drug dealers who force addicts to "turn tricks" to repay them.

You can read the post in its entirety here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advice for Obama from Europe

In the Financial Times a week ago, Tyler Brûlé, the editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine (a personal favorite), offered president-elect Barack Obama a few suggestions, including:

6) Media. All US news outlets should devote 30 per cent of their pages or airtime to overseas news and views.
7) Scale it down. Small should be positioned as truly beautiful:­ the new administration should champion small businesses, smaller-scale living and smaller calorie intake.

Good suggestions, though I'm less enthusiastic about his comments on the big 3 automakers: "... Detroit should be left to wither. Yes, there'll be job losses and the state of Michigan will need to rethink what it wants to be (a province of Canada perhaps?) ..."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen. Whispering Poets: Be good to each other & have lots of sex.

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN. Whispering Poets: Be good to each other & have lots of sex.

This shout is about a whisper – about a reading I participated in last Friday in the Free State of Christiania to which four other poets and myself had been invited to whisper poems for eight minutes to five small groups of listeners seated at five tables in Christiania's Galloperiet.

If any reading this has never heard of or been to Christiania, then I urge you to come at the earliest moment to Copenhagen to enrich yourself with this experience. In brief, Christiania was an abandoned military fort, formerly guarding the Christianshavn approach to the once fortified city of Copenhagen. The fort was taken over by squatters nearly 40 years ago, and in the free spirit of those times approved by the Danish parliament as a social experiment. The squatters seceded from Danish society as well as from the European Union and established their own social order, building homes in this beautiful canal-ringed preserve – both new homes and extensions of the old military buildings. One of my favorites was the House of Doors – a domicile built exclusively of salvaged doors. Peopled by artists, writers, artisans, dopers, and other freaks, the Free State – which resembles a cross between a wild-west town and an ancient dilapidated city – grew with the addition of jerry-built restaurants, bars, cafés, shops, studios, child care facilities, markets, concert halls and jazz clubs where some great musicians have played, including, to name but one, Bob Dylan.

It even, until recently, included a market known as Pusher Street where anyone so inclined could purchase a variety of more or less soft smoke able drugs, quality guaranteed. Pusher Street was torn down at the behest of a new right-wing government a couple of years ago, resulting in a real drug problem spread about the surrounding city, complete with street shootings and knifings.

But Christiania is still here.

When you enter this tiny city within a city (population approximately 1,000), you become acutely aware of departing from the everyday world. If you enter it at night, as I did last Friday, the first thing you notice is the absence of streetlights, the graphitized brick and wood buildings, the rutted dirt streets, the leash less wandering dogs who sniff about in wonder, doing you no harm.

Into the dystopian-looking, post-apocalyptic building which houses Galloperiet, I climbed two narrow flights to find Lennox Raphael, the American-Trinidadian multi-artist (poet, writer, artist, vegetarian chef, social activist, arts arranger) who organized the night of whispering poets under the auspices of an organization known as Des Arts which he helps run and which sponsors a multitude of events and exhibitions around the ancient capital of Copenhagen.

Some readers might remember Lennox Raphael as the author, director and producer of the first all-nude play ever staged, entitled Ché. It included three characters – Lyndon B. Johnson, Chè Guevara, and a nun, all nude. It opened in 1969, closed the next day, was reopened by popular demand the day after and ran for two consecutive years.

The Whispering Poets was only one of several features of this Des Arts evening in the Free State of Christiania's Galloperiet. The evening began with Monkey Rat (, consisting of Anna Iachino, a Sicilian-Canadian woman from Montreal, doing original romantic rap vocals accompanied by her partner on electric bass, Arnold Ludvig of the Faro Islands. Quote of the evening is from Anna Iachino, a delightfully voluptuous 47-year-old with a head of curls that would make an Egyptian princess envious, who told the audience, "As my 80-year-old grandmother always said, 'Remember to be good to each other and have a lot of sex.'"

Then came the Whispering Poets, five of us: Lennox Raphael, Jens Magnussen, Nancy Wakabari, Alan Hammerlund, and myself. The way the Whispering Poets went was that the lights went off, candles were lit, the audience was distributed amongst five tables throughout the room, and each of the poets joined a table to whisper poetry for eight minutes, at the end of which Jens Magnussen did a brief interlude on transverse flute and the poets changed tables until each had read at each table.

The experience was eerie, to be in a large dark room lit only by flickering candles, the only sound the whispering voices of five poets. At each table, the four to eight listeners leaned toward you as you whispered, a mask of candlelight about each set of eyes as you made eye contact to emphasize a line: I saw you naked/rape the sphinx – or Listen, I will teach you to kill – or See me. Smell me. Listen…

Of the perhaps 300 readings I have done over the years, I don't know that I ever felt such an intimate connection to my audience.

When the Whispering Poets had whispered their last, the evening had only begun: Kent Helm gave a demonstration of ergo touch – repositioning the body, de-activating the self – with a half naked lovely woman model; Michael Dyst did a demonstration of music, noise and words, and the famous skeleton man, veteran of many Burning Man festivals, Michael Wolf, spoke about the Black Rock City, Nevada Festival, following which Martin Eisler continued with a few enchanting songs, some Cuban boleros, and guitar, followed by open scene until three or four in the morning.

Being an old dude, however, I withdrew at half-past eleven and rode the metro home to my east side pad, delighted with the evening, floating on Christmas beer, regretting only that I had not asked Anna Iachino whether she has an older, unmarried sister.

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Juan Goytisolo Wins Spanish Literary Prize

Juan Goytisolo was awarded the Premio Nacional de Letras Españolas, a prize that honors the literary career of a Spanish author and comes with a cash prize of 40,000 euros.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime

Last weekend we went to the Detroit Film Theatre to see the French film "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime" (I've Loved You So Long). Juliette (Kristin Scott Thomas) is released from prison after fifteen years and goes to live with her younger sister Lea with whom she's had no contact during her imprisonment. Juliette attempts to rebuild her life and get a job while her and Lea set out to heal the emotional wounds in their relationship.

Directed by first time writer-director Philippe Claudel, the film subtly builds to a powerful conclusion and there were few dry eyes in the theatre at film's end.

Well-acted, with a fine script and solid direction, see it if you get the opportunity.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bulgarian Poetry Reading

I recently attended a reading by Bulgarian poets in room 65 of Sofia’s St Clement of Ohrid University, which was to commemorate a similar reading that took place in the same room in 1989, at the time of the (much lamented) changes. Each poet was given a five-minute slot to read a poem or two, which meant after an hour we had only got through about six or seven poets, each of whom had read poems dating from the 1980s plus some of their more recent work fresh off the pages in front of them. Give a poet a microphone and an audience and most feel the need to introduce themselves, introduce the poem (despite the maxim that a good poem needs no introduction), and the compère was left struggling to move things on at the pace he’d intended. But the image that has stuck in my mind is that of the three poets who attempted to recite their poems off by heart, from memory, without referring to the (visible or invisible) page in front of them. Without exception, they ground to a halt halfway through the poem and started gaping as they struggled to remember the next line. Some of the audience threw up their arms in consternation. One poet even substituted the words “I don’t know what” for the words that had gone missing. Which makes me wonder how far we are in control of the words we bandy about daily and sometimes inscribe in poems. Poets like fish, gaping. Waiting for the words that don’t come.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Adam Zagajewski and Translation Roundtables at the University of Michigan

The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski will be reading at the University of Michigan on December 4th and participating in a roundtable discussion on translation the following day, Friday, December 5th. The full schedule for the translation roundtables is below and more information about the reading can be found here.

Two Roundtable Discussions, co-sponsored by the Department of Comparative Literature, the MFA Program in Creative Writing, the Modern Greek Program, and the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.

Friday, 5 December 2008
3222 Angell Hall
University of Michigan

10:30-12:30: WHY TRANSLATE?
Yopie Prins (English/Comparative Literature)
Christi Merrill (Asian Languages/Comparative Literature)
Joshua Miller (English Literature)
Alina Clej (Romance Languages/Comparative Literature)
Kader Konuk (German/Comparative Literature)
Vassilis Lambropoulos (Classical Studies/Comparative Literature)

Benjamin Paloff (Society of Fellows, Slavic/Comparative Literature)
Adam Zagajewski (MFA Visiting Poet)
Tatjana Aleksic (Slavic/Comparative Literature)
David Caron (Romance Languages/Women's Studies)
Khaled Mattawa (English Literature/Creative Writing)
Keith Taylor (English Literature /Creative Writing)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Benoît Duteurtre and Customer Service

Once again, Chad Post at Three Percent reviews one of my recent reads: this time it's Customer Service by French writer Benoît Duteurtre, translated by Bruce Benderson, and published by Melville House as part of their series "The Contemporary Art of the Novella."

The novella opens with the hapless narrator leaving his cell phone in a taxi. In his mind, this is an easy enough problem to solve—all he has to do is get a replacement phone and he’ll be on his way. For anyone who’s ever dealt with a cell phone company (i.e., everyone), it’s never that simple. As the narrator finds our, the new phone will cost four times as much as the original, and without his SIM card, he won’t be able to keep his phone number, and besides, his account doesn’t allow for a replacement phone—he’ll have to open a new account and pay for both until the original contract expires.

Refusing to give in to this insanity, he decides upon another approach—getting in touch with Leslie Delmare, Director of Customer Service, who had sent him a letter granting him “preferred customer” status, which must count for something, right?

Read the rest of the review here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

German Lit at No Man's Land

Issue #3 of no man's land--the online magazine of German literature in English--is now available.

Issue #3 features poetry by Gerhard Falkner, Norbert Hummelt, Hendrik Jackson, Bert Papenfuß, Arne Rautenberg, Monika Rinck, Daniela Seel and Waltraud Seidlhofer.

In addition, they present results from a Scots-Franconian translation workshop, with translations of Franconian dialect poets Helmut Haberkamm and Fitzgerald Kusz.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Czech Novelist Emil Hakl

Recently I read and enjoyed Czech writer Emil Hakl's Of Kids & Parents (published by Twisted Spoon Press) and it just so happens that Chad Post has a review of the novel over at Three Percent:

Written almost entirely in dialogue, the novel takes place over one night as a 42-year-old man and his 71-year-old father go from bar to bar drinking, talking about airplanes, about women, about everything. The book is narrated by the son, although expository sections are few and far between.

Read the entire review here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sozopol Fiction Seminar in Bulgaria

From the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation:

Explore your writing on the beautiful Black Sea coast!



June 4-8, 2009

The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation offers its second annual summer fiction-writing seminar in historic Sozopol in Bulgaria. The seminar consists of intensive daily fiction workshops, roundtable discussions, and readings/lectures by faculty and participants.
Fiction writers from Bulgaria and fiction writers from English-speaking countries, including but not limited to the U.S. and the U.K., are invited to apply. A total number of ten applicants will be selected for participation and funding. All participants will receive equal funding.

Programme and Faculty
Morning workshops will be led in English by Elizabeth Kostova (author of the best-selling novel THE HISTORIAN) and in Bulgarian by Emilia Dvoryanova (lecturer in creative writing and author of the award-winning Bulgarian novel VIRGIN MARY’S EARTHLY GARDENS, which will be published in French, 2009).

Guest lectures will be provided by Georgi Gospodinov (Bulgarian fiction writer and poet whose novel NATURAL NOVEL has appeared in ten languages) and Josip Novakovich (award-wining Croatian-born American fiction writer, essayist, and professor at Pennsylvania State University).

In addition to the core programme, Josip Novakovich will offer a writing workshop based on his book FICTION WRITERS’ WORKSHOP, which is currently under translation into Bulgarian language.

Roundtable discussions will feature editor Reagan Arthur of Little, Brown and Company (tbc); John O’Brien, founder and editor-in-chief of Dalkey Archive Press; and distinguished Bulgarian editors, publishers, and translators.

Five participants writing in English and five writing in Bulgarian language will receive scholarships regardless of country of residence. The scholarship covers tuition, room and board, in-country transportation, and 80% of international travel.

Applications require an online form and an original fiction sample of 10-20 pages. Please read the eligibility criteria carefully before filling in the application form. For details and to apply:
On-line applications only, please!

All fiction writers working in English or Bulgarian and over 18 years of age are eligible to apply, regardless of publication record and educational status; acceptance will be based on the quality of the writing sample, statement of purpose, and letter of reference. Applicants from English-speaking countries are not required to have knowledge of Bulgarian language, nor are Bulgarian applicants required to have knowledge of English, although either will be helpful.

Applications and all supporting materials must be submitted by February 1, 2009.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Death and Betrayal in Poland

Last Sunday night, Jessica and I attended the final film of the Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival , a screening of the documentary Trzech Kumpli (“Three Buddies”). The film, directed by Ewa Stankiewicz and Anna Ferens, tells the story of three college friends—Stanislaw Pyjas, Leszek Maleszka, and Bronisław Wildstein--during the late 70s in Poland. While his friends were unaware, Maleszka was working as an informant for the secret police (and also informed on the poet Adam Zagajewski, among others). The film explores whether Maleszka's denunciation led to the murder of Pyjas thirty years ago.

What is forgiveness and is it possible to forgive someone who is unrepentant? Can a nation heal when it ignores the past or must all collaborators be exposed? These difficult questions were addressed by the film and were also discussed during a spirited discussion between the filmmakers and members of the audience following the screening.

(The film is particularly relevant in light of the recent allegations suggesting that Czech writer Milan Kundera had informed on the whereabouts of Miroslav Dvoracek--who was captured and imprisoned for over a decade--during Kundera's days as a student.)

Eliot Weinberger's "Notes on Translation"

Issue 74 of Translation Review contains an article by Kent Johnson in which he gives Eliot Weinberger's "Notes on Translation" and provides his responses to and comments on them. The notes by Weinberger (like Johnson's responses) are provocative, insightful, and, according to my unsuccessful Google searches, unavailable online. Here are the first five:
1. Poetry is that which is worth translating. The poem dies when it has no place to go.
2. The object of a translation into English is not a poem in English.
3. A translation creates a specific kind of distance: the reader never forgets that what is being read is a translation.
4. A translation that sounds like a poem in English is usually a bad translation.
5. A translation that strives for the accuracy of a bilingual dictionary is usually a bad translation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN: Dan Turèll's 27-year-old cigar

"Dan Turèll has one of those large, humanistic voices like Mayakovsky
and Yevtushenko. Impressive and engaging and at its best hypnotic."

-Steve Kowit

After a couple months in the shadowland of divorce, I'm
back, and I am here to tell you about Dan Turèll – a too-early late,
great Danish poet – and his poet-actress widow, Chili. And I am here
to tell you about Barry Lereng Wilmont, a Canadian-Danish
artist-writer who fortunately is still very much whinnying with us.
And I am here to tell you about a cigar, a Cohiba robusto, which I
smoked today in the great Copenhagen serving house, Rosengaardens
Bodega, where a Gestapo informer known as The Horsethief was
liquidated on Hitler's birthday, 1943 – a present for the Führer.

Let me start with Barry Lereng Wilmont. He was born in
Canada in 1936, moved with his Danish-Canadian mother and Canadian
father to Denmark in 1940, immediately prior to the German invasion
and five-year occupation of this democratic kingdom. Having been here
when the Germans arrived, Barry had to stay and, as an
English-speaking foreigner, albeit a four-year-old one, be concealed.
In the 1960s, Barry attended the Royal Danish Art Academy and has
since then became a recognized Danish artist, deeply involved in
contemporary Danish culture, inter alia as co-editor of the remarkable
Danish literary journal, Victor B. Andersen's Maskfabrik, as well as a
good friend of the Danish poet Dan Turèll, an icon here who died at
the age of 48 in 1993 but who is still a model and a hero for the
young poets of this country.

"Before I die I want to stroll through the city one last time

let this be my last humble wish

to walk on my own feet through my city

through the city of Copenhagen

as I've done so many times before

and I'll know this is the last time

and I'll choose my route with care…

and I'll know how short and strange life is…"

-Dan Turèll, "Last Walk through the City"

Although I have lived in Copenhagen since 1976 as, I guess
I must say, an expatriate American writer, I never met Dan Turèll or
Barry Lereng Wilmont. Let me expound upon that: I once saw Dan
Turèll, in Cykelstalden Café on the east side of Copenhagen in about
1980. I knew who he was, but he of course did not know me. I sat
over a plate of hash and a beer there, a lunch-time escapee from my
office job, wearing suit and tie, and observed the already well-known
"Uncle Danny" in his black goatee and black jacket and black hat, his
fingernails painted black, nursing a black gold beer and a little
glass of black bitter. He saw me looking and nodded in friendly
acknowledgement, and I thought, He thinks I'm just any old office
stiff in tie and suit and what I should do now is leap to my feet and
recite Ginsberg's "Howl" or Ferlinghetti's "Autobiography," both of
which I knew by heart. But I did not have the moxie to do so, and
anyway what in the world would he have made of that? He finished his
beer and bitter, nodded again and left, and I ate the rest of my hash,
brooding about the fact that I was an expatriate writer who had never
published anything although I had been trying both in the US and
Denmark for nearly 15 years, and here once again I had proven myself
unworthy to the occasion of seizing an opportunity to meet and speak
with a poet who was known to be interested in America and beats and
might very well have been open to an approach.

"…I've sat many hours at my window and stared down at the street

and seen the lonely men drifting around the live shows

gazing at neon breasts and trying to pull themselves together

slink three-four steps away and then back again

look to all sides to see if someone sees them…

they can't see John down in the Comet staring out the window

they can't see Sussie in Sexorama's back room either

but we can see them eventually sneaking in

with their coatcollar up around their ears…"

-Dan Turèll, "Life on Isted Street"

Flash forward about 28 years: I am now a published
writer, author of 20+ books, most recently an anthology of
translations from the Danish, and my telephone rings. It is someone
named Barry Lereng Wilmont, who had just heard an interview with me on
Danish radio in which I talked about translating an extraordinary
Danish poet named Henrik Nordbrandt, my translations of whom had been
published in American Poetry Review, The Literary Review, Agni and
elsewhere. Barry was in the process of translating, to Danish, and
illustrating a new edition of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and wanted
to confer with me about the translation of the line, "Where is the
summer, the unimaginable zero summer?" from "Little Gidding."

We discussed the line, and in the course of our discussion
we agreed that it was extraorindary that two people like us, artists
from the new world who were now living in the old one, had never met
and, further, agreed to rectify that lapse. So we met, discovered
that we both enjoy beer and cigars, exchanged books and thoughts.
Barry mentioned that he had heard the interview on Danish radio in
which I mentioned Henrik Nordbrandt, told me he knew Nordbrandt and
had worked with him, and furthermore asked if I knew the work of Dan
Turèll which he intuited that I might be well-qualified to translate
into English.

Not only did I know and revere the poetry of Dan Turèll,
I could not imagine that, 15 years after the man's untimely death at
the age of 48, it had not already been translated.

"…In my old neighborhood haunt there were signs hanging outside

about serving food

but nobody ever saw anything but bottles inside

and no one could remember when those signs had meant anything

but on the other hand a lot of things were sold

that weren't mentioned on the signs…

and sometimes one of the bartenders did some time

and while Jerry was in for three months for a big shipment of ketogan

Jerry's girlfriend Lizzi moved in with Bob

and when Jerry got out she moved back

and none of the three said much about it

that was just life…"

-Dan Turèll, "My Old Neighborhood Haunt"

To cut to the chase: Barry arranged a meeting between me
and Dan's widow, a Danish poet and actress named Chili Turèll. Barry
suggested to Chili that I might be the right person to translate Dan's
poetry. She agreed to let me try. I tried. She liked what I had
done. Meanwhile, a celebrated Danish documentary film maker named
Anders Østergaard had just completed a film about Turèll, and I was
invited to attend its pre-premiere. It was a wonderful film which
brought tears to my eyes that I had never seized that opportunity 28
years before to make my existence known to Dan in the Cykelstald Café,
but which must have been a far far greater emotional experience for
both Chili and Barry.

"…You walk down through a long street

which you know or maybe don't know

in your own city or an unknown one

and you raise your eyes and look at those thousands

of shining lit-up windows

and you know that behind every single window people live

and that simple thought everytime is so new and strange…"

-Dan Turèll, "Behind Every Single Window"

Cut to another chase, today Barry and I met for the fourth
or fifth time in another Danish serving house, Rosengårds Bodega,
after hearing that some of my translations of Dan's work would appear
in the esteemed 73-year-old American literary journal, NEW LETTERS.
In the Bodega, Barry removed from his satchel a wooden box; from
that, he removed a cardboard matchbox which Dan had brought home many
years before from Malta, where he and Chili had stayed while Dan wrote
scenes of a book set on that island, and a Cohiba robusto cigar
wrapped carefully in a napkin. The Cohiba, Barry told me, had been
given to him by Dan after an evening they spent together in 1981 when
they were collaborating on a book.

This magnificent cigar was, thus, 27 years old. In honor
of our meeting, in honor of the memory of Dan, in honor of the
impending publication of my English translations of some of Dan's
poems in NEW LETTERS, Barry wanted me to smoke the cigar in this
serving house in which a Gestapo informer had been liquidated 65 years
before – there is still a bullet hole in the wall behind the bar.

"It might be dry," Barry said.

"But I can't smoke this," I protested. "It's a piece of history."

"I would like you to smoke it," Barry said in a manner
that convinced me he meant it.

I clipped and warmed the end with a matchstick from the
box of Dan's Maltese stick matches and puffed. The 27-year-old Cohiba
– perhaps thanks to the napkin in which Barry had wrapped and
preserved it – was delicious.

"I like everyday things

that slow waking up to the well-known view

that anyway never is quite so well-known

the morning kisses

the flop of mail through the door slot

the coffee aroma

the ritual wandering to the corner shop for milk, cigarettes, newspapers

I like everyday things despite all the irritations

the bus that rumbles by in the street

the telephone that incessantly disturbs the most beautiful,

blankest, stillest nothing

in my fish tank…"

-Dan Turèll, "A Tribute to Everyday"

And so I smoked Dan Turèll's 27-year-old Cohiba robusto.
And I thanked the gods of fate who had put me into contact with Barry
and Chili and made it possible for me to translate the poetry of Dan
Turèll and to share it with English-speaking people who do not read
Danish. And as I drew the delicious, aromatic smoke through the tube
of that robusto, given all those years ago from Dan's hand to Barry's
and now to mine, I thought about how simple and ordinary the things
Dan wrote about are, and in their simplicity and ordinariness how
strange and compelling and, as he said, "how short and strange life

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!

Thomas E. Kennedy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Words Without Borders

The new Words Without Borders is available and this month they "present writings on the ultimate act of translation: immigration. Writers cross borders both linguistic and cultural, grappling with language and puzzling out customs to arrive at identities both familiar and foreign."

Read work by Saša Stanišić and many others, including Lidija Dimkovska and Danila Davydov, who have previously appeared in Absinthe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jean-Louis Fournier wins Prix Femina

From AFP:

"Jean-Louis Fournier, a prolific author now aged 69, won the Prix Femina for Ou on va, papa? (Where are we going, Dad?), a 150-page book written with a light touch as a message to his two heavily handicapped children, Mathieu and Thomas."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival

The annual Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival takes place this weekend. The full schedule is available here.

In connection with the Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival, there will be an exhibition of films by Bruce Checefsky at the Work Gallery:

WORK-Ann Arbor. 306 State Street. Avant-garde cinema in Poland by Bruce Checefsky

Exhibition open Saturday, November 8th and Sunday, November 9th from 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm. An opening reception for the filmmaker will take place on Saturday, November 8, from 12 pm – 2pm. 998-8178.

The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Making the Lost and Unmade: The Films of Bruce Checefsky examines the lost and unmade works of four important avant-garde experimental Polish filmmakers: STEFAN THEMERSON, (1910 – 1988), FRANCISZKA THEMERSON (1907 – 1988), JAN BRZEKOWSKI (1903 – 1983), and ANDRZEJ PAWLOWSKI (1925 – 1986). The special presentation will include a screening of recent remakes based on the originals. The screened films will include Pharmacy (1930/2001) and Moment Musical (1933/2007) by Stefan and Franciszka Themerson; Jan Brzekowski's, A Woman and Circles (1930/2003), and Andrzej Pawlowski's IN NI [OTHERS] (1958/2005).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Milan Kundera the Informant?

As mentioned widely, a historian in Prague has uncovered evidence that Milan Kundera informed on Miroslav Dvoracek, a Czech spy for the West, who subsequently was tortured and spent fourteen years in a labor camp. The Economist notes that:

True or not, the story echoes themes of guilt, betrayal and self-interest found in Mr Kundera’s own work, such as “unbearable lightness” (dodged but burdensome responsibility). In “The Owner of the Keys”, a play published in 1962, the hero kills a witness who sees him sheltering a former lover from the Gestapo.

Adam Zagajewski on Milosz

In the Threepenny Review Adam Zagajewski remembers Czeslaw Milosz:

One of the last humans who spoke to him in his hours of agony was an uneducated woman who took care of his small household, a wonderful person with a great heart. I like to think of it: in the vast polyphony of the almost hundred years of his dramatic existence, the ultimate sound he heard was an unschooled voice of goodness. Perhaps in this soothing voice he found something like an arch between his early idyllic childhood in the Lithuanian countryside and his closing moments; and in between there remained, bracketed out for once, the rage of modern history, the loneliness of his long exile, the violence of his struggles, of his thought, his imagination, his rebellions.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Coming Soon: Absinthe 10

Absinthe 10 is coming soon and features Polish poets Jacek Podsiadło, Andrzej Bursa, and Krystyna Lenkowska; fiction and poetry from Turkey by Orhan Kemal, Birhan Keskin, and Murathan Mungan; and an essay taking us on a pilgrimage to Bulgaria’s monasteries with Tsvetanka Elenkova and Jonathan Dunne. And much more. Subscribe now at the Absinthe web site.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Review of Maxim Biller

In The New Republic Francesca Mari reviews Maxim Biller's Love Today, a collection of short stories , published by Simon & Schuster and translated from the German by Anthea Bell.

An excerpt:

Biller's fragments are fresh and terrible--terrible being high praise. They are terrible in their effect, in their severe style and harrowing ability to arouse awe and anxiety simultaneously. The collection is called Love Today, which should set off some internal alarms. The two words are--or at least should be-- mutually exclusive. So before going any further, we should clarify that Biller's episodes are actually about the pursuit of love rather than what can assuredly be called love itself. In fact, whether love ever exists is almost impossible to tell. That is the ambiguity that makes Biller's texts so seductive.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

French Writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio Wins Nobel Prize

The 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio. The announcement described Le Clézio as an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization."

As usual, you can find excellent coverage and additional information about Le Clézio over at the Literary Saloon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Olga Tokarczuk wins Nike Prize

Olga Tokarczuk has won the 2008 Nike Prize for her novel Bieguni (Runners). The Polish Cultural Institute describes the novel as "the story of many journeys, a tale of contemporary nomads who travel across the globe not only in the search for new sensations, but also for dreams and aspirations. The title refers to a 17th Century Orthodox sect who believed that only those who are in constant motion can resist the devil."

Olga Tokarczuk's short story "The Bean Prophecies" (translated by Jennifer Croft) appeared in Absinthe #4.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Ingmar Bergman Archives

There was a very large box waiting for me when I returned home this evening and I was excited to find my copy of TASCHEN's The Ingmar Bergman Archives. It's an incredible collection of rare photos, interviews, and writings by Bergman, along with a DVD of documentary footage. Much more information can be found at TASCHEN's web site.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Irish and Portuguese Poets in September's Poetry International Web

The September issue of Poetry International Web features the Irish writers James Harpur and Theo Dorgan, along with Portuguese poets António Osório and Manuel António Pina.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New Words Without Borders

The new issue of Words Without Borders is up and includes work by Machado de Assis, Carlos Eduardo de Magalhães, Danilo Kiš, Dany Laferrière, Julio Ramon Ribeyro, Astrid Roemer, Vladimir Sorokin, Cristovão Tezza, and Karim Zaimović.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Romanian Literature in Translation

The Observer Translation Project, presenting Romanian literature in translation, has officially launched:

The Observer Translation Project is an international magazine of Romanian writing in translation. Launched in September 2008, OTP hosts Romanian fiction, poetry, literary criticism and literary history, and news about Romanian writing abroad, all translated into Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Polish. Look for single author fiction issues every month, with free-wheeling updates in between. Sponsored by Observator Cultural, OTP keeps you up to date with developments in the world of Romanian literature and translation.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bulgarian Fiction in English

From the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation:

The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and VAGABOND, Bulgaria's English Monthly are cooperating to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Through 2008 we are giving you the chance to read the work of a dozen young and sometimes not-so-young Bulgarian writers that the EKF considers original, refreshing and valuable. Some of them will be translated in English for the first time.

You can read a selection by Georgi Tenev here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The London-based magazine Monocle is quickly become one of my favorites and, if you're not familiar with it, is definitely worth checking out. The current issue is "devoted to building better cities, neighbourhoods and residences" and ranks the top 25 liveable cities in the world. Only a few US cities are on the list and they might not be the ones you'd immediately think of. The number one city? Tom Kennedy's Copenhagen. I'll just have to plan a visit soon.

Do you think Detroit warrants a mention? Well, how's this: "A bad example of neighborhood planning is Detroit, Phoenix, or any American suburb." Not too much to argue with, really.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Associated Press has reported the death of Russian writer Solzhenitsyn:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author whose books chronicled the horrors of dictator Josef Stalin's slave labor camps, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. He was 89.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Obama and Europe

Arianna Huffington writes about criticism Barack Obama has been receiving because of his popularity in Europe (where a June poll in the Telegraph revealed “a striking level of anti-American feeling” and over 65% of those polled in Italy, France, and Germany indicated support for Obama).

Why wouldn’t we want the President of the United States to be liked and respected by the leaders and peoples of other nations, particularly those of our allies in Europe? One might think that increasing a sense of good will toward Americans and the U.S. would be beneficial to our long-term national security, among other things.

(By the way, I can’t help but wonder which candidate they prefer in McCain’s favorite European "country": Czechoslovakia.)

Friday, July 18, 2008


Allow me to tantalize you with a taste of something so delicious you will crave more – but more of which is not to be found. Not unless you know something that only about one millionth of the world’s population knows – the proverbial one in a million.

Let’s start with a 22-year-old poet named Lise who has never been published before. Lise begins thus:

I shine like icing on a layer cake
like jazz and wet granite

but would rather go down
you know
despite the very long
working hours
it can also be quite a comfortable position…

That’s Lise Møller Schilder, and she goes on for two intriguing pages that most readers of this blog will not, alas, get to read.

Then we’ll take an 80-year-old named Knud Sørensen, who says:

The starting-holes
are a little worn, coal
from the edges has sprinkled down to the bottom

Or a 72-year-old named Poul Høllund Jensen –

The moon’s grimace
is due to the sparrows
introduced by astronauts

or the 43-year-old Ege Schjørring who proclaims that

The navel smells of rain
still wet

or young Peter Bo Andersen whose opening goes like this:

Watch out
that ruffled bathing cap
doesn’t start
to mess with your head

and still later who interjects in the King’s good English,

“We wanna fuck you Eazy,”
and Eazy answers, “Yeah
I wanna fuck you too”

Or Hans Karup, 40, who begins:

I remember nothing

Now how can you resist that? A poet who proclaims that? Don’t you just burn to know the nothing he remembers?

Or Karsten Bjarnholt, born the same year as I (’44), who wants to tell about a man who stepped in shit and when he tried to get it off his sole got it on his fingertips and was wearing a white shirt and…

And on it goes right up to a concluding six-page “Conversation between a Man and His Soul,” which is in fact 4,000 years old but translated recently by a 31-year-old named Mikkel Thykier who makes accessible these words from Egyptian, starting:

I opened my mouth and replied:
“This is too much! My soul exclaims I disagree with you!”

Tell me, can you resist that? And in between are many other poets, too – twenty-one in all (I will probably get knocked on the head for not including them all but one can’t include everyone and everything, right?). And there is also a cover and several works of art by a man named Ferdinand Ahm Kragh, and a conclusion on page 63 by another artist named Uwe Max Jensen. Uwe salutes farewell with a well-wrought graphic middle finger. Goodbye, goodbye and up yours, he seems to say, the magazine seems to say, Up yours, up mine, up all of ours…

Now what exactly is this, and why can the majority of my blog readers not have access to more? It is the latest issue of the Danish literary journal named Hvedekorn (Wheatgrain), number 2, 2008, edited by Lars Bukdahl and Christian Vind and published by Borgen ( This journal has been around since the 1920s, doing its excellent work for more than 80 years.

And why can you not – unless you are one in a million upon this earth – find your way to more than the tiny taste of it offered here? Because it is all written in the Danish language (except for the “fuck you’s” in Peter Bo Andersen’s poem), and Danish is only practiced by about a millionth of the population of this earth.

And what can you do if the above taste of Wheatgrain left you yearning for more? You can:

(1) Learn Danish. If you are more gifted than I, that won’t take long.
(2) Urge the editors to see to it that this issue or selected works there from are translated into English or some other language in which you would wish to read it.

You can do this by writing to Borgen or even directly to Lars Bukdahl ( But how can you write to Lars Bukdahl if you are unable to express yourself in Danish? Well, I feel confident that you can write to him in English. Most people in this ancient country function as well or better in English than I do in Danish.

Why not give it a try? As Jack Torrance Nicholson says to his wife after she has knocked him over the head and locked him in the walk-in freezer in the Overlook Hotel; “Check it out, Wendy! Check it out!” See what happens.

PS: While I am talking about literary journals, let me urge you not to miss the newly minted issue of Perigee: Publication for the Arts (Issue 21), which is completely in English (including one translation from the Danish). And I am not urging you to do this because there is work by this author in it. No, please feel free to skip the work by me with my blessing, but do not miss all the other wonderful stuff – including the awesome photographs! And access to this magnificent on-line literary journal costs not one red cent – go right on-line to:

Greetings from this ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"The Lost Daughter" by Elena Ferrante

I read Italian writer Elena Ferrante's slim but dark novel The Lost Daughter several months ago and in recent weeks several interesting reviews have appeared online: at the complete review, over at Three Percent, and finally at Words Without Borders.

I recommend giving it a read. The novel was published by Europa Editions and translated by Ann Goldstein.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From the French Book Office

The July newsletter from the French Book Office in London mentions a book that just might find some readers:

Guide des jolies femmes de Paris by Pierre-Louis Colin (Robert Laffont, 2008). For the first time, a precise investigation attempts to divulge the long-await(ed) information: where to find the pretty women of Paris. Quarter by quarter, season by season, young or (not-so) young, wise or debauched, this complete guide leads you to encounters with the women of Paris, and points out where you can discover their innumerable charms.

(I doubt I'll receive this as a Christmas present from my wife.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Absinthe 9

You can now read some excerpts from Absinthe 9 at our web site: stories by Jens Blendstrup and Henning Koch and poems by Carlo Betocchi and Jose Jimenez Lozano.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen: Dangling Man Behind the Fence

Alan Pary is one of six hundred refugees corralled behind a fence north of Copenhagen in Sandholm Camp. The Camp is situated across the field from a training ground for military maneuvers, set off by another fence of rusty metal. It looks like a combat zone. Alan Pary is perhaps thirty years old and has been in the refugee camp for more than nine years. His application for asylum has been rejected twice by the Danish authorities, and he is awaiting an exchange agreement with his home country that will send him back where he fled from, although there is still a slim chance that his application will be reconsidered.

Meanwhile he dangles there, behind the fence.

We learned about Alan Pary from a Danish playwright named Michael Svennevig, who wrote a chronicle about him in the Copenhagen daily newspaper, Politiken.

A Kurdish Christian, born in northern Iraq, Alan Pary fled from threats of death for an offense against his society. His offense? Poetry. He was writing poetry about women, his fascination with women and their bodies. What young man is not fascinated by women? What man is not? But in Alan Pary’s society, to write poems about women is offensive. Fearing for his life, he fled. To Denmark, a country with a well-earned reputation for the high quality of its humanity and its democracy.

In Denmark, he was given a bed in a room just large enough to hold three other beds and a small coffee table. In that claustrophobic room he lives with sometimes two, sometimes three other men in a barracks with many rooms flanking a claustrophobically narrow hall in a camp with many barracks, holding in all six hundred men in a country with many camps holding in all, according to the Danish journalist Karl Johan Mikkelsen, 8,000 refugees.

Who wait.

While they wait, they are not allowed to work. Every fourteen days they are given $120 – about $8.50 a day – for food and incidentals. They are not allowed to earn more than that. “Good thing I don’t smoke,” says Alan with a smile that reveals a missing tooth. They are left to their own devices. They are not allowed to leave Denmark except to go back to their home countries, where death or torture or both awaits most of them.

Alan Pary dreams of a future where he might get an education, a job, where he might contribute to his society, pay taxes, find a wife, make a family, friends beyond those in the camp with him.

Aside from dreams, Alan also has patience. Waiting for nine years teaches patience. He maintains his humanity by writing poetry. He writes in Arabic rather than Kurdish because he is inspired by the long Arabic literary tradition, although after his many years in Denmark, he has begun to write in Danish as well.

Circumstances put Alan Pary into contact with Michael Svennevig, a playwright and member of the board of Danish PEN. Michael Svennevig and Karl Johan Mikkelsen visited Alan Pary in Sandholm Camp to make a recording of his poetry, but having discovered the conditions under which Alanpary has been living for all these years, behind the fence of Sandholm, Michael’s focus shifted to a broader scale. This is what is happening on the dark side of the otherwise so humanistic Danish society.

Michael Svennevig paid repeated visits to Sandholm and wrote a play – Fence – based on his observations there and on Alan Pary’s poetry. Fence premiered in Copenhagen for three days in late June – and hopefully will be staged again, many times, throughout Denmark, to call attention to this situation.

Fence consists of a monologue written by Michael Svennevig and performed by Niels Vigild with music and songs composed and performed by the Danish musician and sound technician, Thulla. No one involved in the play receives any monetary compensation for his or her work.

The little theater on the west side of Copenhagen where we saw it last weekend – Den Sorte Hest (The Black Horse theater) – was filled to capacity, perhaps a hundred people. The dramatic experience is strong – a naked stage, three walls painted black, a black door in the far wall through which two actors emerge, a man and a woman, fixed lighting. On the stage, two chairs, a keyboard table, a sound mixer.

The one actor (Niels Vigild) wears a dark suit, white open-collared shirt, his hair dark with strands of silver, his face large and strong. He is, in fact, Danish, but that is not apparent – he might as well be middle-eastern, and in the course of the monologue, one does not doubt that he is. The other actor is a woman (Thulla), slender with a glory of golden curls. She is barefoot, wears only a thin white sleeveless cotton gown to just below her knees, on one upper arm and shoulder an ornate abstract blue tattoo. Her face is long and slender, speckled with a trace of glitter, and her eyes seem to glow. She looks rather like an angel, and when the actor begins his monologue and you learn how in his youth, the man portrayed dreamed of angels, the connection is made.

The monologue is just under an hour, but in that time, you learn what you need to know about this man – about any man. That his dreams are simple really, much like our own: he dreams of love, of being part of a society, of family, of being able to work and having a home and being able to express himself freely. But there is one thing separating him from us: that fence.

Why must he stay behind the fence, dangling, waiting, struggling to maintain his own humanity? Michael Svennevig suggests the answer; that fence is there, he says, those six hundred people are corralled behind it, as a message to others who might think of fleeing here: Stay away!

After the performance, we met Alan Pary, and he gave me permission to translate one of his poems into English for this blog:

Just do it – kiss me
by Alan Pary

Kiss me
Before time ends
Kiss me
To end the war

Kiss me
So I can become a flame against the cloud
And dance gently upon the earth

Kiss me
Because we must teach others to kiss and forgive
Kiss me and make me happy
Come with your red lips
and smile…smile…smile
because when you smile the world falls so still

Kiss me
because there are those who hate kisses.

Alan Pary is a gentle-mannered man with a gentle smile, tall and slender. How does he maintain that gentleness through all his waiting?

When will we ever let him out from behind that fence?

Greetings from the ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tribute to Alain Robbe-Grillet in Art Forum

The Summer issue of Art Forum includes a tribute to French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet who died earlier this year. Tom Bishop, Catherine Millet, Denis Hollier, T. Jefferson Kline, Tom McCarthy, and Lawrence Weiner write about Robbe-Grillet's contribution to the arts. Only comments by the first two authors are available online. According to Bishop:

Perhaps Robbe-Grillet’s leading contribution to the novel and to film is the ambiguity of his narrative strategies, tantalizing in their allusiveness and their “openness”--that is, their refusal to limit themselves to one “correct” reading. The prime device responsible is the particular novelistic or filmic narrative voice utilized. The novels make use of both the third and first person, frequently with shifting narrators and conflicting fields of vision. The films resort to similar techniques appropriate to cinema.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Our Man in Copenhagen

I was planning to mention the excellent special issue on Danish writing in The Literary Review but I see that Tom beat me to it. I've been slowly working my way through it and definitely recommend picking up a copy.

I also wanted to congratulate Tom Kennedy again for winning the award for best essay at the National Magazine Awards last month. In his post below about receiving the award he mentioned the hat he wore for the occasion. Well, I love the hat so I thought we should share a photo of Tom from that night with his award (or is that a weapon?). Congrats Tom!

photo (c) ASME

A SHOUT FROM COPENHAGEN: A Taste of Literary Denmark

In mid-June, Walter Cummins crossed the ocean to this ancient kingdom to join me in launching an anthology issue of The Literary Review entitled "New Danish Writing" – 211 pages of contemporary Danish poetry, prose, interviews and reviews of recent Danish books in English: 9 prose writers, 13 poets, 2 further sets of poets interviewing one another, and half a dozen review essays.

From the dynamite opening poems by Janus Kodal and Jørgen Leth, the "unreal traffic" of Martin Glaz Serup, the wandering mysteries of Benn Q. Holm's new novel and Naja Marie Aidt's picking of strange berries on through five heart-breakingly beautiful poems by Pia Tafdrup and ten of Henrik Nordbrandt's awesome linguistic prestidigitations and five of Niels Hav's charmingly erotic lyrics through to Suzanne Brøgger's tale of animal abuse written specifically for this issue – and so much more – the anthology issue is, if I may say so, a powerful taste of Danish literature now. To read the rationale behind the selection process, please see my introduction to the issue.

On the cover is a striking and unusual painting by one of my favorite Danish artists, Wiliam Skotte Olsen, who – until he died an untimely death in 2005 – had been living in the Free State of Christiania in a construction wagon decorated inside and out with his own murals. Someone should write a book in English about Skotte – or translate the couple that exist; he was a tragic, enigmatic figure who, despite all, continued to paint until the day he died, at the age of 59. Skotte had been hurt some years back by dropping too much acid and in a night of what could only have been terrible hallucinations set fire to a tent in which two children were sleeping. The children, thank the gods of little ones, were saved, and Skotte was put away for some years. He was never quite the same. But through it all, he never stopped painting. I recently met an artist who knew him well and told me that he died with his brush in his hand.

The picture on the cover of The Literary Review Danish issue is one that Lady Alice discovered at an exhibit at Bredgade Art Dealers in Copenhagen about a year ago. I arrived after she had already looked at all the pictures, and I asked if there were any we might want to make space on our walls for.

"There's one," she said.. "But you have to find it yourself."

So I wandered the exhibit, saw many I liked but not any that made me feel we needed to make room for another Skotte – we already had half a dozen. But then I peeked into an illuminated alcove and saw it! It could only have been that one. A six square foot oil of a staring face – red eyes, red face, yellow-green nose and brow, lips parted slightly over dark teeth, as if in amazement at what it is seeing, or awe, or horrified incredulity. And what the face is seeing, of course, is me, you, us

I had never seen a Skotte like this one. It could only have been from his peak period in the '70s and early '80s.

It was a bit pricey for me. As is the case with most artists, ironically, the value of his pictures has risen since his death. But it cost only a little more than, say, an Armani suit and topcoat and gives me far more – is the word pleasure? inspiration? – than any such wardrobe additions would.

So we have it now, mounted high on the wall above one of the door lintels in our living room, diagonally across from the place where I most like to sit and write. And when I sit there, spilling out words from the nib of my Montblanc on the lined pages, from time to time I glance up at Skotte's powerful staring face, the red eyes. If what I am writing is as good as I can do and true as I can make it, those eyes share my awe at the privilege of being a worthy instrument. If I am groping toward what is as good and true as I can write, the eyes urge me not to turn away from the place where the stories are. But if I am working badly, indulging my wish for ease, the whole face radiates horror.

This is the face on the cover of TLR's Danish issue which I had the privilege of guest-editing and the further privilege of being joined by TLR Editor-in-Chief Walt Cummins and his wife Alison for the launches. Many people came to the two events – the first in the excellent premises of the bookshop and café Tranquebar, the other in the outstanding Paludan, also both a bookshop and café. For more information about these visit-worthy places, see my earlier bookshop post on this blog and for more information about Wiliam Skotte Olsen, see as well as Skotte's richly illustrated biography, Like a Rolling Stone: Wiliam Skotte Olsen and His Art (in Danish) by Ole Lindboe (Big City Books, published by Galleri Henrik Kampmann and Bredgade Kunsthandel, 2005.)

If I may be permitted an aside here – also about Skotte – the cover of the story collection I published last year, Cast Upon the Day (Hopewell Publications, 2007) is also a Skotte. It depicts 11 figures – 5 grinning, leering, unclassifiable creatures (are they men? living candles? evil saints?) and 6 multi-colored houses with wide-eyed windows and gaping mouth-doors. What attracted me to this picture for the cover of my collection beyond its colorist qualities is that the 11 figures were numerically and perhaps thematically equal to the 11 stories in my book. The cover can be viewed on my website ( End of aside.

However, this blog is less about covers than content – specifically the content of TLR's "New Danish Writing" ( The anthology is an attempt to give the readers of The Literary Review the possibility of sampling a taste of newer contemporary Danish writing – which is ordinarily not possible because Danish writers, naturally, write in Danish, a language that is not accessible to more than a few million people in the world.

I have done several mini-anthologies of Danish writing over the past twenty years – one in 1987 in Frank: An International Journal of Writing & Art, published in Paris, others in 1990 in Cimarron Review and in the Review of Contemporary Fiction in 1995 – as well as publishing translations of individual Danes in a variety of literary journals: In American Poetry Review (a selection of Henrik Nordbrandt poems, 2008), in Absinthe: New Danish Writing (which has published half a dozen Danes in the past couple of years), in Agni (2007), in TLR, in New Letters, and forthcoming, a Nordbrandt chapbook in MidAmerican Review. While TLR has published a scattering of Danish work, particularly in recent years, including an interview with the dean of the Danish writing school, Hans Otto Jørgensen, we must go back 44 years to the last all-Danish issue of TLR – to 1964. The authors included then are now the seniors by far of Danish literature – and some are no longer with us.

Such anthologies and mini-anthologies, unfortunately, always require a process of selection. There are so many good writers one would wish to include, but the limitations of space and economics always require that some who might have been there are not.

Although there were a few sour words on behalf of all the excellent writers I did not have the possibility of including in TLR's "New Danish Writing" (including a complaint by a Danish lady philologist that a writer had not been included who was, in fact, very much present –but of course some find it hardly necessary to read something before criticizing it), the anthology issue was generally welcomed with reviews in three of the leading culture organs in Copenhagen, on Danish radio and in the local press.

Some of the writers not included in the TLR anthology are, however, included in current or coming issues of other journals – most notably Absinthe: New European Writing which I am also privileged to be associated with as an Advisory Editor.

Others not included – Ib Michael, Peter Høeg, Christian Jungersen, Carsten Jensen, Klaus Rifbjerg, to name but five – are already sufficiently well known in the US that they hardly need showcasing in a literary journal.

But instead of bemoaning the absence of some writers, I hope that readers will take advantage of the presence of those who are there – a fine array of the younger generation of Danes and on up to those in late middle-age (or, as one of my professors liked to refer to it, "Late Youth").

I would welcome feedback from readers of the Danish issue either through a comment on this blog or by email to

Greetings from the ancient kingdom!
Thomas E. Kennedy