I Brushed the Dust off an Intoxicated Poet

Dust between a pair of hands that look like a small galaxy
photo : randi ward

The first time I saw Aleksandur Kristiansen in person
Was at the dance hall in the Tórshavn Theatre
At the time I was convinced that poets were some sort of demigods
That maybe they took pictures in black and white
But whatever developed
Sparkled in clear crisp colors
And that they also could make flowers grow about the lips of
      lovely girls
Besides that Aleksandur was handsome too
He had the glint of a wolf in his eyes

In those days Jóan would sit in his high armchair
Reading Whitman, Líggjas í Bø
And the poems of Aleksandur
We were romantics
Both in love and politics
And Jóan’s voice held a sorrow
That moved us to the marrow
“An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Islands”
Was playing on the record player
Carl Nielsen made us speak in a hushed voice
About our strange homeland

But that night
When I first saw Aleksandur Kristiansen in person
He was so dead drunk
The floor of the theater was the Atlantic Ocean itself
And he a sailboat in a storm
Suddenly he capsized
He lay stretched on the floor amid the dancing couples
I helped to get him restored
Tried to tidy his dusty rig
But not before a goddess from the crowd
Pressed in against his body
His eyes had barely begun to flutter
The spectacle was so beautiful that I thought I would die
They left the place arms around each other

In their wake
A milky phosphorescence shone in the night
But just to brush the dance-floor dust off an intoxicated poet
I took that as the greatest honor

Translation from the Faroese
By Matthew Landrum & Tóta Árnadóttir


photo: randi ward

Jóanes Nielsen, a former dockworker turned political activist and writer, is one of the preeminent figures in contemporary Faroese literature and culture. He has published seventeen books including the novel Brahmadellarnir, which was nominated for the 2013 Nordic Council’s Literary Prize and is published in English translation as The Brahmadells.

Matthew Landrum holds an MFA from Bennington College. His translations of Jóanes Nielsen have appeared in Image Journal, Modern Poetry in Translation, and Michigan Quarterly Review.

Tóta Árnadóttir holds an MA in Faroese language and literature from the Faroese University, where she is currently an assistant professor in oral tradition.

For more, read Matthew Landrum's translator's note from this same issue.

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