|© Pieter van der Meer / |
Tineke de Lange
I'd taught myself basic Dutch--enough, in fact, to fool a postal worker there, but with such a heavy German accent that she thought I might be from that country--and was convinced that I might be able to read, if not translate Stitou, Astrid Roemer (1947-), and other Dutch-language writers of color, especially immigrants from the global South, but of course, learning the basics of a language to be able to read street signs and order food and be fluent enough to read, let alone translate, are two different things. And this is true even for languages like Dutch and English, which are linguistically quite close. When I think of the current immigration and refugee crises in Europe, the failures of integration and the ongoing social and political marginalization of black and brown Europeans, it strikes me that hearing their voices is even more important now than ever.
All of which is to say that I nevertheless decided to try to translate at least a few of Stitou's poems, whose linguistic inventiveness and play intrigued me. He has won a number of major Dutch poetry prizes, and continued to publish, with his most recent book, Tempel (Temple), appearing in 2013. Below is a poem about teenage love from Mijn gedichten; such is my Dutch that any infelicities are mine, but I think you get a sense, however imperfect, of his artistry. (When I return to JC I will look for the original Dutch, which isn't online, to recheck it.) You can find more of his work in the original and translation if you click on his name above.
You bright transparent and immaculate little sight glim glimpsed in puberty through the present moment laughed at me one time or five by all the swarming voices that besieged me --my pooljourneydaydreaminess even with the lightning feeling while my humor grew immature! Going bald from the world to drift without party kilos my life's evening complete? In the Almere Music District you stepped off But I definitely didn't see you that spring among the talk show audience Train nymph are you writing my life? I can really cook
Copyright © 1998, 2016, from Mustafa Stitou, Mijn gedichten.
Translation © copyright John Keene, 2011, 2016.