Don’t let me leave with little Jamie Bulger, he’s so puny and so scared. Don’t let me let go of little Jamie Bulger, he screams for his mum and wants to go home. On the guard’s monitor we are small jointed dolls in grainy black and white. Two thwarted explorers. Two embalmed children. To the police I say: If I wanted to kill a little boy I’d have picked my own little brother. To God I say: You can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why you created shopping centres. If anyone asks I say he’s my brother.
High up there in the cabin of the tallest crane, he sees himself being found in a park, sees himself taking the way of the window, or however it’ll come to him in the end. It is coming to him. He comes out into the daylight with a jack of hearts in the band of his hat, a politician in exile, a treat for ornithologists. Time to wake up now. There, lift your head. I asked you a question. When he was five years old they opened his heart. He thinks he knows what they found inside
The low tones in long phone conversations while autumn loads its barrel. His clothes heavy with darkness and prison life. He is a rare insect under the tweezers he himself holds in thin fingers. He is also a child, a boy abandoned in the woods to the night and the wolf, a baby forgotten outside the shopping centre. This is a reconstruction
Everything that every single time resulted in a thwarted explorer, sleeping in the anarchists’ café. Believe nothing a woman says, but everything she sings. I hold back the empty space: a chalk outline of a body on the sidewalk. You hold a bouquet of carnations in the May sunlight and turn to look at people you know. Your children too will die in rooms like his
Ikke la meg gå med lille Jamie Bulger, han er så pytteliten og så redd. Ikke la meg slippe lille Jamie Bulger, han roper sånn på mamma og vil hjem. På vaktas monitor er vi små leddstyrte dukker i kornet svarthvitt. To stansede oppdagere. To balsamerte barn. Til politiet sier jeg: Hvis jeg hadde villet drepe en liten gutt hadde jeg vel tatt min egen lillebror. Til Gud sier jeg: Du kan ikke være alle steder på én gang. Derfor skapte du kjøpesentrene. Til mennesker vi treffer sier jeg at han er lillebroren min.
Høyt der oppe i førerhuset på den største krana ser han seg selv bli funnet i en park, ta vindusveien eller hvordan det kommer til å komme til ham. Det kommer til ham. Han kommer ut i dagslyset med en hjerterknekt stukket i hattebåndet, en politiker i eksil, en godbit for ornitologer. På tide å våkne nå. Sånn ja, løft hodet. Jeg spurte deg om noe. Da han var fem år gammel åpnet de hjertet hans. Han tror han vet hva de fant der
Det lave toneleiet i timelange telefonsamtaler mens høsten tar ladegrep. Klærne hans tunge av mørke og fangeliv. Han er et sjeldent insekt under pinsetten han selv holder med smale fingre. Han er også et barn, en gutt satt ut i skogen for å møte natta og ulven, en baby glemt igjen foran kjøpesenteret. Dette er en rekonstruksjon
Alt som alltid endte med en stanset oppdager, sovende i anarkistenes kafé. Tro ingenting en kvinne sier, men alt hun synger. Jeg holder igjen tomrommet, en kritta kropp på fortauet. Du holder en bukett nelliker i maisola og snur deg etter kjente. Dine barn skal også dø i rom som hans
My older sister took out Niels Fredrik Dahl’s Antecedentia from the library when it came out in 1995 and showed me the untitled poem about Jamie Bulger on page 17. I was fourteen at the time, and of course I remembered Jamie Bulger, who was three when he was abducted from a shopping center by two ten-year-olds in Merseyside, England two years earlier. They tortured and killed him on a railway line and became Britain’s youngest murderers, causing fervent debate about how to understand children as killers. Considering how disturbing and ugly this case was, the poet’s choice to enter the head of one of the killers was shocking to me. As far as I can remember, this is the first poem that truly fascinated me.
When I had to pick a translation project for a workshop at Columbia University’s MFA program, Antecedentia was a natural choice. I was a complete novice, but I’d been working in the territory between English and Norwegian ever since I started writing as a young teenager. Like everyone else in Norway, I grew up with TV and pop music in English, and started honing my knowledge of American idioms and slang early on. I spoke English with parts of my family, and it felt more intimate than Norwegian did. Writing felt natural in this English, which was full of satisfying, cool phrases. I felt free to pour out things that were too painful or embarrassing to express in Norwegian. I think I share this sensation with many Norwegians—almost all Norwegian pop stars, for example, write their lyrics in English. Later, I would translate my writing into Norwegian. When exposed to the bright light of my native tongue, these pieces curled into themselves and tightened up, until only the strongest and smallest possible structure of terse Norwegian remained. This became my modus operandi for years. I was primarily a poet until I switched to fiction and left Norway to pursue my MFA in America. Attempting to bring the no-nonsense clarity of the Norwegian language into English via Dahl’s poems has been a very interesting experience.
Antecedentia is Dahl’s third collection of poetry. The book has big themes: love, time, suffering, ill fortune, and humanity’s dark sides. But it’s also filled with the local and specific: references to places, news events, pop culture, and real people, done in an elegant and sometimes humorous way. It has always given me a feeling that the world is large and rich with hurtful detail that one can access through poetry.
Translating poetry can be frustrating, so I try to consider anything I can manage that carries over a little bit more of the original’s unnamable qualities a bonus. Dahl uses punctuation sparingly, changes verb tenses and tone midway through a poem, and generally keeps things interesting. Translating his tightly packed sentences without losing even their most straightforward meaning is sometimes challenging. I hope I’ve been able to do the poems justice.
Niels Fredrik Dahl, born in 1957, is one of Norway’s most well-known writers, poets, and playwrights. His international breakthrough came in 2002 with his second novel, På vei til en venn, which was sold to several countries, including Germany, Italy, France, and Holland and received the Norwegian Brageprize. Dahl has since published two more novels I fjor sommer (2003) and Herre (2009). His latest work is the critically acclaimed collection of poetry Vi har aldri vært her før.
Karen Havelin is a writer and translator from Bergen, Norway. She attended Skrivekunst-akademiet i Hordaland, and has a Bachelor’s degree in French, Literature, and Gender Studies from the University of Bergen and University of Paris Sorbonne. She completed her MFA in Fiction from Columbia University in May 2013. Her poems have been published in Norwegian literary magazines. She currently lives in Oslo, Norway and is working on a novel about themes of the body, such as illness, pain, and sexuality. An excerpt from this novel is published on NarrativeNortheast.com.