The personal and the political
In his new collection, Claes Andersson (born 1937) – poet, pianist and politician – takes a look at what human existence is about: excess, apathy, greed, devotion, freedom, and the simple pleasures of everyday life (see the introduction)
Poems from Lust (‘Desire’, Söderströms, 2008), translated by David McDuff and David Hackston
A Finnish translation, by Jyrki Kiiskinen, is entitled Ajan meno (WSOY, 2008)
Despite the prognoses of the Earth's imminent warming today April 8 it is cold enough to make one’s teeth chatter In a few weeks I will turn seventy, my ninth grandchild August (Siiri's younger brother) was born two months ago and the tenth is on the way
I hope it all goes well! I was elected to Parliament two weeks ago as the Left Alliance candidate in the constituency of Uusimaa with 9,346 votes. Thank you! In one way it must have been easier to live a hundred years ago, when news reporting was still slow and inadequate. Today when we have millions of eyes and ears scattered across the globe we are forced to be there and take part in it all live As soon as the machete cuts the children's necks in Rwanda their heads roll across the carpets of our living room. When the tsunami approaches we are already inside the screen ready to flee up the mountain. And when the 22-year-old young man at the university in Virginia kills 32 fellow students with his automatic pistol our wallpaper is stained with their blood and the desolate mothers are already weeping outside our door. We cope with it up to a certain limit, and then we switch off. But it continues and repeats itself with a lunatic persistence in our dreams My ailments I consort with as with secret mistresses, one is called Diabetica, another Claudicatio More I will not reveal to you, vultures, hyenas with pricked-up ears! I find it difficult to remember names (at a dinner, I was supposed to give the speech of thanks about my favourite poet Henrik Nordbrandt but could not remember his name) I love to play jazz on my Yamaha grand piano, Monk, Ellington, Bill Evans, some tunes of my own, then I forget everything else. I float despite my being overweight When I hear horn music my tears begin to flow. Seven years ago I underwent two bypass operations, the second was successful I have six children, all grown up, by three different women All the grandchildren as well Having been living for 36 years with my partner who is a psychiatrist and good at many things, including flowers and family therapy We live in a large, empty house with many windows. I read medicine at university and became a doctor in 1962 the same year that I debuted as a poet with the slim volume Ventil where I wrote: ‘Caught in the net of material things man has forfeited the possibility of light. The spider of unhappiness has an appetite for his soul. Bon appetit’ It is easy to be ironic when you have everything Much of what we know is not possible to imagine. Like the abduction and murder of children to sell their organs for transplants Like the attack on a foreign country and the killing of hundreds of thousands of people to secure one’s own nation's energy supply Like the suicide bomber’s desperation and contempt for his own life and those of others The obesity that takes as many lives as famine or even more Like the belief in violence as a solution to the problem of violence The list of the things one neither can nor wants to understand becomes an endless Via Dolorosa. It is Easter and on television we see Christ on the cross turned into a bloody lump of minced meat under Mel Gibson’s cruel direction, perhaps one should not portray all the evil, as Coetzee says in Elisabeth Costello and why describe the torture, the suffering, the pain, if we can do nothing to prevent them? Today is Easter Sunday Christ is risen and the exultation roars through the wonderful Easter cantatas of Bach and Pergolesi. The children have been for Easter dinner, we have eaten mutton stew and drunk red wine, on television they are claiming that Christ’s tomb has been found There are too many questions and too few answers The conservatives won the elections so we have larger class differences, more rich and poor more policemen, guards, Alsatians, violence and charity Bismarck knew that social peace can be guaranteed only by means of a fair social policy. Also we who are rich go astray when we no longer belong anywhere I am not a religious person but I find our destiny figured in Easter’s ethnic cleansing and vicarious suffering What is the freedom that so captivates us? Is the freedom to restrict the freedom of others the only thing we are prepared to kill and die for? The grain of wheat bears fruit when it dies, what ceases continues Take me, drink me, eat me, become those I have loved and always love
(use it or lose it)
Use it or lose it Take the muscles in your arms and legs Take the laughter muscles and the crying muscles Take the stomach muscles One day they are gone Or take thoughts If you stop thinking you will soon have none left Or teeth if you stop chewing The same is true of the emotions If you stop feeling they will waste away and wither Until one day they are gone First you are unfeeling then cold then insensible One day you stand there shouting: Heil who? Friendship too wastes away if you do not use it Not to speak of hatred bitterness jealousy and envy You will end up being very lonely What will you do then without your old favourites? With desire and sex it is the same Unused they will shrink and wither away If you don’t use your love it will die It becomes real in action which is its ex libris in our hearts Unemployed it disappears forever What we don’t use uses us up, we early used-up ones
(I write a poem)
I write a poem I write that I breathe and you breathe I write that this evening it is raining I write that the neighbour’s cat is sitting on the back steps licking its nose Where have all our field mice gone? I write that three-year-old Siiri is looking at the cat and licking her lips I write that the continental shelves are jutting 3.7 centimetres into one another I write that a great hand I write that I want to stay that I long to be gone I write about everyone and about no one in particular I write about us who have loved you who will always love you I write a poem I write that I breathe that you breathe
Translated by David McDuff
This book is about… well, what actually? Don’t eat the menu… you little rascal Eats only living beings… er-hum? I seem to have a cockroach in my throat Hit me hard on the back, please. Thanks Can you feel it burning too…? Sorry… my eyes are so light-sensitive I daren’t look at all Can I ask you a question: who am I? Damn it! And who do you think you are asking me such a bloody quest … No, my dear! Don’t look at me like that! Have you noticed there are cameras all over the place? Like aphids or crab lice or Comforting to know that you’re not entirely alone The walls over there… aren’t they like… some sort of eyes? There are cameras with fax and pix and what have you Nowadays nothing is destroyed rather everything is saved for future interrogations
The new constitution smacks of… dare I even say it?
The choice between polonium and a bullet in the neck?
We simply use the words freedom of choice
Did you see on the telly how his head just sort of came off … the fucking tyrant So you mean that the real murderers…? For the love of Jesus… boom boom It’ll be the peace prize as usual, I take it? Nothing surprises me any longer… psst!... someone is moving in the zone For Christ’s sake… now we’ve got them! What shall we do? Aim? Pretend nothing’s happening? Shoot?
Translated by David Hackston
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