boundary 2 29.1 (2002) 25-26

Jesper Svenbro:
In Translation

An Introduction by Lars-Håkan Svensson

Translation, both as a concept and a practice, is central to the poetic and critical achievement of Jesper Svenbro (b. 1944). Like Anne Carson, he is a classical scholar as well as a poet, and in both capacities he has concentrated on similar poetological (mainly metafictive) issues: a reader of Phrasikleia: An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece (Myth and Poetics) (Cornell University Press, 1992) and The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric (with John Scheid; Harvard University Press, 1996) will find that the same concern with metapoetic meanings evinced in these books recurs in the nine volumes of poetry he has written in Swedish, his native tongue. These issues are noticeable in all three of the poems included in this selection, which also illustrates the slyly autobiographical manner adopted in his latest work. Other themes examined in Svenbro’s scholarly books—literacy and orality in early Greek society—are also highly relevant to an appreciation of his own poetry.

As Svenbro is himself a distinguished translator, with acclaimed renditions of Sappho, Francis Ponge, and contemporary Italian poetry to his credit, I find it entirely appropriate that this selection is concluded with John [End Page 25] Matthias’s amusing account of the particular anxiety he experienced while we cotranslated the volume we are calling, after one of the central pieces to be included, Three-toed Gull: Selected Poems of Jesper Svenbro. Svenbro continues to live in France, where he has held a post at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique for many years.

A note on the poems: “Kit for an Orpheus Poem” (“Byggsats till en Orfeus-dikt”) is from Samisk Apollon och andra dikter (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1993); “Syntagma” (“Syntagma”) is from Vid budet att Santo Bambino di Aracoeli slutligen stulits av maffian (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1996); and “Propertius Mistranslated” (“Propertius felöversatt”) is from Installation med miniatyrflagga (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1999).

Lars-Håkan Svensson teaches English at the University of Lund, Sweden. He is a poet, translator, scholar, and critic. Recent translations include books by Paul Muldoon and John Matthias. He has also edited and translated the correspondence between Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer. He has published a great number of translations of single poems by British, Irish, and American poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, A.R. Ammons, Mebdh McGuckian, and Oliver Reynolds.