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Three Poems by Menno Wigman

1 August 2014


Photograph by Dolf Verlinden

Menno Wigman combines an almost classical aesthetic with contemporary sensibilities and rock-and-roll subject matter. Dense, metrical poetry about sex and vandalism, death and suburban garden centres. An essentially colloquial vocabulary raised to a higher level by judicious assonance and alliteration. As a translator I’m attracted to his passion and his dedication to craft, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to reproduce both the flow and depth of his work. Wigman is a translator himself and understands and respects the process, that makes collaboration easy. Although happy to explain and identify what he sees as the most crucial features of the original, he is never proscriptive about how I should attempt to attain equivalence in English. I look forward to working on more of his poems later this year.

Room 421

My mother’s falling apart. She lives in a closet,
not quite a coffin, where she wets her chair
and sits the same day out each day. A view 
of trees as well and in those trees are birds
and none of them know who they’re from. 

I’ve been her son for more than forty years
and visit her and don’t know who I see.
She read to me and tucked me in at night.
She stammers, falters, stalls. She’s falling apart.

Animals never think about their mothers.
I spoon some quivering mush into her mouth,
and tell myself she still knows who I am.

Blackbirds, probably. They keep on singing.
The call of the earth. From curse to curse, it’s heard.
Promesse de bonheur

Me in her bed and her stepping out of the shower. 
The way she goes through to the kitchen naked
is how my days will go from here on in. 
    
She hums a song and I am quickened in her bed. 
Infinitely awake, she is, and warm and soft and proud, 
and beautiful, so beautiful I can’t say how. 

It is a love that must. A miracle which will.
And everything I’ve ever longed for in a body 
is there before my eyes completely naked, 

naked and mine. The room’s still panting – lustful and wooden. 
The curl of her mouth, her strong and lofty mouth that’s made
for lips and pleasure, the curl of her mouth looks good.
Jeunesse dorée

I saw the best minds of my generation
   bleeding for revolts that didn’t come.
I saw them dreaming between the covers of books 
   and waking in a twenty-two-town hell,
ill-omened as the excised heart of Rotterdam.

I saw them swearing by a newfound drunkenness
   and dancing on the sea-bed of the night.
I saw them weeping for the cattle in the trams
   and praying under bright and glaring lights.

I saw them suffering from unrequited talent
   and speaking in agitated voices – 
if it had all been said before, not by them.

They came too late. Their promise unredeemed.
   The cities gleamed as black as caviar.
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