Gro Dahle. Translator: Rebecca Wadlinger. Ugly Duckling Presse, $17 paperback (192p)
I speak a fading, intermediate Spanish at best and can’t imagine translating it. I know little about creating the same tone in two languages, maintaining meaning with form, or translating those untranslatable phrases. I do not know a single word of Norwegian. But after reading Rebecca Wadlinger’s translation of Gro Dahle’s book-length poem A Hundred Thousand Hours, I don’t need to speak to translation. I want to speak to the poetry.
Dahle tells a terrifying story through stunning lines. It is a book of the house and a book of the body. The house becomes a body. Dahle tells the story of a mother and daughter’s illicit relationship through shifting points of view. We see a daughter as speaker, then a mother, and we see both in third person. When the book shifts its yous, the reader fills the dreadful role of both mother and daughter.
Each line builds, leading to elation, longing, anger, and disquiet. The poem begins with something looming in the air of the house – “Inside my mother sits in the rocking chair and watches/me. All is so still. All is so still. The glass cabinet listens./ It is just before she begins to rock.” – and escalates to the grotesque – “My baby. My baby. Hold you/ so tight you can’t breathe./ This is my privilege.”
It is a book of infatuation – “So quiet your hair is on/ your neck. The little itty-bitty white hairs. They are silent about all/worth being silent about and even a little more.” – on the brink of eruption – “Here your neck slips/ unnoticed into your back. And your back slips into an/ anger I could never imagine.”
And when the poem erupts, it is from regret – “I am a wood louse...I cry: please. I cry please as loud as I can.” – and from rage – “If I see you on the street, I will bake/ gingerbread in your face.”
When the rage can erupt no more, we end in a quiet loneliness, left astonished by the unexpected image, the explicit action, and the tender malevolence. Wadlinger has hidden herself in these words, elevating Dahle, whose original Norwegian is mirrored on each page.
A Hundred Thousand Hours is said to be “one of the most celebrated and controversial” Norwegian books in recent decades, and thanks to Wadlinger’s skillful translations, we are able to celebrate its arrival in English. (December 2013)
Purchase A Hundred Thousand Hours HERE.
Reviewer bio: Christy Crutchfield’s novel How to Catch a Coyote is forthcoming from Publishing Genius in 2014. Her work has appeared in Mississippi Review online, Salt Hill Journal, the Collagist, Newfound, and others. Visit her at christycrutchfield.com