#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews ISLAND MOUNTAIN GLACIER by Anne Vegter

If you are looking for an easy read, for smoothly rolling sentences and pretty ‘poetic’ imagery, look elsewhere. What Anne Vegter dishes out instead will make you laugh, it will make you blush, perhaps even swear, perhaps jump up in your seat. It might make you cry out loud – in my case there was a lot of that, mainly in amazement or amusement. And let me add that I was reading the book while on a train. Got some concerned looks, I have to admit…

I laid my first my
very very first tiny hands
on the hairy chest
of a farmhand.
[…]
Sometimes farmhands mow
down children,
sometimes a farmer runs down the drive
sometimes the first breast is alibi.

Anne Vegter’s poetry, in perfectly pitched translation by another brilliant poet, Astrid Alben, is filled with erotic, sometimes deliciously crude imagery – also on a literal level: the book features the poet’s sparse line drawings, which have a strong erotic undercurrent. Some people might say these poems are vulgar, but what I see here is disarming honesty, courage even, to call things what they are and what we call them on the quiet, in private, in our minds, but are often afraid to say out loud. 

The book playfully brings together the everyday and the extraordinary, the intimate and the unsettling, the regular and the untamed. It can surprise the reader too. It will take you on a rather turbulent, but not necessarily unpleasant ride. Though you might end up a bit sore, as themes such as relationships and sex, and loss and death get taken apart, stripped bare and shoved back at you.

A parent is a house. Gooey goo-goo. Food, milk,
lalala. A lullaby disentangles love.
Be joyous and light touch. Filter light,
the air is of an invaluable purity.
Compared to wellbeing I daresay it’s cloud-cuckoo.
Parents / moods / components of the growth machine.

This is Vegter’s first full-length collection in English, but she is well established in her home country, becoming the first female poet laureate of the Netherlands in 2013. This particular book was awarded the Awater Poetry Prize in 2011. She has also authored children’s books, theatre monologues and erotic stories. Her most recent poetry collection in Dutch is Big Data (2020).

The book ends with a very special appendix: Astrid Alben’s seven versions of a translation of one poem by Vegter. This provides a rare insight into the translation process, unveiling, as Alben phrases it herself in the intro to the appendix, the poem’s ‘syntactical, semantic, sonic, rhythmic bones and muscles’. It’s truly fascinating to be able to see this on the page. And what a brilliant idea for other poetry-in-translation books.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak

ISLAND MOUNTAIN GLACIER

By Anne Vegter

Translated by Astrid Alben

Published by Prototype Publishing (2022)

July 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her translation of Maciej Hen’s According to Her is forthcoming. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.

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Category: July 2022Reviews

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