The Swiss Riveter: FOUR POEMS by Leta Semadeni, translated and introduced by Tess Lewis

Born in Scuol in 1944, Leta Semadeni writes concise, luminous poetry in both German and the Vallader dialect of Romansh. She is equally at home in, and slightly removed from, both languages and publishes almost all her poetry in bilingual editions. Semadeni does not translate her Romansh poems into German, or vice versa, but recreates them in the other language, so that the shifting ground under the reader of both versions seems to give only a small shrug. Indeed, a sense of ambivalent familiarity runs through all of her work. She is an acute observer of the natural world, often discerning kindred souls in the animals around her but resisting the temptation to anthropomorphise them. Animals, like words, open new realms of perception for her. Words are like animals, she has noted, ‘inasmuch as they have their own lives and can be very stubborn’.
Leta Semadeni’s poetry and her novel, Tamangur, have been recognised with a number of awards, including the literary prize of the Canton Graubünden, the Schiller Prize in 2011, and the Swiss Literature Prize in 2016.


Some words

extend their illuminate bodies

from books

Build nests

inside me

Feed off me

Fast growing

fluorescent mushrooms

From In mia vita da vuolp – In meinem Leben als Fuchs (Chasa editura rumantscha, Chur 2010)

That’s why

Because we

are different

from each other

tensed in skins

we need

so many words

From RAZ (Verlag Martin Wallimann, Alpnach 2011)

City Vixen

Every night the vixen

devours the remains

of the day cleans

the bowl paws

at my polished


From Poesias da chadafö – Küchengedichte (Uniun dals Grischs, 2006)

Village Butcher

Upstairs after the slaughter

to wash the blood off

with Smetana

This bath in the Moldau

refreshes drowns out

the lowing

Along the banks graze

the calves’ ghosts

The stream becomes a torrent

And he kneads

the white flesh

of his wife to

quiet the roar

From Poesias da chadafö – Küchengedichte (Uniun dals Grischs, 2006)

By Leta Semadeni

Translated by Tess Lewis

Leta Semadeni was born in Scuol, Switzerland and studied languages at the University of Zurich. She taught at several schools in Zurich and Engadin and worked in Latin America, Paris, Zug, Berlin and New York. Since 2005 she has lived and worked as a freelance writer in Lavin. Semadeni has been awarded several prizes for her work, including the 2016 Swiss

Tess Lewis is a translator from French and German. She has translated many Swiss writers including three winners of the Swiss Book Prize: Jonas Lüscher, Monique Schwitter and Melinda Nadj Abonji.

Photo of Leta Semadeni © Yvonne Böhler

Category: The Swiss RiveterTranslationsDecember 2018 - The Swiss RiveterLiterally SwissLS Extracts


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