Editor's Note

One poem chiseled and dramatic, one sprawling with digressions, and one like a montage—here are three poems defying stylistic expectations by the prolific Danish poet, Rolf Gjedsted. Even as we catch the bitterness and ironies in these poems on betrayal and deceit, we enjoy the calm humour of this voice.

— Mani Rao
The Bombay Literary Magazine

Translator's Note

After reading two of his poetry books which I bought from used book stores in Denmark, I contacted Rolf Gjedsted in early 2022, with an eye towards translating his writing. He and I met at his home in Nyhavn, Copenhagen that May. After a tour of the restaurant on the first floor of his building, which was decorated with Rolf’s large, colorful abstract paintings, we sat by the canal among the tourists and cafes. I shared a few sample translations I had done, and he gave me a bag with copies of what he thought were his ten best poetry collections, all now out of print. We shared not just similar interests in music, eastern philosophy, and poetry, but we also had a dear common acquaintance in the recently deceased Danish national poet, Benny Andersen. We discussed other Danish writers that we had known, and he revealed to me what he had learned was the secret to writing poetry: musicality. Rolf was also a translator, bringing into Danish the poetry of Beaudelaire, Poe, and Rimbaud. It was a shock to learn that just two months after meeting him, Rolf died suddenly in July, 2022. Unfortunately, he will not see his work appear in translation for the first time, but I am doing what I can so that his voice continues to reach readers with its message of deep awareness, living with paradox, and the musicality of language.

— Michael Favala Goldman

Vampire (2002)

I still remember it:
She gave out business cards
with the Devil’s hand.
But she convinced me
she was born
with an angel’s heart.

She loved garlic
and glimmering things of silk and silver.
But her love
needed more life in it
to feed her dread
of sunrises.

She baked white cakes
which she ate with my blood.
But I don’t remember
what we talked about
after we had loved
through the enveloping darkness.

I remember better
what our words did not mean.
I was so in love
I could not make a sound.
There is so much understanding
between lovers
which are like distances at night.

But I remember
that despite everything
it was not so difficult being me.
It was much harder
to be her:
to return every dawn
with a stake through her heart.

Morning Miracle/Intro (1977)

…I hear that you are preoccupied with another…
You say the other dwells within me…
I was not myself when I woke up that day.
But that was not strange,
or unique to that day…

I have not been myself for a long time –
if ever!
I was slowly transformed, inside and out,
without really noticing it before!
When with pounding heart I pushed the button
on the electronic clock, which was only one second off
to one side or the other, during an entire year…
It was a sure thing, just as unsure as the transformation!
And I was transformed…
The previous impressions I have had of this relationship
were always blurred with great certainty,
like when the dream you just woke up from
and don’t recall right away,
is suddenly vanished with a bad recollection
in the dream as in real life,
which you have only vague and totally blurry memories about…
That was enough – it demanded the sum of my concentration –
just to occupy myself all day long with each step,
work, & piles of meaningful & meaningless needs!
The need to look this transformation, the stranger,
& still familiar person in the eye,
was continuously pushed into the background, like an uncomfortable need…
Like the physical and psychological relationship always worked,
facing other unfamiliar and all too familiar needs, etc.
And now the day has arrived!
And I will immediately begin something or other,
to see how this stranger functions,
now that I have found him, & not let him slip away…
Breakfast went unexpectedly easy:
I knew when nausea would arise (from the coffee),
already before it appeared I had bread and milk ready!
The newspaper & work stood ready.
I was ready to crawl in under the paper
together with the other insects & and gnaw it and digest
the choice between two world empires
who at this time continually keep each other in check –
constructed with the same ideologies
(with the same faith & faithlessness)
divided into the three classic classes:
The rulers, the poison mixers, the average & the also-rans,
with unusually developed back legs & skin folds for nectar,
& the lowest types & slaves, the others lived off of,
around whose bodies & production capacity, materials
& lack of resistance, & possibilities at all,
the permanent, universal war was built up…
Enthusiasm for preserving the stranger
had subsided long ago, at the outset!
The night had been very chaotic –
I remembered it – full of dreams that were as they usually are:
An array of pictures & symbols, which were unwilling
to work with the one who had fostered them,
aberrations in the morning,
when I had expected a miracle…

Memories (1989)

I was about five,
the sun was big,
like an inflammation.
The summer was big,
but disappeared.
The scorched sights
of families, streets, and houses,
especially the shoppers
at the products’ magic border.

I was about five,
the winter was boiling
like a woolen mitten.
The snow was big,
but disappeared.
A black boot,
sandbox, and basement,
an unfamiliar child…
Lovers will never
leave one another.

I was five,
knew nothing,
with a kind of pain
that cannot be called pain.
Christmas was big,
but disappeared.
Furniture and rooms
were decorated
for birthdays and carnival…
Some people and things died,
after knowing them for a while.

I was about five,
and everything was possibly
as it should be.
I had no idea,
but I wanted to know
the most simple thing:
unsuspecting, naive,
digest the disloyalty
that I perceived around me.
Already deceitfully clear.


Image credits:

Title: Sedimental Memories No 06. © Jean-Michel Bihorel. All rights reserved.

Jean-Michel’s brilliant digital Kintsugi-type renderings and interpretations of the human form could probably fit into a great many contexts. This particular image held a special appeal because the Rolf Gjedsted’s poems also seemed to be orbiting “sedimental memories”. Memories decanted from experiences of thirst, longing, and forced transformations.

Rolf Gjedsted’s artistic aesthetic leaned very much towards the abstract and the possibilities of the colour field, but we think he would’ve understood our choice, perhaps even approved.


Rolf Gjedsted (author)

Danish author, musician, painter, and sculptor Rolf Gjedsted (1947-2022) wrote fifty-five works of poetry, fiction, translation, and non-fiction. Gjedsted never achieved great notoriety during his lifetime, but he was fearless in penetrating the substance of the written word. Gjedsted owned the stone cabin in Spain where Federico García Lorca lived before being murdered, and Gjedsted wrote many poems there.

Michael Favala Goldman  (translator)

Michael Favala Goldman (b.1966) is a poet, jazz clarinetist and translator of Danish literature. Among his seventeen translated books are Farming Dreams by Knud Sørensen and Dependency by Tove Ditlevsen (a Penguin Classic). His five books of original poetry include Small Sovereign. He lives in Northampton, MA, where he has been running poetry workshops since 2018. https://michaelfavalagoldman.com/.  

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