NEA Literature Fellowships

Bill Coyle

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2011 - Translation)

"Twenty two things not to be trusted" by Håkan Sandell

[translated from Swedish]

Twenty two things not to be trusted:  
not night-old ice, not a winter in Skåne
with the ice shining and as yet untrodden
to a confidence inspiring terra firma.
Not winter in Skåne, not spring in Norway
with Easter Lilies rising through the snow's crust;
never, ever, for Christ's sake, trust
the blond from the sticks, fresh off the bus,
the bloodied thread in the labyrinth,
or that to every nice girl in a pinch
an angel comes, outfitted like a demon.
Mistrust a bit the empire's balconies,
they have less of a purchase than the piercing 
in the snake's tongue; consider: the ice
in that drink in India will melt, consider, too,
that the red smiles and eyes as violet-blue
as the firmament above the Soviet Union
in one of Mikael Wiehe's folk rock tunes
won't always live up to your expectations.
For the young, these valuable recommendations;
never trust the egg laid by the rooster,
or helpfulness encountered at train stations,
doubt the dentist's gold, the wolf's wool
and the assurances of a golden future;
that it's primarily for your own good
that you've been taken in hand, that you can depend
upon your being loved by your enemy.
No, don't believe for a moment in the imperishable
nature of the shining ice; in the spread
wings of Icarus, in a spider's thread,
in Christian charity with preconditions,
in politicians -- or the children of  politicians

Excerpt in Swedish

About Håkan Sandell

Håkan Sandell has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Swedish poetry, combining a sober but unabashed romanticism with an innovative use of traditional tools such as meter and rhyme to describe modern urban life. Having lived abroad most of his adult life -- in Denmark, in Ireland, and, for the past ten years, in Norway -- Sandell brings to his work both an outsider's perspective on Swedish culture and a native's deep sense of the language's past and future possibilities. Were he writing in any of the world's more widely spoken languages, he would already be recognized internationally as a major poet.

Bill Coyle's first collection of poetry, The God of This World to His Prophet, won the New Criterion Poetry Prize and was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2006. His poems and translations have appeared in such journals as The Hudson Review, The New Republic, Poetry  and Modern Poetry in Translation, and have been anthologized in The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, 2009), New European Poets (Graywolf, 2008), and The Other Side of Landscape: An Anthology of Contemporary Nordic Poetry (Slope Editions, 2006). He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, and works in the Writing Center at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts.  

Photo by Cattie Coyle

Translator's Statement

I'm deeply grateful for this fellowship, which I take to be both an acknowledgement of the importance of Håkan Sandell's poetry, and an endorsement of my own efforts to bring it over into English. The rewards of translation -- the intimate contact with another language and another poet's mind, the exercise of poetic muscles one didn't know one had, the satisfaction of introducing good work to an audience that would otherwise have no access it -- are too substantial for me to pretend that it's an entirely unselfish activity. Still, it does take a significant amount of time, time set aside before or after a busy day at work, and set aside at the expense of my own work as a poet. This fellowship will enable me to take additional time off and to complete the manuscript of Sandell's poetry that I have been working on for some years now, a prospect that both I and the poet find very exciting.