NEA Literature Fellowships

Denise Newman

Back to NEA Literature Fellowships
(2014 - Translation)

from "Blackcurrant" by Naja Marie Aidt

[translated from the Danish]

As long as there were berries on the bushes, we'd continue to pick them. That's what we agreed on. Helle didn't say a word, and so I was silent too. The sun baked. You could see the cows in the field beyond the garden. We sat on the ground surrounded by shrubs; it was the middle of the day and I was afraid of getting a tick. Our hands were blue, and we had already filled an entire pail. There were enough for many jars of jam, and I thought about how wonderful it would be to stand in the kitchen, in the sweet scent from the blackcurrant jam, taking turns skimming it. We'd talk then. There was so much we hadn't had the chance to talk about. I wondered how I should prepare that chicken we bought at the grocery store. I wondered if Helle would soon be tired of picking berries and we could go in and have coffee. But she wasn’t getting tired. She dried the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand, squinted her eyes toward the sun, but then continued. I looked at the tattoo on her upper arm. A faded rose. She got it a long time ago. I was with her that night, we were drunk, and she yelled out in pain each time the tattooist pricked her skin with the needle. But afterwards we had a beer with him; Helle dried her tears and gave him a kiss right on the mouth. I remember thinking that it didn’t seem like her at all, either to do something as wild as getting a tattoo, or to kiss a man right on the mouth like that. But of course we were drunk. We were often drunk back then. Afterwards, we bought some fresh morning buns, and rode our bikes to the beach and sat there watching the sun rise, and I tore off all my clothes and ran into the water and pretended I was drowning, but Helle was already walking away, and I yelled after her, but she didn’t stop, and I saw her stagger up over the dunes and disappear. Then I cried. I sat and cried and shivered and got sand in my eyes and under my dress. But of course I was drunk. I don't remember how I got home, and a few days went by before Helle called, but we never spoke about it, why she left without saying good-bye.

Excerpt in Danish

About Naja Marie Aidt

Naja Marie Aidt was born and raised until the age of seven in a remote village in Greenland, and, although her stories are mainly set in Denmark, they brim with a quiet emotional intensity one associates with that vast frozen landscape. Aidt's portrayals of people, of different ages and walks of life, touch on a universal core of existence.

Her characters are put under great psychological strain in order to expose what’s lurking beneath the facade of civility, and she does this with great economy and complete control of all the elements. As with her poems, the language is rhythmic and rich with imagery; the machinery driving these intense narratives is so subtle that the fine layers of meaning continue to yield even after many readings.

Denise Newman’s poetry collections are The New Make Believe (The Post-Apollo Press, 2010), Wild Goods (Apogee Press, 2008), and Human Forest (Apogee Press, 2000). She is the translator of the novel Azorno by the late Danish poet Inger Christensen (New Directions, 2009) and The Painted Room, also by Christensen, which is distributed by Random House, UK. She was awarded a 2013 NEA Translation Fellowship to complete her translation of the short story collection Baboon by the Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt, to be published by Two Lines Press in 2014. She is the poetry editor of Zen Monster and teaches at the California College of the Arts in Oakland and San Francisco.

Photo by Irene Suchocki

Translator's Statement

I began translating years ago in an effort to better grasp the poems of the Danish poet Inger Christensen. I spent years translating her sonnet sequence, and when I was done (though it never feels completely done) I was hooked. I feel fortunate now to have the opportunity to translate Naja Marie Aidt’s masterful stories.

A translator is at the intersection of the writer, the writing, and the readers (and is there a closer reader than a translator?). It’s an ironically dynamic position for someone who’s typically invisible. To be acknowledged with an NEA fellowship is tremendous. Not only is it concrete support for my work as well as Aidt’s, but it’s also significant institutional support for a cross-cultural cooperation.