What is it like to see both visual responses to the poem? Does reading it in English versus Swedish provoke different feelings in you?
Artist Douglas Culhane: The visual responses couldn’t be more different—which is good. Interestingly neither of us included specific imagery from the poem (yellow flowers, a violin). Tranströmer is a poet I really admire and working on this project is the first time I had read his work in the original Swedish. I’m reading the Swedish with German pronunciation—so I don’t trust any feelings provoked by it!
Translator Michael McGriff: There’s something new and exciting when text leaves the page and enters the realm of the visual—it reminds us that words take up house and carry meaning no matter how they appear before us. Regarding the broadsides, I love the balance struck between the two images—one image representing the human and one the abstract. The conversation between the two is essentially what poetry is all about, feeling and image talking to each other. For me reading the Swedish gets as close to the core as it gets—those rhythms and musical notes just don’t carry over into the English.
Do you see an overlap between the act of translation and the act of responding visually to a piece of literature?
Artist Douglas Culhane: Not overlap, more like inverse processes. For me translation requires a certain kind of accuracy balanced with an intuitive, aesthetic sense of the new work. In adding visuals to a poem I always have to wrestle with how to find the essence without being literal.
What did you imagine an artist would respond to in this poem?
Translator Michael McGriff: That image of being carried in your shadow like a violin in its black case is at once immensely simple and complicated. Visually, I imagine that anyone would respond to the tone of that image, that idea of being weighted down within yourself, trapped with the inexpressible. “April and Silence” is my favorite poem, in any language.
Why this poem?
Artist Douglas Culhane: I responded to the imagery. The yellow flowers in the ditch in April resonated for me in a very personal way. Where I used to live the coltsfoot would bloom in the ditches after the long hard Upstate winters. But then of course I couldn’t use that imagery in my piece (it would have been literal and redundant). So I focused on why the poet was using those images, light and dark, concrete and abstract. What that image opens into is something so much bigger. The yellow text on the black field was the only way to approach the yellow flowers in the ditch without depicting them. Also it is a profoundly beautiful poem.
Note: This broadside and interview are included in the anthology, Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration, 2005-2020 (Provincetown Arts Press, 2022).