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 Amy Meissner: I love how the two images work together emotionally—down to the medium and palette, the two play off one another nicely and evoke two different inner worlds with the same underlying pain. Reading it in Swedish (although my Swedish isn’t very good) automatically places me elsewhere physically and when creating the art I looked for opportunities to portray pain or loss or even fear in a way that felt universal, while still capturing a foreign element. When I read the English translation however, I connect right away to the emotion and am able to be drawn in even deeper to that dark place, connecting it to my own.
Do you see an overlap between the act of translation and the act of responding visually to a piece of literature?
Artist Amy Meissner: It’s all translation; even reading in one’s native language requires a sort of translation since each reader brings his or her own experiences to a piece of literature and translates emotion from there. Translating from the written to the visual requires more than reiteration of the words, however. I feel it’s the artist’s or illustrator’s job to take the words to another narrative level through their art. This requires an analysis of one’s own experience, but also a feel for the universal.
Why Tranströmer? How does translation fit into your creative life?
Translator Michael McGriff: I’m going to cheat and answer this question with a link to a small essay I wrote for BookForum. In short, Tranströmer is one of my favorite poets. I go to his work to be reminded that the enigmatic universe can be represented by a single image. Translation (the act of doing it, reading it, and publishing it) takes up most of my waking hours. It’s an essential part of my creative life.
Why this poem? Why the original language?
Artist Amy Meissner: My mother is Swedish—all her family is still there. My understanding of the language (written and spoken) is at about an eight- or nine-year old’s, so it felt natural for me to create an image of a younger character. The artwork features wool needlepoint, one of a trunk-full of handwork that has come to me over the years from Sweden. The poem evoked a heaviness that felt much like a burden—dragging around a relationship, yes, but also dragging the burden of culture and cultural artifacts for years and years, trying to make connections and having a deeper understanding of family or the individual, but always mired in the lack of language, the lack of understanding what makes a culture or family do the things they do.