By Danniel Schoonebeek January 26, 2016
In the afterword to Bright Scythe, her new translation of Tomas Tranströmer’s selected poems, Patty Crane tells a fascinating, fatalist story about how she came to translate the late Swedish poet and Nobel Prize recipient. Crane moved with her family to Tumba, Sweden in 2007, after her husband took a job overseas at a paper mill. A year into her relocation, she took a summer residency at Vermont College and began flying back to the United States in order to focus on her writing. One evening she sat next to poet Jean Valentine in a cafeteria, and because Valentine had heard that Crane was living near Stockholm, she asked if Crane might deliver a book to her friend Tomas. A year later, Crane was sitting in Tomas Tranströmer’s home, speaking to him in Swedish, and beginning to translate his poem “The Station” into English. A few more years later—and this isn’t part of that fatalist afterword, but it’s part of our story today—a galley of Bright Scythe arrived at my studio in the Catskills and the doors that seemed to bar me from Tranströmer’s work for so many years were blown off their hinges.
Is it weird for you to think that if even one of these events never took place you and I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation?
It is weird. If it weren’t for a flat bicycle tire, we definitely wouldn’t be having this conversation! That’s how I met my future husband, whose future job brought us to Sweden. I imagine there are events in your own life, maybe even a chance encounter, that led to this exchange we’re having. Turn of events such as the ones I experienced—the move to Sweden, learning the language, re-discovering Tranströmer, my chance encounter with Jean, and everything that flowed from that—seem to me to be less about what happens to you in a given set of circumstances and more about what you make happen. I guess I’m talking about opportunity. A door opens and you enter. And look, a new room with more doors. Here I am in Stockholm, taking Swedish-for-Immigrants classes. Here I am reading Tranströmer in the original Swedish. Here’s an early draft of my translation of “From July ’90” with Tomas’s faint pencil lines under the word pit. And here we are, Danniel, having this conversation. How do I reconcile that? I hope with sufficient gratitude, humility and hard work.