(REVIEW) Island Mountain Glacier, by Anne Vegter
Parel Joy surveys the geo-logic of eroticism and multilingualism in former Dichter des Vaderlands (Dutch Poet Laureate) Anne Vegter's first collection to be translated into English, Island Mountain Glacier.
‘You spoke of an emotional chill, below zero you said it was between / my thighs in the departure lounge’ – thus opens ‘Tramps’, the second poem of Anne Vegter’s Island Mountain Glacier, a poetry collection filled with musings on disconnect, homely conversation, eroticism and disaster.
Island Mountain Glacier is divided up into three sections: Tramps, Island Mountain Glacier, and Daughter Of. While Vegter’s tone doesn’t vary much throughout the first two sections, they all deal with their own themes: Tramps is social and interpersonal, yet somehow a sense of disconnect runs throughout; Island Mountain Glacier examines climate catastrophe and personal detail; it eventually turns erotic. Daughter Of, the final section of the collection, tells the mythical story of the daughter of Old Testament Noah, combining recent disasters and complicated family dynamics to conclude in bloody revenge, ending the collection with dramatic catharsis.
Vegter’s voice remains relatively distant throughout the first two sections of Island Mountain Glacier: even a line like “I could’ve joyfully sucked you off. Are you even listening?” does not convey all that much joy. At times, Vegter’s poetry is reminiscent of Athena Farrokhzad, with similar repetition to some of its lines, especially the first stanza of ‘Checkpoints’, where lines begin with “my father said…”, “his father said…”, “his mother said…”, “my mother said…”, and so forth. This sturdily weaves the narrator within a web of personal relations, and, as distant as wording may feel at times, fills Island Mountain Glacier with connection. That is where, largely, its power lies: in the moments where Vegter examines a disconnected type of connection, seemingly an oxymoron, yet so familiar to most of us.
In some ways, Island Mountain Glacier is almost metapoetry: when the reader opens the collection, they will find a note from translator Astrid Alben, which concludes with ‘where the English could not accommodate, I improvised.’ This sets the tone for the way we read the collection; we are now aware of the parallel-ness of literary translation alongside the original text, more so than we would have been otherwise. Literary translation may be one of the hardest forms of translation due to its hostility to literal word-to-word conversion. A literary translator needs to be sensitive to the voice of the author, and sometimes opt for different, better-fitting idiomatic wording than a literal translation would be able to provide. Poetry often proves to be harder to translate than prose, because aside from tone and voice, form and metre also play a huge part in what makes a poem. The cross bore by a poetry translator is heavy; all the better that Alben’s name is not only on the cover of this translation and she is given full credit for her work – even better that some of these considerations on literary translation are highlighted further in Island Mountain Glacier’s appendix at the end of the collection. Here, the poem ‘Tramps’ is dissected through a translator’s eyes, offering seven different versions of a translation of the same poem.
Aside from the poems, Vegter also made the illustrations for her own poetry collection: semi-abstract drawings of body parts form erotic landscapes in between poems (the collection opens with a vulva landscape). The thin line drawings offer space in between the poems, and at one point we find a handwritten text, which has been scratched out. These additions not only point the reader’s focus in a certain direction when reading Vegter’s poetry – a stronger focus on the erotic – but also offer space and a sense of meditation that comes seemingly directly from the poet’s brain. They’re a welcome addition to an already immersive and compelling poetry collection. As a whole, Island Mountain Glacier is bound to leave you wondering about the many questions it asks – about connection, love, disaster – and where we stand among them.
Text: Parel Joy
Image: Parel Joy