Kristina Andersson Bicher translates Hanna Riisager

The triumph of venus

I.                       (Boucher)

The lines dissolve

the day rises
in a swirl towards the shell’s center
a dream
in mother-of-pearl and silk ribbon    ornament
is crime

It is a cone it is a stiff sea
that towers up with white geese
dry, cloudy
a plug

overexposed from the side in slanted
with love’s white
wedged between the thighs
– a third

carrying        Want
with a chisel
into the picture deeply
into the white, goose flesh hole
which arches around the want


when you, oh when you
swim with the doves

when you freeze all this
                          freezes in your body

II.                       (Gillette)

So beautiful
it is
beautiful in my mirror the tiles
the floor’s
black seams drain trap

drifts, vertigo
drifts of hair

drive it out
the pelvis’
walled spiral
in a
maelstrom of soapsuds
the memory
the head’s rounding
grooves          form follows function

with ironic and straw-scented

is it really the clean lines
I seek
to carve reality
are really

shaved clean, pain

I’m on my knees  I stand atop
the sun     secreting
                        repeating a slogan
(gesture) out of memory

the best you can get
That is the best a man can get

III.                       (Hild)

Under the water
is an enormous pressure.
I’m not looking for a kernel.
There are no pearls here: nothing.
The body and its reward systems,
a void that’s flesh.
A sinew that wraps itself around

A massive internal pressure.

You are born out of this, your clarity,
your apparition, your criminal
beauty, spinal, elongated.
An illegal infatuation
this ascetic amor ornamenti

                       where does it come from?

The underground river’s wild
deep darkness. Upended white,
colossal, down to the bone
which blows itself around in a macabre dance.
The shell’s sandblasted surface, inside me,
the flesh’s compliance. The obstruction in me
is love (a battle)

remnants, ashes, tiny tiny shells


      I.              Hanna

You are only sound. Your voice
is beautiful and fills me with its darkness.
You open your mouth to call out for me,
and all the stars jingle in an electric space.

You dress up as an angel,
thunder your steps of grace at the marble sky
like an echo inside my tender skull.
I dress up as a tear. Quiver.

Then the angel takes out a large knife
and pokes my hairless crown.
Pokes a hole, this big.

A this-big naked cry
that gapes and swallows its own voice.
Gurgles and vomits silence, tears.

      II.              Han (He)

Halves me. Disappears into my face.

            A severe obsession:
I must go back to that place,
            the memorial park.
I must lay down in the odorless         
            municipal grass
and let the weight of the thundersky press me against
            the earth.

na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na na…

Do I wake up undressed in your bed?
            Do I not recognize myself?
            Do I not recognize you?

I lose myself in stupid narcissistic plunges into the mirror.
You smile at me with a fake-tan ambiguity.

In the park’s leaf-tunnel, leaf-forgetfulness
                         I hold up my name like a lamp
against the distance. Your face blazes with a white sheen,
                         broken profile. Scent of jasmine, drizzle.

      III.              You

You know one slash is enough for me to cut you in half.
It’s so dark
in the morning, it never gets light.
I dream of gunmen every night.
Mute men with weapons, masked as me.
I shoot a hole in your stomach, this big.
Slip around on your intestines, like on a plowed
autumn field, glossy gray. Clay turned up –

Jackdaws lighten in flocks. Bullets, poems,
the shooting down of the poem, lead-grey
hail showers. You,
hovering around for a while.

      IV.              Me

One of the many names you dress in, beaming.
The edge of this world
that surges hard against your white lip.
An optical illusion.
It is called skin but means phoneme.
An aspirated cry. As if
my vocal chords ached from my signature.
Or from the mirth you swallowed. Ha –
Here I place a nest
in your gaping throat. You sit quietly
with your beautiful word on the tongue.
Alveolar collapse. Declaring
my boundless scope.

Translator’s Note

When Hanna Riisager’s debut collection För Kvalia was released in 2015, a reviewer described it as “a distinctive collection of poems that taps into philosophical theories about perception… a playful and straightforward book, worth discovering for those who dare to see the world in other than black and white.” Svenska Dagbladet deemed Riisager among “Sweden’s 20 most important young poets” in 2016.

This book – in which these two poems appear – is both exploration and ode. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines qualia as a concept that seeks to “establish that conscious experience involves non-physical properties. It rests on the idea that someone who has complete physical knowledge about another conscious being might yet lack knowledge about how it feels to have the experiences of that being.”

As a translator, these were thrilling poems to dig into. With only loose narrative threads, the poems are borne along on drifts and rivers of imagery and language which (to extend the metaphor) both surge and ebb or trickle/waft away. Word pile-ups alternate with buckets of white space. The book draws upon classical poetic traditions such as epithalamions and ekphrasis.

The multi-part poem “Triumph of Venus” published here refers not only to famous paintings but also brings in commercial products from the beauty industry that employ language seeking to re-define the self. The poem “Hanna” is such an exploration of the self. How the self interacts with others and the self of the world. How the self experiences the self:

     You dress up as an angel,

     thunder your steps of grace at the marble sky

     like an echo inside my tender skull.

     I dress up as a tear. Quiver.

These poems left me in wonder.

Hanna Riisager is a Swedish poet and critic living in Stockholm. She has an MA in literary studies from Stockholm University. She is one of the founders of the feminist publishing house Dockhaveri förlag, which published her first full-length poetry collection, För Kvalia (2015). För Kvalia was short-listed for the Swedish Authors’ Association debutante prize (Katapult prize) in 2016. Excerpts from För Kvalia have previously been translated into Romanian (Poesis International), French (La Traductiére) and Greek (Vaxikon). Work translated into English appear in Four Way Review and Asymptote.

Kristina Andersson Bicher is a poet, translator, and essayist. Her work has been published in AGNI, The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Colorado Review, Brooklyn Rail, Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Plume, Narrative, and others. She is author of the poetry collection She-Giant in the Land of Here-We-Go-Again (MadHat Press 2020) and Just Now Alive (FLP 2014), as well as a translation of Swedish poet Marie Lundquist’s I Walk Around Gathering Up My Garden for the Night (Bitter Oleander Press 2020). Her second full-length collection is slated for publication in 2024.