Yahya Hassan | Poems

738B7DC8-FAFD-48EB-84A3-612B3D5FC78B_1_105_c
Sophie Ristelhueber | Untitled from the series FAIT, 1992 © Estate of Sophie Ristelhueber / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

STENHUGGEREN
MANDEN I NABOCELLEN VAR STENHUGGER
HAN DRØMTE OM AT HUGGE KUNSTSTEN
MEN VAR ANSAT TIL AT HAKKE BROSTEN OG GRAVSTEN
HAN ENDTE MED AT HUGGE SIN EKSKONE HAVLT IHJEL
FORDI HUN NÆGTEDE HAM SAMVÆR MED BARNET
NU BESØGER HUN HAM EN GANG OM UGEN
OG HUN TAGER BARNET MED

 

THE STONEMASON

THE MAN IN THE NEIGHBOURING CELL WAS A STONEMASON
HE DREAMED OF CARVING SCULPTURES
BUT WAS EMPLOYED TO CUT COBBLESTONES AND GRAVESTONES
HE ENDED UP CUTTING HIS EX-WIFE HALF DEAD
BECAUSE SHE REFUSED HIM ACCESS TO THE CHILD
NOW SHE VISITS HIM ONCE A WEEK
AND SHE TAKES THE CHILD WITH HER

 

 

 

 

 

DIGTOPLÆSNING I GHETTOEN
FLYVEFORBRUD
BOMBEHUNDE OG BARRIKADER
KAMPKLÆDTE BETJENTE PÅ GADEN
OG SKARPSKYTTER PÅ TAGET
JEG PRUTTER PÅ DET I DEN SKUDSIKRE FIRHJULSTRÆKKER
ROCKERTYPE BAG RATTET
HØRESNEGLE I ELEFANTØRET
DE INTELLEKTUELLE HAR ALLE SAMMEN SOMMERHUS
OG DE ER BANGE FOR STORMSKADER
DE BOR PÅ ØSTERBRO
OG PLAGES AF BANDEKONFLIKTEN PÅ NØRREBRO
DE VANDER KARTOFLERNE I RÆKKERNE
OG PISKER BØRNENE MED IDYL
DE HILSER HELLERE PÅ EN KENDT
END PÅ EN BEKENDT
JEG LIGGER I FORSTERSTILLING
I MARTIN KRASNIKS BARNESENG
BAG VED DET LILLE TOILET
JEG GEMMER MIG SGU HOS EN JØDE

 

POETRY READING IN THE GHETTO

FLYINGBAN
BOMBDOGS AND BARRICADES
ARMOURED POLICE-OFFICERS ON THE STREET
AND SNIPERS ON THE ROOF
I FART ON P.E.T. IN THE BULLET-PROOF FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE [1]
ROCKER-TYPE BEHIND THE WHEEL [2]
EARPIECE IN THE ELEPHANT EAR [3]
THE INTELLECTUALS ALL HAVE A SUMMERHOUSE [4]
AND THEY ARE AFRAID OF STORM DAMAGE
THEY LIVE IN ØSTERBRO [5]
AND PLAGUED BY THE GANGWAR ON NØRREBRO [6]
THEY WATER THE POTATOES IN ROWS [7]
AND WHIP THE CHILDREN WITH IDYLS
THEY WOULD RATHER GREET A WELL-KNOWN CELEBRITY
THAN SOMEONE THEY KNOW
I LIE IN A FOETAL POSITION
IN MARTIN KRASNIK’S COT [8]
BEHIND THE LITTLE TOILET
DAMN IT, I’M IN HIDING AT A JEW’S

 

 

 

 

 

STENÆDER
AF MINE FORFÆDRE HAR JEG IKKE LÆRT ANDET
END AT SPISE STEN
JEG SABOTEREDE DE FASTENDES MÅLTID VED SOLNEDGANG
DE HÆVDEDE ALLE AT DE OPDAGEGE MIG
FORDI JEG OVERRASKEDE DEM
JEG TIGGER SAMMEN MED DE FATTIGE
OG FRÅDSER SAMMEN MED DE RIGE

 

STONE EATERS

FROM MY FOREFATHERS, I LEARNT NOTHING OTHER
THAN TO EAT STONE
I SABOTAGED THE FAST-BREAKING MEAL AT DUSK
THEY ALWAYS SAY THAT THEY DISCOVERED ME
BECAUSE I SURPRISED THEM
I SPONGE WITH THE DISADVANTAGED
AND SQUANDER WITH THE RICH

 

 

 

 

 

ARRESTEN
JEG TJEKKER LEJLIGHEDEN FOR VÆRDIER
EN FORPULET VANE
JEG BLIVER TAGET UGEN FØR SOMMERFERIEN
INDLOGERET PÅ 1. SAL MED UDSIGT OVER MØLLEPARKEN
CELLE 21 HVOR OGSÅ DU
HAR BETROET DIG TIL VÆGGEN FÆTTER
EN HILSEN TIL LILJA GRAVERET I 2004

 

THE ARREST

I CHECK THE APARTMENT FOR VALUABLES
A FUCKED UP HABIT
I WAS CAUGHT A WEEK BEFORE THE SUMMER HOLIDAY
ACCOMMODATED ON THE 1ST FLOOR WITH A VIEW OVER THE MØLLEPARK
CELL 21 WHERE YOU ALSO
HAVE CONFESSED TO THE WALL COUSIN
A GREETING TO LILYA ENGRAVED IN 2004

 

 

 

 

 

12 ÅR
NÅR LILLEBROR PISSEDE I SENGEN
BLEV HAN VÆKKET MED KNYTNÆVESLAG
EN NAT RUSKEDE HAN I MIG
BROR JEG HAR PISET IGEN
OG SÅDAN BLEV HANS BEKYMRING MIN
JEG LISTEDE UD PÅ TOILETTET
FANDT NOGLE VÅDSERVIETTER
TØRREDE DEN FUGTIGE KROP AF
DEREFTER DET VANDTÆLLE MADRASBETRÆK
TØJET PUTTEDE JEG I EN SORT PLASTIKSÆK
SOM JEG GEMTE UNDER SENGEN
VI BYTTEDE DYNER
NÆSTE MORGEN PUTTEDE JEG DYNEN I SÆKKEN
MED DEN UD AD VINDUET PÅ 1. SAL
JEG BØRSTEDE TÆNDER OG SPISTE ARABISK BRØD
AFLEVEREDE SÆKKEN HOS MOR I NUMMER 36
SELVOM FAR LOVEDE GULE OG BLÅ ØJNE
HVIS JEG NOGENSINDE GIK DERHEN
EFTER SKOLE HENTEDE JEG SÆKKEN
DER IKKE LÆNGERE STANK AF PIS
HAN VAR STADIG PÅ ARBEJDE
SÅ JEG RØG EN SMØG I STUEN
OG BETRAGTEDE VÆGGEN PÅ AFSTAND

 

12 YEARS

WHEN LITTLE BROTHER PISSED THE BED
HE WAS WOKEN UP WITH A PUNCH
ONE NIGHT HE SHOOK ME
BROTHER I HAVE PISSED AGAIN
AND NOW HIS CONCERN WAS MINE
I CREPT OUT TO THE TOILET
FOUND SOME WET-WIPES
DRIED OFF THE DAMP BODY
THEN THE WATERPROOF MATTRESS COVER
THE CLOTHES I PUT IN A BLACK BIN-BAG
THAT I HID UNDER THE BED
WE SWAPPED QUILTS
NEXT MORNING, I PUT THE DUVET IN THE SACK
AND THREW IT OUT THROUGH THE FIRST FLOOR WINDOW
I BRUSHED MY TEETH AND ATE ARABIC BREAD
DELIVERED THE BAG TO MOTHER IN NUMBER 36
EVEN THOUGH DAD PROMISED YELLOW AND BLUE EYES [9]
IF I EVER WENT THERE
AFTER SCHOOL I COLLECTED THE SACK
THAT NO LONGER STANK OF PISS
HE WAS STILL AT WORK
SO I HAD A SMOKE IN THE ROOM
AND CONSIDERED THE WALL AT A DISTANCE

 

 

 

 

 

TILHOLD
JEG ER FORELSKET I EN KVINDE
DER MELDER MIG TIL POLITIET
HVER GANG JEG GØR TILNÆRMELSER
STATEN BLANDER SIG I EN KÆRLIGHEDSAFFÆRE
OG BLANDER SIG UDENOM EN SIKKERHEDSAFFÆRE
HUN ER BLEVET UDSTYRET MED EN OVERFALDSALARM
SELVOM DET ER MIG DER HAR BRUG FOR EN
SIDST JEG ANHOLDT OM HENDES HÅND
BLEV JEG BAGBUNDET OG ANHOLDT
JEG HAVDE EN MILLION I EN BANKPOSE I DEN ENE HÅND
OG EN SMYKKEÆSKE I DEN ANDEN HÅND
BEGGE DELE BLEV BESLAGLAGT OG SENDT TIL EFTERFORSKNING
HUN ER MED RETTE BANGE FOR AT BLIVE FORFØRT
FORDI JEG FØR HAR BOLLET UDENOM
OG INDENOM
OG NU MÅ FINDE MIG I AT BLIVE LEMLÆSTET PÅ POLITIGÅRDEN
AF EN FLOK UFRUGTBARE BETJENTE AF LAVESTE RANG
DER HÅNDHÆVER SHARIALOV
OG STRAFFER UTROSKAB UDEN RETTERGANG

 

INJUNCTION

I AM IN LOVE WITH A WOMAN
THAT REPORTS ME TO THE POLICE
EVERY TIME I MAKE ADVANCES
THE STATE GETS INVOLVED IN A LOVE ISSUE
AND WITHDRAWS FROM A SECURITY ISSUE
SHE HAS BEEN EQUIPPED WITH A PANIC ALARM
ALTHOUGH IT IS ME THAT NEEDS ONE
LAST TIME I REQUESTED HER HAND
I WAS HANDCUFFED AND ARRESTED
I HAD A MILLION IN A BANK BAG IN ONE HAND
AND A JEWELRY BOX IN THE OTHER HAND
BOTH PARTS WERE SEIZED AND SENT OFF FOR INVESTIGATION
SHE IS JUSTIFIABLY AFRAID OF BEING SEDUCED
BECAUSE I HAVE ALREADY FUCKED AROUND
AND ON THE INSIDE
AND NOW MAY FIND ME DISMEMBERED IN THE POLICE YARD
BY A FLOCK OF INFERTILE OFFICERS OF THE LOWEST RANK
THAT ENFORCE SHARIA LAW
AND PUNISH ADULTERY WITHOUT TRIAL

 

 

 

 

 

GAL
JEG HAR TABT NOGET
MEN I DET MINDSTE HAR JEG HAFT NOGET
SUGET SAFTEN OG MARVEN UD AF NOGET
UDEN NÅDE
JEG HAR GNASKET OG SMASKET OG FLÅET
JEG HAR VUNDET MIN ELSKEDES GRÅD
PÅ DET SIDSTE HAR JEG VRÆLGRINT EN ONDSINDET LATTER
OG GABT NOGET
IND OG UD AF FÆNGSLER OG SINDSYGEHOSPITALER
PÅ DET SENESTE HAR JEG VÆRET GAL
LØBET RUNDT PÅ ÅBEN GADE
IFØRT SKUDSIKKER VEST OG LYSERØD G-STRING
OG TÆSKET FOLK MED TO VÅBEN
I SOLIDARITET MED PUSSY RIOT
BITCH I’M TIRED

 

MAD

I HAVE LOST SOMETHING
BUT AT LEAST I HAVE HAD SOMETHING
SUCKED THE JUICE AND MARROW OUT OF SOMETHING
WITHOUT MERCY
I HAVE GNASHED AND CHOMPED AND TORN
I HAVE WON MY LOVER’S CRY
RECENTLY I HAVE CACKLED AN EVIL LAUGH
AND GAPED SOMETHING
IN AND OUT OF PRISONS AND PSYCHIATRICHOSPITALS
AND LATELY I HAVE BEEN MAD
RUN AROUND THE STREETS IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
WEARING A BULLETPROOF VEST AND A PINK G-STRING
AND BEATEN PEOPLE WITH TWO WEAPONS
IN SOLIDARITY WITH PUSSY RIOT
BITCH I’M TIRED

 

 

 

 

 

DEN FROMME
NU BEDER HAN SINE BØNNER I GRIMHØJMOSKEEN
OG KNEPPER EN DANSKER PÅ HAVNEN
HAN HAR STJÅLET MORS INVENTAR
OG SMIDT HENDES TØJ UD VINDUET
HAN UDSTEDER ET FORBUD
SÅ NU SES VI I SMUG NÅR DET RINGER UD TIL FRIKVARTER

 

THE PIOUS

NOW HE SAYS HIS PRAYERS IN THE GRIMHØJ MOSQUE
AND FUCKS A DANE AT THE HABOUR
HE HAS STOLEN MOTHER’S HOUSEHOLD FIXTURES
AND THROWN HER CLOTHES OUT OF THE WINDOW
HE ISSUES A BAN
SO NOW WE SEE EACH OTHER IN SECRET WHEN THE BELL RINGS FOR BREAK

 

 

 

 

 

FERIEMINDER I
MOR SAGDE AT MORFAR HAVDE EN FLOT MERCEDES
BAG DEN DER SORTE GARAGEPORT
MEN AT DEN KUN VAR UDE AT KØRE
VED FESTLIGE LEJLIGHDER
OG NÅR VI SKULLE FLYGTE FRA ISRALLERNE
HVER GANG JEG GIK FORBI GARAGEPORTEN
STOPPEDE JEG OP OG RØRTE VED DEN TUNGE JERNKÆDE
FORESTILLEDE MIG HVORDAN DEN MON SÅ UD
JEG PLAGEDE MIN MORFAR OG MIN ONKLER
OM AT KØRE DEN
SAGEDE AT JEG HAVDE LÆRT AT KØRE BIL I DANMARK
PÅ EN PARKERINGSPLADS
MED BETONBLOKKE PÅ DEN ENE SIDE
OG BETONBLOKKE PÅ DEN ANDEN
MIN ONKEL TOG MIG MED PÅ EN KØRETUR
I SIN GAMLE MERCEDES
HAN SAGDE AT DET VAR FOR FARLIGT
AT LADE MIG KØRE PÅ VEJENE
AT TRAFIKKEN HER VAR ANDERLEDES END I DANMARK
BORGERKRIGEN OG BENZINPRISERNE
HAR GJORT FOLK SKØRE SAGDE HAN
DREJEDE TIL VENSTRE VED ET STORT
OG MENNESKETOMT GRUSAREAL
VI BYTTEDE PLADS
MEN KØR STILLE OG ROLIGT
STILLE OG ROLIGT SAGDE DEN ONKEL
DER EN DAG MANGLEDE EN NYRE I DUBAI
HAN TOG EN SMØG I MUNDEN
GIV MIG EN ONKEL SAGDE JEG UDENAT TÆNKE MIG OM
RYGER DU SPURGTE HAN OG FANDT EN MERE FREM
DU ER JO STADIG EN LILLE DRENG
DET HAR JEG OGSÅ LÆRT I DANMARK ONKEL
HAN KYSSEDE MIG PÅ KINDEN OG SOLEN KYSSEDE HAM
JEG KØRTE RUNDT I CIRKLER OG PUSTEDE RØG UP
ET PAR DAGE SENERE DA BOMBERNE FALDT
BLEV GARAGEPORTEN ENDELIG ÅBNET
JEG REGISTREREDE KNAP DE ISRAELSKE DRONER
MIN LILLE KROP DIRREDE AF SPÆNDING
DA EN GAMMEL MERCEDES
LIGE SÅ STØVET OG RUSTEN SOM MIN ONKELS
RULLEDE UD FORAN OS

 

HOLIDAY MEMORIES I

MOTHER SAID THAT HER DAD HAD A HANDSOME MERCEDES
BEHIND THE BLACK GARAGE DOOR
BUT THAT IT WOULD ONLY BE DRIVEN OUT
ON FESTIVE OCCASIONS
AND WHEN WE SHOULD FLEE FROM THE ISRAELIS
EVERY TIME I WENT PAST THE GARAGE DOOR
I STOPPED AND FELT THE HEAVY IRON CHAIN
IMAGINING HOW IT MIGHT LOOK
I PESTERED MY GRANDFATHER AND MY UNCLES
ABOUT DRIVING IT
SAID I HAD LEARNED TO DRIVE A CAR IN DENMARK
IN A CARPARK
WITH CONCRETE BLOCKS ON ONE SIDE
AND CONCRETE BLOCKS ON THE OTHER
MY UNCLE TOOK ME ON A DRIVE
IN HIS OLD MERCEDES
HE SAID IT WAS TOO DANGEROUS
TO LET ME DRIVE ON THE ROADS
THAT THE TRAFFIC HERE WAS DIFFERENT THAN IN DENMARK
THE CIVIL WAR AND PETROL PRICES
HAD MADE PEOPLE CRAZY HE SAID
TURNED LEFT ONTO A LARGE
DESERTED WASTELAND
WE CHANGED PLACES
BUT DRIVE IT CAREFULLY
CAREFULLY SAID THE UNCLE
THAT WOULD ONE DAY NEED A KIDNEY IN DUBAI
HE PUT A CIGARETTE IN HIS MOUTH
GIVE ME ONE UNCLE I SAID WITHOUT THINKING ABOUT IT
ARE YOU A SMOKER HE ASKED AND GOT ONE OUT
YOU ARE STILL A LITTLE BOY
THIS I HAVE ALSO LEARNED IN DENMARK UNCLE
HE KISSED ME ON THE CHIN AND THE SUN KISSED HIM
I DROVE AROUND IN CIRCLES AND BLEW OUT SMOKE
A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER WHEN THE BOMBS FELL
THE GARAGE DOOR WAS FINALLY OPENED
I BARELY REGISTERED THE ISRAELI DRONES
MY LITTLE BODY QUIVERED FROM TENSION
WHEN AN OLD MERCEDES
AS DUSTY AND RUSTED AS MY UNCLE’S
ROLLED OUT IN FRONT OF US

 

Translated by Matthew Travers

 

 


 

Footnotes 

1. ‘P.E.T’. (–Politiets Efterretningstjenestes) Acronym for the Danish national security/counter-terrorism force.
2. ‘ROCKER TYPE’: ‘Rockers’ is a colloquial term refer for people involved in Danish biker gangs which play a prominent role in the drug-trade.
3. ‘EARPIECE IN THE ELEPHANT EAR’: Literally translated, ear-snail in the elephant-ear, ‘ear-snail’ is an idiom for the ear piece in a headset, while ‘elephant ear’ refers to the balaclava headwear of armed police, colloquially known as ‘elephant-hats’.
4. ‘SUMMERHOUSE’: Comparatively large amounts of disposable income made it possible for many middle-class Danes to own small country cottages which are still popular retreats in the summer.
5. ‘ØSTERBRO’: A wealthy suburb of Copenhagen.
6. ‘NØRREBRO’: A once poor inner-city residential area in Copenhagen which has long since been gentrified.
7. ‘KARTOFELRÆKKERNE’: Colloquial expression for the large properties in wealthy suburbs on the outskirts of Copenhagen which were originally designed for working class occupants.
8. ‘MARTIN KRASNIK’: Danish-Jewish newspaper editor and TV debate show host who gave refuge to a young Yahya Hassan.
9. ‘BLUE EYES’: A ‘blue eye’ is the idiom for a bruised eye socket.   

 


 

Translator’s Afterword 

The Danish Palestinian poet, Yahya Hassan (1995-2020) is largely unknown in the Anglophone world and I am only aware of one or two of his earlier poems being translated into English. The nine I have selected here from his two poetry collections have not been translated before.

Yahya Hassan is a strange case. How is it that the self-described ‘stateless Palestinian with a Danish passport’, who unrepentantly engaged in violent crime, reckless vandalism, and, by all accounts, including his own, treated women viciously, would become one of Denmark’s most financially successful poets, shifting more units of his first collection than any other Danish poet in history? Especially given his often scathing contempt for the botched Danish attempts at immigrant integration?

The answer I think lies in his dubious appeal to two key political demographics: on the one hand, you could champion his works if you hated so-called Islamic fundamentalists and loved ‘edgy’ hardboiled crime stories, and on the other hand you might celebrate his work if you wanted to signal your ‘love’ for immigrants and your ‘hatred’ for the structural violence against them, so that the liberal conscience can demonstrate its range through expressing sympathy for someone who is otherwise ‘morally’ irredeemable. More simply, perhaps Hassan’s popularity in Denmark is no more surprising than the popularity of Baudelaire’s ‘The Flowers of Evil’ in nineteenth century France–it’s a sensationalist read.

Yet Yahya Hassan as a political voice is irreplaceable. For only a short-time he was a brilliant political spokesman for the ‘National party’, which agitated for better treatment of immigrants and refugees as ‘secular citizens’ (rather than as religious minorities or ethnicity interests) before the scandal of his life meant he had to resign from that post. More importantly, in my view, is his role as living proof that literary talent can emerge outside of its typical spawning grounds in academia and the middle-class home.

In terms of his style, to my somewhat partial knowledge, it has three key literary precedents. On some level he is in the tradition of Rimbaud. Not so much in terms of intricate symbolism, but in terms of being a youthful prodigy willing to take things to the extreme, and in the process, conducting a ruthless critique of all that exists, beginning with the ‘I’. Perhaps this is not too dissimilar to the approach of Sean Bonney in his fusion of Marx and Rimbaud in his work ‘Happiness’, even if the results are radically different.

In the Danish context, Hassan’s work shares the expressionist naturalism (and the aggressive capitalisation) of Rudolf Broby-Johansen’s singular collection ‘Blod’ (Blood), and in Michael Strunge’s punk aesthetic works of the eighties in ‘Skrigerne’ (The Screams). The Scandinavian take on the autofiction genre loomed large in the context of Yahya Hassan’s first collection, and his description of stashing money in a copy of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ before the police raid his apartment is most likely an oblique commentary on the movement.

 

 

 

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