Exactly how much does language shape perception? In Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic, Heisler explores the materiality of language with a collection of prose poems inspired by her nine years in Iceland, a time in which the romance and astonishments of a foreign land were challenged by the difficulties of earning a living as a foreigner. The narrator struggles with just how deeply language conditions what she can see and, as she tries to learn Icelandic, the blind spots proliferate. Heisler’s poems are preoccupied with the materiality of voice as it surfaces in the failures (and pleasures) of translation.
Praise for Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic
Eva Heisler has written a remarkable book. . . [with] varying voices and identities which we as readers can experience in intriguing glimpses before we are taken “elsewhere.” “Elsewhere” is a place itself. . . The artist Willem de Kooning described himself as “a slipping glimpser.” And I feel we now have another in Eva Heisler. Expedient, and full of wonder. –Michael Burkard
“I was a difficult passage,” Eva Heisler writes in Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic. So are you, reader–and me too. In all these poems the difficult makes its delicate, always strange way toward a beautiful: “the word ‘hungry’ skips like a stone on water.” For us Heisler has made poems “souvenirs of the place I was.” You feel like you’ve been there after reading them, and must ask yourself What are we, What were we? One of Heisler’s answers is “I forced the memory of the color of a rug, but I couldn’t force the memory of myself.” -Garrett Doherty
In these poems, Iceland is a landscape of translation, mistranslation, a setting of spectacular phenomena and profound sadness. Heisler seems to ask whether the act of translation is, in fact, the ultimate act of the poet, the one who steals with hope and desire, who makes lists, who rumbles at the perimeter of words like a traveler might push against the perimeter of a map— where inevitably the perimeter circles back to a re-translation of self. Here one finds translation of the lover, the book, the poet, the block of text, the home, the shelf, the wind, the bowl, the weight, then the collapse, of history and context. Eva Heisler writes poems to say that saying may always be imperfect, but a perfect failure of magnificent want. -Samuel
Excerpt from Reading Emily Dickinson in Icelandic
Speaking English, my Icelandic lover enchants with awkward trills. The height of a step; the length of a bench; the depth of a cupboard: measurements are endearments.
Speaking Icelandic, Steinunn no longer charms: woolly syllables exclude me; our private architecture disappears and in its place stands a stall roofed with shields.