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Nike Stoned: Mythology, Poetry and Translation in Conversation with Sherilyn Hellberg

Updated: May 23, 2019

by Ebba Webster


Sherilyn Hellberg is a PhD Fellow at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She recently received the Leif and Inger Sjöberg Award from the American-Scandinavian Foundation for her translation from Danish to English of Caspar Eric’s poem Nike. Radical Art Review recently caught up with her to talk poetry, mythology and the art of translation.

Ebba: Hi Sheri, thank you so much for joining us today! Congratulations again on your recent award for your translation of Caspar Eric’s poem Nike.

I want to read the really nice excerpt of praise published on the Foundation’s website — to flatter you a little bit, but also because I think it gives a nice introduction to both Caspar’s work Nike, as well as to your work of translating it:

“In this excerpt from the autobiographical long poem Nike by Danish author Caspar Eric, Sherilyn Hellberg conveys to the reader in a convincing and idiomatic manner the intensity, raw emotion and occasional awkwardness in the voice of an angry protagonist who sees himself as a dehumanized statistic of people with cerebral palsy.”

So, I thought I would start just by asking what drew you to translate this particular poem?

Sheryl: I guess it just really resonated with me...which may seem surprising because I don’t necessarily identify with the protagonist of the poem. But there is this core feeling which runs through the work which is about this sort of awkwardness—this feeling of being looked at, of seeing yourself through others people’s eyes, and feeling that other people see some part of you that you don’t like or don’t want to be there.

In Nike, this feeling is pretty explicitly connected to the fact that the protagonist suffers from Cerebral Palsy, but at the same time, I think there’s something really universal here. And I think that what’s really compelling about this book is the way that Caspar draws the reader in through this universal feeling. Once he’s got you in there, he draws out the nuances of that feeling from the perspective of disability. All through this bleak but intense language. It’s really powerful.

Ebba: Definitely. The title, ‘Nike’, has a lot of connotations — the Goddess, or Greek marble statue, and the popular athletic wear brand. What ways does the title function in relation to the central theme or themes of the work?

Sheryl: The title is a really good example of something the poem seems to do throughout, namely this blend of high and low, or the artistic/literary and commercial/pop cultural.

You have the Greek mythology as this classic motif, combined with a commercial sports logo… both “ideals” which are always out of reach. I think that it comes out, maybe, in the form of reaching for something—I’m imagining something on a sports logo, but also those Greek statues in pose, throwing something or doing some sort of sport [laughs]. There is this idea of movement, reaching, almost grasping; but then the statue is frozen, unable to do it. In part of the poem he imagines himself as a melting ice-sculpture going to these gallery openings:

I can be so beautiful

when I’m standing there stoned at

various fancy openings

with free shitty beer

I have a natural twist

in my hip because my body

has adapted itself

the best it could

to the various

settings that make me

have a permanent contrapposto

a technique that’s used

to make Greek statues