Sandi Stromberg

De in Texas geboren Amerikaanse schrijfster en dichteres Sandi Stromberg woonde lange tijd in Europa, in de laatste periode (1988-1992) in Bergen op Zoom. Daar ontmoette ze Albert Hagenaars, bij wie ze een studie Nederlands begon.

Enkele jaren later begonnen ze elkaars literair werk te vertalen en publiceren. Daar gingen ze, zij het onregelmatig, mee door tot heden.

Een recent gedicht van Sandi Stromberg is 'Mondays at noon', dat vol inzet op herinneringen aan haar voormalige woonplaats:


The carillon still plays in my mind
most Mondays at noon. Two dozen years,
thousands of miles ago, stuck

like a needle on vinyl, playing Bach
and the Beatles, Bach and the Beatles.
Notes chime over images I hoard,

from the pepper-shaker steeple
of St. Gertruidiskerk, up the Hoogstraat,
over the cobblestones, around the gentle curve

to what was once my gabled house.
How could I think I would live out
my days in that village with its frites

and shwarma, strong coffee and guttural
Dutch? The music cuts double-edged -
memory's bane and balm-as I sit

across the Atlantic in my craftsman cottage.
No church bells toll the quarter hours
in the humid South, relentless sunny days

instead of the warm wrap of the North Sea's
low, gray sky. Each recalled note lifts,
lonely as a loon's call across the ocean.

De Hoogstraat met de Peperbus van de Sint-Gertrudiskerk.

Albert Hagenaars vertaalde dit gedicht en stuurde het naar E-zine Brabant Cultureel.


Op maandagen, mijmerend, hoor ik vaak nog
het carillon rond het middaguur. Ruim twintig jaar,
duizenden kilometers geleden, ingesleten

als een naald in vinyl. Het speelt Bach
en de Beatles, Bach en de Beatles. Noten
weerklinken over beelden die ik koester,

uit de peperbusvormige torenbekroning
van de Sint-Gertrudiskerk, over de Hoogstraat,
de kasseien, de bevallige bocht volgend

naar wat ik ooit mijn knusse huis mocht noemen.
Hoe kon ik denken dat ik mijn dagen zou slijten
in dat stadje met z'n friet en shoarma,

sterke koffie en schraperig Nederlands?
De muziek snijdt dubbelzijdig in het geheugen
- verval en zalf tegelijk - wanneer ik in m'n cottage zit

aan de andere kant van de Atlantische Oceaan.
Geen klokken geven de kwartieren aan
in het klamme zuiden, onder de genadeloze zon,

in plaats van die vertrouwde lage, grijze
Noordzeelucht. Elke klank van toen beurt op,
eenzaam als de roep van een fuut over het water.

De in het gedicht bedoelde cottage in Houston.

Beide versies werden, begeleid door historische foto's van de in het gedicht genoemde straat, gepubliceerd op 22 juni 2020.

Er volgden veel reacties, waaronder:

Mooi gedicht, dat ook nog eens heel goed vertaald is. Om één voorbeeld te nemen, voorlaatste regel: "Elke klank van toen beurt op". Geweldig goed gevonden dat "opbeuren". En voor de rest blijft de vertaling ook helemaal binnen de sfeer van het gedicht.
Frans Budé

Geboeid duik ik in de Bergse wereld. Een onverwachte ontmoeting met Sandi Stromberg roept herinneringen op aan 1995, Luxemburg culturele hoofdstad, het creatiejaar van Linguisticum.
Mooie vertaling van haar pakkende impressies weg van de Noordzee, terug in Texas.

Hubert Wellenstein

Bergen op Zoom door Texaanse Ogen is een wondermooi gedicht dat nog eens extra kracht krijgt in de vertaling. De fuut in de laatste regel is een afsluiting "to my heart's content" - je hoort het heimwee van de dichter, hoe haar hart (toch wel een beetje) huilt.
Doet me nu denken aan 'Interieur' van Jean-Pierre Rawie: "ik hoor de wind, en hoor mijn hart".

Harry de Vries

Mooi gedicht, al frappeert mij ook de vertaling van "guttural" in "schraperig". Mooi vind ik dat de kasseien zich laten vertalen in het Engels door "cobblestones": bultige stenen.
Marc Bruynseraede

Sandi Stromberg has been a magazine feature writer, editor, columnist, translator, essayist, and poet during a long writing career in Europe and the United States. During her years as a journalist, she won many awards for her writing and editing. Her poetry has been nominated for the U.S. Pushcart Prize and read on America's National Public Radio. In 2018, she co-edited Echoes of the Cordillera, ekphrastic poems written by 39 poets in response to the photography of Jim Bones. She then helped organize a weekend book launch, reading, and celebration of poetry in Alpine, Texas, in the Big Bend area of Texas. She also edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston for Mutabilis Press, on whose board she served for ten years. She has won awards for her poetry in Houston and Dallas, Texas. She provided the English translation for Albert Hagenaars' Linguisticum, published in Luxembourg and in I.E. Magazine in the United States.

Her poetry has been widely published in small journals and anthologies, online and in print. Most recently, it has appeared in Brabant Cultureel in a translation by Albert Hagenaars, The Houston Chronicle, and The San Antonio News-Express, The Ekphrastic Review, formidable woman sanctuary, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing, Purifying Wind, Colere: A Journal of Cultural Exploration, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Red River Review, Illya's Honey, several Texas Poetry Calendars. She has been a juried poet in the Houston Poetry Fest 11 times and published in its anthology.

She was a finalist in Public Poetry's international themed contest "Enough." Select anthologies are Goodbye, Mexico, Weaving the Terrain, Bearing the Mask, Crossing Lines, TimeSlice, The Weight of Addition, Improbable Worlds, Enchantment of the Ordinary, and others.

Het Comité Stenen Strofen realiseerde het hierboven afgebeelde gedicht 'Koningstraat' van Peter Ghyssaert op een gevel in de Hoogstraat, schuin tegenover het pand waar Sandi Stromberg woonde. De Koningstraat is een zijstraatje van de Hoogstraat.


Essay including European memories by Sandi Stromberg

In my first memory of desks I am crawling through a labyrinth of gray metal ones stacked precariously in the dusty window of an old shop-front, waiting for my father. He bought one of those Army-surplus desks and brought it home, where it sat as a part of the essential décor for many years.
It was on that desk that he studied enigmatic subjects like Old Testament and Greek. And it was there that one day he wrote in red ink on a rectangular slip of white paper my name, Sandra, in Greek letters. For years I carried that hieroglyph in my pocket, reading it carefully from time to time, trying to decipher its mystery.

I suppose, in a way, that feeling of mystery attached itself to the desk and led to my subsequent preoccupation with those structures on which one can pile papers and pens and books and notepads and letters.
Inside the drawers of this desk, which my father had carefully cleaned and repainted, lay blank, smooth sheets of paper-some with lines, some without. And there were pens in the middle and a proper light, a florescent tube that spread half of the length of the desktop. My dad always kept the surface neat, or perhaps that was my mother. And when they were out during the day, I would search the drawers, looking for hidden compartments and secret clues to the mysteries of language.
I am still looking for those clues inside and on top of desks. But unlike my father's desktop, mine is cluttered with parts of articles, long commissioned and always due yesterday; with books and magazines which I must not forget to read; with clippings and passages pertinent to my next work; with pens that no longer work but from which I have an inability to be parted; and dictionaries in a variety of languages.

I like to think that this mania for words and desks came to me from the spirit of some monastery-enclosed monk, like one of the more sane in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. In fact, it was the medieval monk who used one of the first desks devised, a writing box set on a table in an intriguing place called the scriptorium. I picture my monk lost in the words and worlds of the Greeks and Romans and Arabs, copying meticulously their precious manuscripts and keeping them safe in his box.

My first desk was a small walnut Chippendale with a fold-down leaf and one drawer. Support for the leaf was precarious; the hinges allowed the top to come down too low. And I always lived in fear that if I wrote on it too rigorously or earnestly, the desk would fall apart. So I kept a few precious papers in it and procrastinated creating on its solemn surface the stories, which I thought I longed to write. Instead, I memorized Spanish dialogues and Latin declensions at the formica kitchen table while mother fixed the evening meal.
I looked with longing at the sensible gray desk where my father studied (for his bachelor of divinity), at the wide expanse of space, at the sturdiness, and promised myself that when I had a desk like that I would write something great.
By the time that desk was relegated to the basement to be buried beneath the paraphernalia of our lives, I was in college, installed in a dormitory room at a sensible wooden desk with two drawers. Its top was spread with notes for term papers on Russian writers and the concepts of good and evil. And I was too caught up in the eternal question of "Who am I?" and in playing hands of bridge, to pursue creation of literary masterpieces.
This desk had been the long-suffering victim of serious and not-so-serious students. Its top bore the scars and initials of indifferent ownership, and on occasion the jagged edges splintered into my unsuspecting legs and hands. Still the desk was mine; its surface was well supported; and we became fast friends. Here I conjugated Russian verbs and declined Russian nouns, carefully writing the Cyrillic script which is an adaptation of the Greek alphabet to the Slavic sound system. It was as though I were unraveling the mystery, which my father had first printed in red ink on that pure white slip of paper.

When I married, I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and set about to learn a language outside of academia. Taking French in Geneva was like living in a language laboratory. For hours, I conjugated verbs at the huge mahogany desk, a true French bureau, which covered half the living area of our furnished apartment. On its surface I began to play with words, not only in French, but finally in English itself. But before I could put much on paper, it was another city and another country. And instead of a bureau, I now had an escritorio in the middle of Madrid. Actually, it was my mother-in-law's vanity table inherited by her son, but for me it was a place to enhance my knowledge of Spanish life and language.
While I discovered the escritorio came from the word 'to write' (escribir), I continued to find the French word more intriguing. Bureau had derived from the word bure, a woolen cloth with which 12th century monks covered their writing boxes. By the 15th century the name was adapted to the box itself, then to the piece of furniture on which one wrote, and by the 17th century to the room used for intellectual work.
But my desk was not long an escritorio. My husband was transferred back to Geneva just as I discovered my impending motherhood. And so I found myself with child and without writing table, the vanity having become a diaper-changing station.

I dreamed of various types of desks, poked around the well-ducted corners of Geneva's antique shops, but knew that the object had to be more than just a pretty possession. What I finally found was a creation by neither the aesthetic French nor the elegant English. It was not even from the exclusive antique shops, but rather from an American family returning to the States. Of pre-World War II vintage and built of solid oak, it was totally American in concept. An articulated top allows one to lift a handle and fold the typewriter into a compartment hidden below the surface. And the top is expansive with room for all those things one piles on desks.

Over the years this writing table has moved from room to room and country to country. In Geneva's Old Town, it was a bureau as inspiring as the hourly carillon of Calvin's Cathedral. In Minneapolis two-years later and London four years later, it became a desk, from the Latin discus, 'table', which passed into Medieval Latin as desca, at which my monk no doubt wrote.

Back in Switzerland a third time, but this time in Fribourg / Freiburg on the line between French- and German-speaking Swiss, it became both a bureau and der Schreibtisch. Then atop a hill in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia four years later it did another stint as a desk.

Today it sits in my 18th century Dutch townhouse, Het Wit Anker, in the middle of Bergen op Zoom, beneath the carillon of St. Gertrudiskerk. And I call it my schrijfbureau, a word which by its marriage of Germanic (schreiben) and Romance (bureau) words tells a bit about foreign influences on the Dutch. Of course, we have words derived from both in English, schrijf reminding me of our word scrivener and of Charles Lamb's lines:

A votary of the desk - a notched and cropt scrivener
 - one that sucks his substance, as certain sick
people are said to do, through a quill.

As a scrivener (though neither notched nor cropt) I have been tempted to own other desks. In England, there were the elegant though small Victorian writing desks with beautifully inlaid wood and tiny, sometimes secret, drawers. In France, there were Empire-style secretaires with incredible charm, but with the same unstable fold-down surface of my old Chippendale. In Switzerland, there were mahogany tables with Florentine leather tops. And in America, there were modern, multi-shelved and drawered affairs that cried out for extremes in organization.
Giving in to the temptation to change desks as one changes countries and languages is, however, an occupation better suited to the lover of antiques than to the writer who needs only the cherished surface, warm and maternal.
For despite its lack of elegance, this old oak desk is the home of half-written stories, half-read books, unclipped passages, inkless pens, and stacks of dictionaries opened inside each other. Without its companionship I might have been lonely in foreign lands, lost in the hieroglyphs of each new language instead of challenged to decipher meaning. And what more fitting replacement could there be for the gray metal, Army-surplus desk on whose surface my father wrote those strange letters in red ink that introduced me to words and writing.

'A votary of the desk' werd eerder gepubliceerd in 'Zoom op Bergen - 500 jaar literatuur in Bergen op Zoom', een studie van Cees Vanwesenbeeck, Uitgeverij WEL/Boekhandel Quist, 1992.
In dit boek wordt aandacht besteed aan o.a. werk van: Erasmus, de Bergse rederijkerskamer de Vruegdenbloeme, Bernardus Bosch, J.J.A. Gouverneur, Lodewijk van Deijssel, Margo Scharten-Antink, Anton van Duinkerken, Marja Brouwers, Hans Heestermans en Bert Bevers.

Illustratie: Sjoerd van den Boom, 1992.