The International Booker winner Marieke Lucas Rijneveld has written a poem responding to the controversy that broke out after they withdrew from the job of translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, writing that they took the decision because they were “able to grasp when it / isn’t your place”.
The non-binary author and poet had been announced by Dutch publisher Meulenhoff as the translator of Gorman’s forthcoming collection The Hill We Climb, named after the poem performed by Gorman at US president Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. But after questions were raised in the press and on social media over why the book’s translator was not, like Gorman, a “spoken-word artist, young, female and unapologetically Black”, Rijneveld said they would be pulling out of the project.
“I am shocked by the uproar surrounding my involvement in the spread of Amanda Gorman’s message and I understand the people who feel hurt by Meulenhoff’s choice to ask me,” they said in a statement this week. “I had happily devoted myself to translating Amanda’s work, seeing it as the greatest task to keep her strength, tone and style. However, I realise that I am in a position to think and feel that way, where many are not.”
Now Rijneveld, who won the International Booker for their debut novel, The Discomfort of Evening, has responded to the subsequent reaction in a poem: Everything inhabitable, translated by Michele Hutchinson and exclusively printed in English by the Guardian on Saturday. In the poem, Rijneveld sets out in the second person how they are “against all of humankind’s boxing in”, and how they have “never been too lazy to stand up, to face / up to all the bullies and fight pigeonholing with your fists / raised”.
The voice of the poem has “never lost that resistance”, the poem continues and yet is “able to grasp when it / isn’t your place, when you must kneel for a poem because / another person can make it more inhabitable”.
This is not, they write, “out of / unwillingness, not out of dismay, but because you know / there is so much inequality, people still discriminated against”.
The poem ends with a cry for togetherness and “fraternity”, and with an admission that “maybe your / hand isn’t yet powerful enough”.
“You actively need to feel the hope that / you are doing something to improve the world, though you mustn’t / forget this: stand up again after kneeling and straighten together our backs,” writes Rijneveld.
Earlier in the week, Meulenhoff said that Rijneveld had been chosen by Gorman herself, but that the publisher understood the decision to withdraw. The publisher said that it would now be looking for a new team “to bring Amanda’s words and message of hope and inspiration into translation as well as possible and in her spirit”, but no names have been announced yet.