3rd ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 29 :: RANDI WARD on STEINBJØRN B. JACOBSEN (1937-2012)
I’d lived in the Faroe Islands for several years before meeting Steinbjørn B. Jacobsen. It was the summer of 2008, and we were introduced at an exhibition’s opening reception in Stephansson’s House. Steinbjørn gave my hand an extra firm shake – all the while scrutinizing me from head to toe.
Before I could say anything, to neutralize the awkwardness of the situation or express goodwill, he blurted out, “I thought you’d be bigger.”
This coming from a man who was barely taller than my diminutive sixty-three inches!
“My sentiments exactly,” I sized him up in return.
Steinbjørn reacted by giving me that delightful, impish grin of his.
From that moment on, I knew we’d get along just fine.
Over the months that followed, I photographed Steinbjørn at regular intervals; it didn’t take long for me to realize that he was one of the most down-to-earth yet larger-than-life people I’d ever met. He was a man of awe-inspiring talent and integrity who devoted his life to tirelessly exalting the Faroese language, educating his people and encouraging the kinds of public discourse and rhetoric necessary to foster a postcolonial society of independent thinkers.
[line] This April marks two years since Steinbjørn B. Jacobsen passed away. When news of his death reached me, I couldn’t help but think of the sunny spring day I’d photographed him on Sandagerði, near his home, in Tórshavn. There he was. Spry and bright-eyed, pacing the shoreline in his rubber boots. He picked up limpet shells, admired their elegant striations and occasionally turned his gaze toward the ships anchored out in the fjord.
I put my camera away, completely content to shadow him along the shoreline. He made his way over to a stretch of freshwater stream that flows out across the beach, on its way to the ocean from the valley above, and began launching limpet shells in the shimmering water. It wasn’t as easy as it looked! He had to wait for the right moment and then release a shell gently or it’d capsize and sink in a heartbeat. “They’re like poems, you know,” he said eyeing the course of one shell.
I distinctly remember thinking to myself: “What a radiant soul!”
And I honestly felt that way every time I talked to Steinbjørn, edited a photograph of him, read/translated his work or considered all he’d endured by virtue of who he was and what he’d fought to accomplish. To this day, it still pains me to think of a world without his brilliance and humanity. All that he gave, and the generous spirit in which he consistently gave it throughout his lifetime, was no small feat.
[Editor’s note: Below you’ll find Randi Ward’s original translations of excerpts from Steinbjørn B. Jacobsen’s 1981 “Lív,” which you can download and/or read online. We are thrilled to host this incredible work and introduce this voice and vision to an audience largely unaware of Jacobsen’s many years of output.]
Lív (1981) is a book-length poem dedicated to everyone who experiences loss. Lív, the Faroese word for life, was the name of Steinbjørn B. Jacobsen’s daughter. She was struck and killed by a vehicle in 1980 while visiting her father’s home village of Sandvík.
Steinbjørn sent copies of Lív to friends and family to thank them for their support. The volume was later made available to the public free of charge.
Steinbjørn B. Jacobsen (1937-2012) was a prolific Faroese poet, essayist, novelist, memoirist, playwright, children’s author, political activist, translator and educator. He was born and raised on the southernmost Faroese island of Suðuroy and made his debut in 1966 with a groundbreaking poetry collection entitled Heimkoma [Homecoming]. Jacobsen had a long career as a dedicated teacher and also served as headmaster of the Faroese Folk High School from 1970-1980. He authored over fifty titles and helped transform the landscape of Faroese language and literature.
Randi Ward is a writer, translator, lyricist and photographer from West Virginia. She earned her MA in Cultural Studies from the University of the Faroe Islands and is a recipient of The American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Nadia Christensen Prize. Ward is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has appeared in Asymptote, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Vencil: Anthology of Contemporary Faroese Literature and other publications. For more information, please visit her website.
All photographs included here are courtesy of the author.
The ewe pictured is named Monica. They used to talk a lot.