Jessica Hiemstra
Toronto Artist. Writer. Designer.

Translating Horses

Translating Horses: The Line, The Thread, The Underside

COVER IMAGE: Ian Sullivan Cant

In 2010, Jessica Hiemstra invited poets to translate a poem of hers, however they wanted: improving it, making it theirs, changing its form, distilling or adding to it. She told them that she was simply curious about the process and what her poem would eventually lose or gain. Following that thought, she approached visual artists and asked them to throw light on "horse." What did they see when they heard the word? With responses from 56 poets and visual artists, Translating Horses is held together by a few stray threads: linguistic inquiry, play, and collaboration. What you have here is proof (or not) that a horse is a horse is a horse. Of course. 

"I first heard Jessica Hiemstra read at a Poetry London reading several years ago.  At a time where I was just beginning to familiarize myself and immerse myself in poetry more seriously, I was drawn in by the rhythms of her words and the images she depicted. Her work seemed more accessible than some I had encountered, without losing any originality or momentum. It was clear she was an artist from the descriptions she used." -Sarah Kuhn

This book is out of print.


I ache sometimes, from loving this world so much, from loving

the possum in the wall who sneezes in its sleep, the red cheeks
of David Attenborough explaining fossils, Patti Smith singing horses,
because the night. I found Reuben, who I once knew, on youtube
explaining his music, his swamp-swing, and I want to tell him
he’s found his croon, be brave, more of us will listen. I love
tiger balm and the sound of cutlery drifting in the sink. I love
my feet rubbing each other at night, steam and eucalyptus, old men
with breast-pockets full of cigarettes. I love short shorts,
potbellies and tight shirts, nipples that come out in the cold, skin
that comes out in the heat. I love deep brown skin and green cloth,
the sound of heels in galleries, the taste of dill, chard.  I love
worms crawling out into the rain, anything that navigates
by the moon. I love polyester boys in video stores, paper
and feathers; things that need to be hollow in order to fly. I love
Leonard Cohen, everyone translating hallelujah by singing it
with their own voice.  I love snow and armpits and Fanny Howe
because she says she stepped into eternity beside a river in Ohio, 
because she asks what are you looking for when you erase a word?  
I am looking for the right chords, history. I want to turn stones, make
faith. I want to preserve something beautiful and particular about us,
me. I paint for joy, for sorrow.  I paint because there are children
discovering tippy-toes on every continent, because I want the sound
of horses in my chest, because there is no other way to tell you 
I love you, fossils. And I paint because fuck it, hallelujah, I want to
love more—it’s the only thing I’m good at.

Reprinted with kind permission of Baseline Press