1964 – 2001.
Unlike a lot of people whose introduction to the writing of W.G. Sebald was through books such as Rings of Saturn, Austerlitz, or Vertigo, mine was through the Micropoems in Unrecounted, a slim volume of thirty three poems, with accompanying lithographs by Jan Peter Tripp. So when I saw this Selected poems at NetGalley my curiosity was piqued and I requested it wondering whether without the pictures the poetry featured would be as hermetic or whether the act of trying to match the image with the poem was the lock that forbade admittance.
Published a decade after his death, this anthology pulls together poetry from various periods of his life. Stretching over 37 years it contains poems from two early collections Poemtrees and School Latin, these are followed by his later writing Across the Land and the Water and The Year Before Last ending with the appendix containing two poems Sebald wrote in English, making this a wonderful addition to any Sebald completist’s library.
If, on the rare occasion, I get to interview someone who writes novels & poetry, one of my default questions is how they perceive themselves, a poet who turned to fiction, or as a novelist first. This question seems to me relevant when dealing with the work of this writer & better still seems to have been answered by Iain Galbraith (translator notes), who writes - Sebald once stated that “My medium is prose”, a statement that is easily misconstrued, if it wasn’t for the subtle distinction added by this writer “Not the Novel”, in fact Galbraith goes on to say that “ far from disavowing his fondness for the poetic form, it is through it that we can begin to sense the poetic consistency that permeates his literary prose and also of his writing as a whole.” This makes sense as many of the themes ( borders, journeys, archives, landscapes, reading, time, memory, myth, legend etc.), that would be recognised in his later acclaimed work feature in those early poems.
on a stretch in the alpine foothills
the railway clerk considers the essence
of the tear-off calendar.
with bowed back
for admittance to the house
The clerk knows:
he must take home
That’s not to say, that this collection doesn’t stand up on its own, anyone without knowledge of this writers oeuvre, will still find this a fascinating read, will like myself try to prise understanding from the words written, unlike the epic quality of his later prose work, a lot of the poems are sparse and compressed, they allude to places and by association events, things, people, although the later ones seem to loosen up, unwind slightly, it’s merely by degrees. As I said in “Unrecounted” you're making connections, trying to find routes into its dialogue, but this is ideolectic, the patterns here are those of an individual, there are probably reference points, but like all reference points, they act as signposts to something - not the thing itself.
At the edge
Of it’s vision
the dog still sees
everything as it was
in the beginning.
(from the year before last)
W. G. Sebald was born in Wertach im Allgäu, Germany in 1944. He studied German language and literature in Freiburg, Switzerland and Manchester. He taught at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England for thirty years becoming professor of European literature in 1987 and from 89 – 94 was the first director of the British Centre for Literary Translation.