Friday, July 13, 2012

Across the Land and the Water–W.G. Sebald.

Across the Land and the Water

Selected Poems

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 duty

on a stretch in the alpine foothills

the railway clerk considers the essence

of the tear-off calendar.


with bowed back

Rosary Hour 

waits outside

for admittance to the house

The clerk knows:

he must take home

this interval

without delay.

(from Poemtrees)


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.


Unknown said...

Some nice, brief poems there - I'm very much in favour of short, digestible poems :) Still have 'The Rings of Saturn' languishing on my shelves - bad Tony!

I'll read it by German Lit Month, promise to myself...

Unknown said...

French poems such as friendship poems, love poems, famous inspirational quotes, and etc s are selected by many people for their beauty and enchanting quality with English translations.

@parridhlantern said...

Tony you're not the only one, it is glaring at me now.

Hi Adele, will add you to my Pomesallsizes page, check it out yourself if you want to find some poetry inspired links.

Rise said...

His prose is always close to prose poetry so this entry into poetry first is quite an interesting strategy, Gary.

@parridhlantern said...

Hello Rise, I think that was the point the translator was making, that the difference between his prose work & his poetry was negligible & that through the poetry we can understand & trace the path of his longer pieces.

stujallen said...

I ve read his novels and some of his non fiction but not tried his poetry I really must ,all the best stu

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I'm quirky this way, but I mostly stick to poets who stick to poetry. It is a difficult craft to master, I think, so my poets need to spend all their time writing poetry.

Yes, I know, I know. Quirky.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Stu, it's the reverse with me.

Hi Deb, know where you're coming from except over time I've broadened my view due to some of the poet/writers I've come across.

Richard said...

I'm due to read my second Sebald novel soon (i.e. hopefully before the end of the year), Gary, but for now I'm curious whether whether you were able to detect the same Sebaldian "voice" in both the poetry and the prose--or were they different in some respects? Cheers!

@parridhlantern said...

Not read his major fiction (own some, but)The translator seems to be of the opinion that they follow the same obsessions & that the same consistency that runs through his poetry also shades his prose.

Unknown said...

Rings of Saturn all read - very interesting... Review to come in a couple of weeks :)