of the Chechnyan war, the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya or the young women forced into prostitution and violence. She offers these images of contemporary life without any explicit judgement, however; rather, her acute understated images do the work. Memorable in this context is the ‘littlest girl’ at the end of the poem ‘Unarmed Civilian Security Service’ who watches impassively as the teenage town ‘hyenas’ engage in a brutal mugging before skipping off, satchel bobbing.
Anyone coming to Schlag’s work for the first time will be struck by the power of her images. The poems are conceived as intensely visual concentrates, with often surprising perspectives or humorous angles. For all their attention to the domestic or even frankly banal, this means they are also frequently mysterious. This mystery is enhanced by an often surreal take on language. In both collections, the playful half tones, neologisms and surprising word combinations act as an antidote to the language of media and everyday reality. But especially in the most recent poems, language has taken a further step: becoming less directly referential and following a logic of feeling or sound, rather than of grammar. Poems play through repertoires of overheard voices, with snatches of sense swimming into and out of focus; or pursue associative paths through sound: ‘Dowland like download’ (‘Renaissance Song’); ‘cirrus // or circus clouds’ (‘Cirrus’).
As with the previous English volume, I found some of the poems forming in English in my mind even as I read the German; others felt much more resistant to their new home. But overall I have the sense that translating these poems has been more challenging than in 2004, despite the fact that I know Evelyn Schlag’s work so much better than I did then, and that the process of translation accompanied many of these poems as they were being written and rewritten over the course of many years. Through all this I have been privileged to work closely with Evelyn herself, who has been enormously patient and generous with her time. We have I think both learned a good deal about this most delicate fetching across between people, contexts, languages and cultures.