Thursday, July 2, 2015

Puppets in the Wind - Karl Krolow (Translated from the German by Stuart Friebert) - The Bitter Oleander Press

Today's book of poetry:
Puppets in the wind.  Karl Krolow.  Translated by Stuart Friebert.  The Bitter Oleander Press.  Fayetteville, New York.  2014.

The German poet Karl Krolow (1915-1999) summed up his own poetry best when he said "I don't like any ballast."  Krolow lived through the worst years in European history and you can hear his stern and concise wisdom in these poems.

Karl Krolow was a highly decorated, respected and influential figure in modern German literature.
His poetry is a pared-down, plain-speaking and thoroughly contemporary.

Stuart Friebert, the translater of Puppets in the Wind, states in his introduction, well, he implies, that Krolow is that no-nonsense grandfather -- the one you can rely on to tell it straight, "to honour the weight of the everyday."

True Fall

I see on a map how
its artistic colors surface in Holstein,
then as rust spots
slowly run their course south.
A tiny lightbulb as sun
sits over the Republic.
My true fall moves
up the Rhine through Hessen
with everything that's good,
health food stores, garbage bins,
German like the weather forecast,
academic at heart.
No painter commits
suicide over it.
A forest of copper beeches
burns away along Lake Constance
in the usual colors
before the history of Impressionism
fades away.


As promised, these plain speaking poems are trimmed to essence.  Kark Krolow's sure voice is stripped of everything that doesn't drive the poem home.

Today's book of poetry likes to look at poetry in translation.  In our last blog we looked at the modern South Korean write Kim Hyesoon and her technicolour Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream.  Poems in translation are like a looking glass into other cultures.  Today's book of poetry has also looked at books translated from French, Cree, Spanish, Italian, Icelandic and so on.

But Karl Krolow's Puppets in the Wind is the first German book of poems we've been lucky to see come through the door.  Krolow was born during the first big war and lived through the second.  It is a difficult century and he sure lived in a difficult place, these poems are like icebergs, beautiful shiny and succinct on the surface.  Big unknown mass beneath looming and full of centuries.

Free Fall

And generally: give up.
But don't hang just yet on the clothes' hook
or the showerhead in the bath,
don't disappear around the familiar bend just yet,
even if there's nothing
more for you to do.
It's still a bit early
to show your tongue
and bob around with a stiff member.
For now you're skittish about
this sight and wait without panic
for a free fall
that won't end.


Today's book of poetry enjoys Krolow's simple line, his ability to keenly observe the smaller moments of our existence without guile or much complaint.

These straight forward poems celebrate clarity while exploring the universe, one moment at a time.

These poems remind me of the voice of Kurt Vonnegut.  Smart, crisp and a little annoyed at how predictably stupid human beans can be.

Old Enough

A lot of things happen everywhere
every time for the last time.
The first time's
long ago. When he's
old enough and foolish
about some things, everyone thinks
he's still got all sorts of things going,
and he lets loose a torrent
of little goodbyes.
His vocabulary lightens up.
You never forget enough
of what's over with now.
Charming folks, altogether
different sorts of humans,
can't see anything
that's missing now:
a big hunk of life,
honest love and a lot
of change in arteries
growing narrower.
An aria from the opera:
You take some liberty now,
call it hot flashes.
Only later the others say
what bad form this was.
That doesn't mean a thing.
On the other hand, cheerfulness
is considerably nicer, if it
comes along.


Stuart Friebert has done a remarkable job, even if I don't understand the German text, I can see that his diligent efforts speak Krolow's language.

Today's book of poetry likes that Karl Krolow's poetry "about nothing" in fact turns out to be poetry about everything.  Krolow's brings the universe down to small steps, one in front of the other.

Karl Krolow

Karl Krolow (1915-1999) was the author of more than twenty-one volumes of poetry in his lifetime, each with a physiognomy of its own. A noted critical essayist, he always furnished an exacting commentary on four decades of international poetry. Every German prize for literature honored his name and work, yet in translation his work is barely known. Scattered over the last forty plus years, only six books of his work in translation have appeared. Michael Bullock's Foreign Bodies and Invisible Hands, two wonderful renderings, along with Herman Salinger'sPoems Against Death (all in 1969), and now this third selected edition of poems, Puppets in the Wind translated by Stuart Friebert.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.


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