nebelland – into the fog | a journey into ingeborg bachmann’s poetry

i was in the national library today collecting the books that astrid and i had ordered up for me last week. they included two editions of geschichte der o (pauline reagé) for anna-friend (in contrast to anna-lapin), and a book of ingeborg bachmann's poetry in translation and a translation of her stories the winding road.

one of the first things that astrid spoke to me about was a woman poet from klagenfurt, her home town. i had never heard of her.

but my first real look at bachmann's verse was an eye opener. strong stuff all of it. the aesthetic encounters the personal encounters hard language. none of the caterwauling of an anna akhmatova for stern bachmann.

with the time i spent in advertising and my current dark mood, i was especially taken with a very short poem called reklame - advertisement:

Reklame

Wohin aber gehen wir
ohne sorge sei ohne sorge
wenn es dunkel und wenn es kalt wird
sei ohne sorge
aber
mit musik
was sollen wir tun
heiter und mit musik
und denken
heiter
angesichts eines Endes
mit musik
und wohin tragen wir
am besten
unsre Fragen und den Schauer aller Jahre
in die Traumwäscherei ohne sorge sei ohne sorge
was aber geschieht
am besten
wenn Totenstille
eintritt

the play is between the poet's personal voice and the washing commercial which plays in the background and infiltrates her consciousness. the poet's voice is in oblique text and the washing commercial in italics. the symphonic dissonance between the gay jingle of advertising and the hard reality of daily life strikes one hard here.

as a sometimes poet who has indeed not only listened to washing commercials, but made them, i have a great sympathy for bachmann's interrupted thought processes. sadly these days so does every other consumer/soul in the western world and most of the rest of the planet.

i will try to post a translation to this poem later as i can't seem to find one on the net, let alone a good one.

perhaps astrid might have a go at it? in which case i'll tidy up.

two other lines overwhelmed me. i first caught sight of them as just a fragment before seeing the larger whole.

Nebelland hab ich gesehen,
Nebelherz hab ich gegessen.

this may be roughly translated as:

the fog land have i seen the fog heart have i eaten.

but really english fails us here. there is no worthy equivalent to nebelland. perhaps misty moors. distant duns. no. nein. nought.

those two strong lines are part of a longer poem entitled "nebelland" or "into the fog". well worth looking up, as it is too long to reproduce here.

as you can see, i had the good fortune of reading from a facing translation. ingeborg bachmann's poems. finally another good reason to learn german, some very good poetry. written by a young woman from klagenfurt.

something about those carinthian women. strange dark artists. carinthia is beautiful, the mountains and the lakes. what are they so despondent about? is it in the water? i drank my share this summer.

on a lighter note, i highly recommend joining the national library for anyone of scholarly or literary bent who happens to be sejouring in vienna. for about ten euros a year, you have access to a fabulous collection (rather strong on german language resources and things austrian, but there's lots leftover for the merely trilingual) and a wonderful reading room look over the city garden. it is a serious environment where one finds people who take writers and words and books very seriously indeed.

very inspiring for any kind of a writer, i am certain. i can see why astrid likes it here.

reaction to a poem | romantic realism

interesting night, last saturday. astrid and i went out again after her return from klagenfurt. first café dieglass. one of her favorites although i find it very formal and a little bit stuffy. shared a meal which was actually ample for two. talked and talked. then we moved onto another even more conservative bar called planters. kind of pickup joint for mid-level bankers/business types 27 to 40. the kind of place you’d never catch me dead in.

queen of the nightbut with astrid it was alright. we just sat in our corner and talked about relationships, love and physical attraction.

astrid seems to like these grown-up places. if she decides to carry on in the theatre world, she’d do well to habituate herself to another life. but she does frequent alt wien, as well. as she admits, she’d like to be a theatre administrator and not an actual metteur en scène in any case.

she’d read the poem. she was quite categoric that the girl in it has nothing to do with her. i disagree about the nothing part, but do agree that it is not entirely here. when i emailed her to have a look at it, i’d warned her that it was only partly based on her.

but she insists emphatically that she is very realistic about life and doesn’t have any illusions. i hope that’s not true. twenty-two is a little bit early to be shedding the rose-coloured glasses.

on the other hand i’ve been out with her when she was said she is very romantic. certainly true. but when the romantic side doesn’t follow her script, she is most discontent.

what can i say, astrid is the first for romantic realism… a new artistic movement and genre. nice to have someone care so much about poem. and i had begun to think writing poetry was a waste of time (cf. anna).

a big loss is that she asked me to take one of the photos down from her gallery. in my opinion, the nicest one. i acceded to the request but will try replace it with something else.

three thirty comes onby the time three thirty am rolled around, i had had enough. but astrid delightful as she is, is never at a loss for words. and she likes the last word. at four in the morning, i’m inclined to give it away.

favorite late night haunt in vienna | best friends

anna p and alec in alt wienstrange how life can turn out. my best friend in vienna is the best friend of my once and future princess (aka, ex-girlfriend). confusing? both of them are called anna. i see anna more than anna. here we are together in my favorite late night hangout in vienna. it’s called alt wien and is one of the few cafés open really late in vienna. closing hours are variable, says anna, depending on the humour of the waiters and ambience, but on this wednesday night we were there until three-thirty in the morning, recounting mutual tales of romantic woe and exploring the psychology or rather the sociopathology of (wo)mankind.

smoking | alt wienanna studies psychology so our talks usually run deep. she is so sad and beautiful. she makes me think of helen of troy.

strange thing with the smoking in vienna. all of these beautiful young women damning themselves to yellow teeth and a hacking cough in their thirties. but in alt wien, the cigarette takes on a twenties kind of glamour.

anna works part time in the skies with austrian airlines. if you are very, very lucky you will run into her some time when you are flying. we often meet the evening of her return to vienna. i will miss her while i’m away.

in fairy tales

there was girl named for a star
fair and small, she grew and twinkled
always like a jewel: saphires, rubies
and diamonds most of all she loved .
astrid sparkled in the morning
and at night.

her mother loved her and took care
that nothing hurt fair astrid
for she was lovely and unique,
a mind full of words and books
a fairy tale princess who lived in a tower,
the miller’s daughter, cinderella,
all the roles of the world
lived in her heart.

she grew and grew and finally
had to leave for the city
to study all by herself.

early she rarely rose, for time
she needed for dreams and thought,
high theatre she loved for there
the characters acted and spoke
bold and great and complicated
just like in her very own thoughts.

but there disappointment
first struck when she found out,
in life, these lofty players,
drink too much and curse,
are normal folk with
ex-girlfriends and wives
and carburators to fix.

so she thought a poet might be nice
full of passion and fury, deeply romantic,
lively debate and profound talk,
but poets neglect always the garbage
to take out and personal hygiene.
our shiny astrid, ever so clean and twinkling,
dirty floors and sheets could not abide.

then the ballet struck. dancers
so noble and tall upon the stage,
surely they must know something
of the ineffable, these sylvan creatures
and graceful men, she hoped.
but even one night of their dull conversation
for sparkly astrid was too much. i’m bored
she thought and went home to her tomes
of long dead thinkers and troubadors.

fancy clothes and fashion
astrid often adorned and she gleamed
so bright in the dark that to nightclubs
she was often called, by friends
good and bad, invited to test drugs
but astrid felt too wild with just blood
in her veins – she had the sense to say, no –
i will go again to the theatre then.

and round and round she turned
fair astrid and twinkled on every side
and slow and sadly learned,
the only real princes, in fairy tales live.

larkin

vienna can be very dark in winter so one seeks the sun. one of the best places to find it is the hofberg square beside the national library and across from the art galleries.

so there i went with philip larkin’s high windows in hand. and was surprised at the strength of his language. i read his poetry at trinity college. my gay professor’s reedy voice did not do larkin justice.

he describes a late night dinner in an english coutnry inn:

The wine heats temper and complexion:
Oath-enforced assertions fly
On rheumy fevers, resurrection,
Regicide and rabbit pie.

he talks about property development by the seaside:

…but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.

whole poems are both exquisite and profound

High Windows

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

such fine lines – diaphragm followed by “I know this is paradise” and later “The sun-comprehending glass” in contrast to the people who neither appreciate nor understand the role of the sun in the struggle against nothing, nowhere and eternity. our only companion as we walk our pleasant gallows to dusky death.