Sunday, August 08, 2010

I have been reading A History of Clouds by Hans Magnus Enzeberger (translated from the German by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky). I picked it up off the poetry table at Elliott Bay the other day. It has a gorgeous cover, a photo collage of a street scene with buildings and clouds, and a bicyclist with angel's wings. I liked the first few poems I opened, so bought it, and it has been quite a delight to read. I don't know if it is just this poet, or if it is a particularly German sensibility, but I love how these poems are so philosophical, how they ask deep questions, yet still keep a sense of the joy and absurdity and sacredness of life.

The title poem is a long sequence,ostensibly about clouds, but really about the ineffable, the spiritual, life after death, etc etc.

"Appearing as they do,
overnight, or out of the blue,
they can hardly be considered
as being born.
Passing away imperceptibly
they have no notion of dying.
And anyway, nobody
can match their transience. (from part one)


I love the poem "The Instruments," about medical instruments, and the doctors who use them, perhaps at times too coolly. And the poem "An Earth-Coloured Ditty," in which every other line ends with the word "potato," is beautifully done:

An Earth-Coloured Ditty

Another poem about death, etc. —
certainly, but what about the potato?
For obvious reasons it's not mentioned
by Horace or Homer, the potato.
But what about Rilke and Mallarme?
Did it not speak to them, the potato?
Do too few words rhyme
with it, the earth-coloured potato?
It's not too concerned with heaven.
It waits patiently, the potato,
until we drag it out into the light
and throw it onto the fire. The potato
doesn't mind, but it could be
that it's too hot for poets, the potato?
Well, so we'll wait a little while
until we eat it, the potato,
sing about it then forget it again.


Highly recommended!


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