Posts featuring Ulrike Almut Sandig

Fascism and Fairy Tales: Ulrike Almut Sandig’s Grimm in Review

A significant project: to rethink the world within a time of political and economic crisis, wherein the female body is particularly precarious.

Grimm by Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated from the German by Karen Leeder, Hurst Street Press

“Is someone shaking the stories”, asks the narrator in the penultimate poem from Grimm, the new collection by the German poet and performance artist Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated by the German scholar Karen Leeder and published by the Oxford-based Hurst Street Press. The collection’s slant retelling of the Grimm tales, considered integral to the German psyche, belies a significant project: to rethink the world within a time of political and economic crisis, wherein the female body is particularly precarious.

Myth, legend, and folklore provide frameworks to writers and readers across all languages and cultures within which they can understand and contextualise crises, serving also as survival strategies for everyday existence and persistence. Grimm focuses on concerns that are central, yet which are by no means exclusive, to Germany, including, the rise of the far-right, misogyny and patriarchy, and the refugee crisis. The collection’s success is that by presenting itself as a poetic cycle, and by its use of language, it suggests that all these phenomena are related. Moreover, if the Grimm tales represent the collective German imagination (indeed, according to the critic Jack Zipes, the Brothers Grimm collected their tales in order to uncover the linguistic “truths” that formed the German people), Sandig reveals its violent, misogynistic, and patriarchal dark side, connecting the tales to the fascism, patriarchy, and racism of the German present and past. If, as Leeder notes, the collection directs a “rage” at this collective consciousness and the injustices it undergirds (‘Grimm’ also means ‘rage’), this rage is inscribed within the broken language of the women to whom Sandig’s retellings give voice.

We can see this at work in the poem “Fitcher’s Bird”, taken from the tale of the same name where a young girl is kidnapped by a man who wants to marry her against her will. During her confinement, the girl discovers the mutilated bodies of her sisters who had previously disappeared from the village. She brings them back to life, escapes disguised as a bird, and then musters the village to exact vengeance on her kidnapper. In the poem, the girl is multiply alienated from herself. Not only does her confinement alienate her from her body and the outside world, so does her disguise as her friends no longer recognise her: “I am an odd/ bird, nobody/ knows me, I/ scarcely know/ myself.” Crucially, this alienation is rendered linguistically. Her imprisonment and her kidnapper’s mutilation of her sisters confine her voice in short, staccato lines, of which the protagonist is well aware: “a globe is/ stuck in my throat/ that I can’t get down […] the beautiful bodies/ of my sisters are/ piled inside.” At the poem’s end, the girl resolves to “make/ all those anew, all those/ who were butchered overnight”, intimating how Grimm in its entirety interrogates the conservative, sexist didacticism inherent in the Grimm tales by exclusively representing female characters that resist patriarchy and sexism.

The collection’s opening poem, ‘Grimm’, connects the girl’s linguistic crisis with a political crisis. Two characters write messages on eggs which smash due to the urgency of their communication, their need to express their concerns. Then, most unnervingly, they “raised [their] sticky arms/ in salute and waved in greeting. then/ lowered [their] heads to a well-nigh limitless/ supply of fragments and rage most grim.” Their rage at the status quo, their political impotence, has broken their language, their selves, and their world-view. In the poem, the girls’ rage, their inability to express their needs or have their voices democratically represented has been misdirected to support the far-right, half-concealed here in the Nazi salute. All they are left within this tragedy are the broken eggshells of their words and a right-wing anger that, thanks to Leeder’s wordplay, is ‘grim’: both evil and implicated within the German cultural consciousness synecdochically represented by the Grimm tales.

READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation: August 2018

Find respite from the heat with these new reads.

From Icelandic landscapes to art history, August brings with it an exciting new selection of books. Whether you’re looking for a book to pass the hot summer days, or are in the market for inspired poetry, the Asymptote team has something for you in this new edition of What’s New in Translation. And if that’s not enough, head over to the Asymptote Book Club for fresh reads, delivered to your doorstep every month!

oraefi_600x600

Öræfi: The Wastelands by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith, Deep Vellum, 2018

Reviewed by Jacob Silkstone, Assistant Managing Editor

One of the many epic stories retold in Ófeigur Sigurðsson’s Öræfi: The Wastelands (“that punctuation mark… both pushes words (and worlds) away from one another and means they’re roped together,” according to translator Lytton Smith) is the story of Öræfi itself. Formerly known as Hérað, the Province, a place in which “butter drips from every blade of grass,” it was devastated by the most destructive volcanic eruption in Iceland’s recorded history:

The chronicles record that one morning in 1362 Knappafjells glacier exploded and spewed over the Lómagnúpur sands and carried everything off into the sea, thirty fathoms deep… The Province was destroyed, all its people and creatures annihilated; no sheep or cattle survived, no creatures left alive anywhere… the corpses of people and animals washed up on beaches far and wide… the bodies were cooked and tender and the flesh so loose on the bones it fell apart.

READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: (More) Poems from “Dickicht,” by Ulrike Almut Sandig

had he just heard that said or / read it in the books of his friends? / what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?

noon

 

outside the shadows are dwindling

but we are so tired again.

 

above us the sun stands at midday

around us the thicket of high

 

buildings: inside couples lie close

and barely know one another.

 

we are there too, you and me too

on the floor. my skin cools against

 

yours, outside as always the heat

but I am as always too cold. are you

 

asleep, my friend? one clock hand stopped

dead on top of the other and someone

 

shouts NO and then again NO and

the shadows between us start to grow

 ***

‘write down what we had.’ we had

one or two poems, three or four weeks

 

the city towers as our primeval forest

and burrowed inside we two in the

 

yellow light of a streetlamp, between

the tree trunks cast of metal and glass.

 

there was no sun, for the time I was with

you, for that time the rain held us at bay

 

for that time everything drifted away: all

your money, my shoes, the time and my

 

dream of animals in a totally rain-swept zoo:

 

a unicorn out for the count, motionless bears

a dripping-wet peacock. high above us flew

 

a swarm of foxes, we hardly heard them at all.

for, whatever you say, there were two of us,

and everyone else was lost without trace.

***

first she took him by the hands

then she left him by the ferns

 

in the furthest part of the forest

alone. time passed in an instant

 

between the birches the heat flared

then night fell hard one more time

 

birds swivelled their heads to face him

slowly two-hundred and seventy degrees

 

but he had not marked his way back

to the glittering cities of central Europe

 

with a single crumb of bread.

mushrooms sprouting round his feet

 

the feel of fur brushing past him

out of nowhere, front and behind

 

shadows, above him trees creaked

the southern sky kept on turning

 

and kept on turning in circles or

had he just heard that said or

 

read it in the books of his friends?

what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?

***

Read the poems in their original German here, and listen to the author read her work here.

***

Ulrike Almut Sandig was born in 1979 in Großenhain, Saxony, and now lives in Berlin. In 2005 she completed a degree in theology and modern indology and in 2010 she graduated from the German Literary Institute in Leipzig. Alongside various editorial activities, she has published three volumes of poetry—Zunder (2005/2009), Streumen (2007), and Dickicht (2011)—and Flamingos (2010), a collection of short stories, as well as radio plays. She has been granted residencies in Helsinki and Sydney and won numerous prizes, including the prestigious Leonce-und-Lena Prize (2009) and, most recently, the Droste Award for Emerging Talent (2012). 

Karen Leeder is an academic and writer. Her translations of German poetry have appeared in a variety of journals including Poetry Review, PN Review, Domus (Italy) and MPT. Her volume of Evelyn Schlag’s Selected Poems with Carcanet in 2004 won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 2005, and her translations of Durs Grünbein’s “Childhood in the Diorama” won the Times Stephen Spender prize in 2013. Her translations of Sandig poems have appeared in MPT (UK) and SPORT (New Zealand) and she received a Deutsche Übersetzerfonds award in 2014. She will translate Sandig’s Flamingos for Liverpool University Press in 2015. 

Published with permission from: Ulrike Almut Sandig, Dickicht. Gedichte. © Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2011.

Read more:

Translation Tuesday: Poems from “Dickicht” by Ulrike Almut Sandig

"i will / act like only that flickering, fevered light / embroidered into the tips of the fir trees is real."

Although Sandig was born in former East Germany, one would not necessarily recognise that immediately from any outward aspect of her poetry. Rather it is present in occasional turns of phrase, and perhaps in a residue of longing for a disappeared world. On the one hand, her poetry deals in the recognisably real: from the city or landscapes of the south to the minutiae of the everyday. But hers is also a voice tinged with nostalgia and a sensibility for landscape that harks back to models from the past, a compass needle finely tuned to an existential north that is overshadowed by absence and loss. Her language reflects this dichotomy: splicing contemporary slang with snippets of children’s rhymes, fairy-tales, or quotations from a nineteenth-century canon with a telling irony. Hers is a quiet voice in many ways: without showy metaphors or obtrusive forms, but with a profound sense of music, as demonstrated by the fact that some of her poems appear with musical settings on her recent CD with musician Marlen Pelny Märzwald (March World, 2011). Dickicht (2011) takes us into a “thicket” that is at once the world, the psyche, and language itself. The poems explore language at its most slippery (testing out idioms, playing with the lack of upper case to exploit multiple meanings, riffing on the formal and intimate second person address). Many poems appear in opposing pairs and insist on the mutability of what appears to be stable polarities. And if the poems always seem to go in search of a self, a home, they are also simultaneously and teasingly aware that, as Sandig put it in a recent interview, “at its best a poetry collection becomes the place where you yourself can disappear.”

READ MORE…