Anna Blasiak reviews I AM A FIELD FULL OF RAPESEED, GIVE COVER TO DEER AND SHINE LIKE THIRTEEN OIL PAINTINGS LAID ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER by Ulrike Almut Sandig

Originally published by European Literature Network on the 21 January


Reading this book is a powerful experience. For me it meant full immersion into a unique world, filled with vivid, or even lurid colours, and strong tastes and smells, both appealing and unpleasant. It is a world filled with emotion, positively bright and hopeful at one end of the spectrum, and angry, evil and brutal at the other. These dark images are often of the archetypal variety, fairy-tale-like in a Grimm sense of the word, with all the menacing intensity that comes with it. Indeed, Ulrike Almut Sandig establishes an intravenous feed, linking her poems to traditional folktales, but it’s like blood transfusion – she takes these texts and makes them very much her own, uses them for her own, very contemporary agenda. As another reviewer has pointed out, ‘Sandig’s simple, fanciful poems hide a darkly serious heart’. She uses fairy-tale- or even nursery-rhyme-derived patterns to deal with matters that are current and raw, from immigration to racism, to the right-wing disease eating away at politics, to ever-present surveillance.

good evening, Deutschland, turn the fog lights on
we’re after telling it like it is, being on cue:

those who want in must chomp their way through
a cake that’s not found anywhere in Grimm;
[…]

just say three times: milkandhoney, milkandhoney.
we’ve lost our way in your shopping malls
[…]

say it three times over: you’re not getting in,
you’re not getting in, you’re—

What I particularly like is UAS’s sense of humour, which often comes into play when you least expect it:

rock-a-bye little bird
everything is good

rock-a-bye little mouse
kiss away the blood

rock-a-bye dear old horse
he doesn’t have a mane

and rock-a-bye-bye little hen
nothing will be good again

but then

I also enjoyed the UAS’s playful approach to the variety of forms the poetry takes on the page, from blocks of text to various concrete poetry solutions. Sometimes separate pieces are in conversation with each other. UAS also doesn’t capitalise, and the titles of some poems are placed deep within them and only recognisable thanks to being in bold font.

I deeply admire the truly masterful job of the translator, Karen Leeder. Despite not being able to compare those poems to their German originals (and even if this were a bilingual edition, my German would most likely not stretch far enough to go into detailed comparisons), I could appreciate the nimble skill with which she has brought these poems into English; the task is seemingly effortless, but in fact is nothing but. To make it an even harder translation job, UAS has a wonderful ear for rhythm, rhyme (these are often hidden within the lines of poetry and not falling at the end of them) and alliteration:

it’s hard to see I’m an odd bird at all
when I sit in the fern tree

and double-clink, double-
click and creak

and grind with my beak.

This is Ulrike Almut Sandig’s second collection in English, and also the second in Karen Leeder’s translation. To this particular reader it seems like UAS and her translator are a real dream team, so here’s hoping for more from them in the future. My sense is that there was a great enjoyment both in the writing and the translating, and that is always a rather good sign.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak

I AM A FIELD FULL OF RAPESEED, GIVE COVER TO DEER AND SHINE LIKE THIRTEEN OIL PAINTINGS LAID ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER

Written by Ulrike Almut Sandig

Translated by Karen Leeder

Published by Seagull Books (2020)


Anna Blasiak is a writer, poet and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books. Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak is out this week. annablasiak.com.

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