|tags:||Art & Architecture|
MYSTERY, LYRIC INTENSITY, STRANGENESS, ANIMISM: no poet embodied these qualities more than did the early twentieth-century Austrian poet Georg Trakl. Poor, drug-addicted from an early age, and possibly involved in an incestuous union with his sister Margarete, Trakl enlisted in the army in World War I and participated in the bloody battle of Grodek on the Eastern Front. Ludwig Wittgenstein, who admired Trakl above all his contemporaries and became his anonymous donor, was stationed nearby. Upon learning that the poet, whom he had never met, was deeply depressed, Wittgenstein traveled to Grodek, only to learn that Trakl had taken his life three-days earlier. He was twenty-seven years old.
The Trakl most Anglophone readers know is a kind of Deep Image poet. As translated by James Wright and Robert Bly in their Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl (Sixties Press, 1961), Trakl was seen as the quintessential poète maudit in the Rimbaud tradition — a poet who wrote highly suggestive nature poems like "My Heart at Evening":
Toward evening you hear the cry of the bats.
Two black horses bound in the pasture,
The red maple rustles,
The walker along the road sees ahead the small tavern.
Nuts and young wine taste delicious,
Delicious to stagger drunk into the darkening woods.
Village bells, painful to hear, echo through the black fir branches,
Dew forms on the face.
"The images," Bly wrote in his introduction to the 1961 edition, "have a mysterious connection with each other. The rhythm is slow and heavy, like the mood of someone in a dream." And Wright adds: "A single red maple leaf in a poem by Trakl is an inexhaustibly rich and wonderful thing, simply because he has had the patience to look at it."
Bly, Wright — and, later, Galway Kinnell, Louise Glück, and Charles Wright: their condensed visionary poetics owed much to this version of Trakl in its use of concrete, sensuous imagery, "simple" syntax (short declarative sentences in the present tense), and a slow stately free verse in which the line is equivalent to the grammatical unit. Against this background, Christian Hawkey's brilliant Ventrakl, which puts Trakl's tragic life squarely into the poetic equation, testifies to the enormous change that has come over lyric poetry in the twenty-first century. The poet's voice, as Hawkey remarks in his erudite preface (itself a kind of prose poem) "is less a vehicle for 'self-presence' than a void, a blank space at the site of intersection." Indeed, Ventrakl, with its play on ventricle, is conceived as a "collaboration" with a tutelary spirit, not so much a new "translation" of Trakl's poems (Hawkey himself knew no German when he began the project) as a "ghostly reanimation" of the poet's textual presence. Accordingly, translation gives way to transposition, to citational graft and recycling.
A storehouse of techniques, Ventrakl is the product of its author's total immersion in what we might call Trakliana — everything he could put his hands on that was written by or about his subject, as well as family photographs, some of them enlarged and digitized beyond recognition (culminating in the portrait of Hawkey himself seated in a coffee bar, wearing, so to speak, Trakl's face). The inclusion of photographs in a book of poems or fiction is no longer much of a novelty — think of W....