ALL UNDER ONE ROOF
Evelyn Schlag (Translated by Karen Leeder)
Carcanet, June 2018
Since 1981 Austrian poet, Evelyn Schlag has published critically-acclaimed poetry, prose and short stories, as well as translations (notably the sonnets of Douglas Dunn) and essays. Amongst others she’s been awarded: the 1988 Bremer Förderpreis, the 1997 Anton Wildgans Prize, and the Otto Stoessl Prize in 1998. In 2012 she represented Austria in the Poetry Parnassus (held at the Southbank Centre, London). She was awarded the Austrian Art Prize for Literature in 2015.
In their original German her work is popular and well-respected, but to an English reader her brilliant poetry is largely unfamiliar. In All Under One Roof, a selection from two recent collections: Language of a different stripe (Sprache von einem anderen Holz, 2008) and Racing in Slo-mo (verlangsamte raserei, 2014) Karen Leeder’s finely-tuned translation makes her work accessible to a wider audience. As an afterword Schlag gives an insight into her creative vision and discusses the role of poetry in a political world. For her, the poet is ‘an adventuress’, unafraid to combine the lyrical with the quirky, the sublime with the mundane; to mix ‘neologisms with newly made old-fashioned words’. Her themes jump from the Euro tunnel to Paula Radcliffe to her first plaits, but her overarching concern is love in all its guises.
With the exquisite first line of the long poem, Hesitant Prospect ‘I love each and every finger on your hand’ she places love and the fragility of human existence against the precarious backdrop of a road trip, with subtle moments of transcendence and transformation.
The sun hung suspended in each one
of the millions of droplets so that we drove into
a wall that seemed to retreat and renew itself
as if we were driving through someone else’s life
a life fulfilled complete in every way
a life in a wet and dancing light …
Schengen Area describes the ease of moving from one country to another without being held up by passport control at borders:
We should be laughing
anonymous tears at the borders fallen
so hard. Jam today – oh yes Jose. The fences
soon will be a fairy tale like Vietnam and
that sweet Snow White.
Schlag engages with the tragedy of forced migration in European Colonies 9:
A day with no breaking news and no deadly
wave. No minimum death tolls on stretchers.
No flickering figures at night tipped out
of boats into the hygienic hands of the coast.
On a lighter note she takes a wry look at the place of God in the modern world with Conditio Divina:
We long for the bright-green that turns our
Heads. The truth is that we left. You standing there.
With such an eclectic display of witty, moving and inventive poetry in All Under One Roof, Evelyn Schlag has once again proved herself to be a very fine poet in this thought provoking collection.
By Ali Thurm.