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Review: Before the Invention of Paradise, by Ludwig Steinherr

Posted by Tracy Ryan at 5:10 AM, Monday, November 29, 2010

I've just been reading a striking and unforgettable collection of poetry by Ludwig Steinherr. It's a bilingual (German/English) edition selected from ten of his books, and it's published by Arc under the title Before the Invention of Paradise. Translations, deft, apparently simple (though much work has gone into them) and impressive, are by Richard Dove.

The poems are mostly sparse and short and take my breath away. They remind me just how powerful and productive the tension between statement and understatement can be. Steinherr knows exactly when to say, and when to say no more. He really does work in the

... language-quarries
where silence
blasted open with explosive
hits us with the full force
of its very first

[... Sprachbrüche
wo das aufgesprengte
Schweigen uns trifft
mit der ganzen Wucht
seiner allerersten

From To the Sculptor Josef. A Henselmann

I meant only to dip in and read the odd poem, having other tasks to do tonight, but I haven't been able to stop.

The book, part of the Arc Visible Poets series, has an introduction by the series editor Jean Boase-Beier as well as a translator's preface, so there is plenty of context and background on the process of the book's emergence.

(Now I want to go back and get the individual titles from which these poems were selected...)