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Review: Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees, by Jan Wagner

© David Hart 2015, Stride Magazine

From the introductions by Karen Leeder and the translator Iain Galbraith to Jan Wagner's poems - 'an unerring instinct for the surprising perspective on events or commonlace objects', 'highly self-conscious play with language', 'the poem as a horse (after Michael Donaghy)' - one gets the idea: the poems are bold, playful and confidently constructed. Born 1971, he lives in Berlin and has published six books of poems. I suspect that this book opens itself to you, or not, according to what mood you bring to it.

the landscape blurred as soon as it saw him.
a dare-devil, a son of a gun
with his star-spangled shirt
and a bike-engine's swarm of angry hornets
constantly in pursuit. his bones broke,
his bones fixed - and he jumped.

[punctutation as it says]

hardly more real than the unicorn
and as rare as sphinx or dragon
whose offspring it was thought to be
when first it came to light, a medusa's head
in the mirror of a stream.
a snow-white fish with four legs
the country folk called it,
its cry like that of a human.
its skill: to be forgotten.
and so it grows old, and outlives
those who seek it.


These are the opening stanza of 'Elegy for Knievel' and the opening section of 'Olm'. I can see it might appeal to writers who are working in a similar way.