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

Inigo Purcell, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, 15 Sep 2015

It would be remiss in a review of this collection not to mention the formatting of the Arc Visible poets series: Wagner writes in German, and the original text of his poems is placed parallel to Ian Galbraith's excellent translations. My German is shamefully rusty, but it is fascinating to compare the two texts and observe where a piece of alliteration has been kept, where one has been discarded and where (as described in 'Steinway' above) a play on words which is hinted at in the German is used more fully in English. The foreword and introduction both stress that the parallel text is not solely intended for bilingual readers, but to allow a greater understanding of the poems and nature of translation in the curious, and for this Arc is to be commended: the presentation is accessible and likely to encourage people to explore or improve their language skills.

This collection is charming, interesting and surprising in the choice of topics (many of which I have had to neglect for the sake of word count in the review): through a choice of extremely specific details it manages to create a sense of a common experience and wonder at being alive.