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Review: The Fishermen Sleep, by Sabine Lange

... the quiet sane, matter-of-fact sensitive, often gently acerbic and humorous voice of Sabine Lange, a new poet from eastern Germany This her first volume, appeared in 1994 as Immer zu Fu? ('Always on Foot'), it is not clear why that title needed to be replaced by The Fishermen Sleep, the heading of its last poem, but it does not matter. Lange's poems, which give the impression of having been carefully selected and polished over many years, are attractively un assuming They record moments of complex emotion from love affairs or domestic life Music often features (Lange is a trained musician, now an archivist); a recurrent and richly suggestive theme is listening surreptitiously outside a church to the organ being played inside. Another such theme is cycling over frozen lakes, as Lange does in winter to reach her archive, and as the emblematic 'cautious man' refuses to do for fear of falling through the ice like the poet Georg Heym (p. 67). This, Lange's only intertextual reference, may seem incongruous in view of Heym's stridency, but it could suggest affinities between her love poetry and some late, low-key love poems by Heym, while Heym's visions of world destruction may reappear, more playfully and poignantly, in 'Thought', where 'the great world cakes crumble'. The setting in Mecklenburg more strongly recalls the austerely evocative prose with which Christa Wolf depicts this region in Nachdenken iiber Christa T.

Whatever her literary relationships, Lange is a distinctive writer and a welcome find. In Jenny Williams she has in turn found a congenial and skilful translator with a delightful ear for suitable idioms. Tones and cadences are aptly rendered. When Lange mocks recent cliches and facile rhymes in 'Spa?' ('Good Times'), Williams catches the tone precisely: 'we did it at great speed / and feelings - we agreed - / just get in the way / do you hear a word I say?' More typical of Lange is a witty, individual image like this one, which conveys freshly what playing the piano may feel like: 'Scales / are suspended like sloths / between my splayed fingers' ('Toccata'). That 'suspended', which strengthens the cadence and the alliteration, reveals an inspired translator. Her version of the tight little poem 'Igelstunden' ('Hedgehog seasons') is a triumph of unforced ingenuity. Lange's occasional wordplay sometimes defies translation, as with the pun on lesen ('read' and 'gather') in 'Wind freund', but in 'Einfache Bewegung' ('A Simple Movement') Williams finds the perfect equivalent for 'Gewäsch' in 'hogwash'. Such strong language is, however, uncharacteristic of a poet whose achievement rests on understatement.