Poetry: Ulrike Almut Sandig

In July this year, Karen Leeder won The Translation Pitch presented by English PEN, part of this year’s European Literature Festival in London. Leeder gave a presentation on the importance of German author Ulrike Almut Sandig and read her translations of Sandig's poems. NBG is thrilled to be able to publish a selection of Karen Leeder’s translations of poems from Sandig’s collection Dickicht (‘Thick of It’) here.


the light goes out and you’re alone once
more. or are you, take care! not alone


after all? did you hear it, pitch-black
the hideous horseman, did you hear


the goblin knotting your hair as you
sleep, did you hear the nightmare,


bounding from one too dark corner
across the room to the other


sweeping it’s horse tail over the
floorboards? if it finds you, it will kill itself


laughing or rock you, just touching
your throat – gently till you sleep.

but should you seek me, you will not find
me under the apple tree cope, where time

in the shape of a pig escaped from the
slaughterhouse and hid itself in the scrub.
and not in the yard, where once in a storm
a rowan tree with a single tug lifted its roots
flew to the fence and fell back to earth
only then, but that only in your dream or
mine, though it still counts, whatever you say
for you won’t find me in a dream anyway.
but should you still seek me, and want to shed
light on the question of your and my time,
our runaway time that will never be found, but
should you still, after all that, still seek me, be
at the right time (meaning: now) at the right
place (meaning: anywhere). and there you will see
what counts.
                             the mountain of apples stored
in the cellar since way back, the heart of the building
above and the yard and the garden and with
a certain distance the frantic haircuts of the
credits in their safes in all the banks we know
in fact all that you and I know does not count.
but if should you find me, all that does not count
will disappear like smoke.
                           then I will make anew all that we
me and you, do not know again straight away
but recall quite clearly nonetheless.

Sydney

every day the north (the equator) edges a little closer.
falcons hang on the wind half-asleep looking for
shadow, and pigeons, light metal, a stroke of luck.


in the wind gusts the oldest towers creak, the newer ones
tilt at incalculable degrees: like grass, deliberately.


from every flat roof the sound of nests shifting
the squawking, slithering brood. with any luck


the storm will disappear with the sudden fall of night.
wide awake I hold my hand in front of my face. I
will see nothing, say nothing. I will not be here.

Conversation with Ken Taurus

told me he was descended from
cumulus clouds and didn’t mean it


as a metaphor. said he was half-man,
half-horse, neither fish nor fowl


not half nor whole and if push came
to shove, he’d prefer to be anyone


else but himself, less filled with rage
and more totally hairless, more Ixion


and less wanton or, put it another way
more dark horse than bright knight


more stud than man, more beast than
noble steed, he could never make up


his mind – and at this point exactly he
trailed off into silence. we stood there


a while facing each other. I didn’t enquire
what he meant. he scraped with his hooves.


and after I stood for a long time staring
as he disappeared with a sweep of his tail


into the thicket of trees. his hooves had
left deep serifs scored in the ground.

every night the dog forgets to do its duty
and I lie awake, get up, check whether everything’s
still there: my neighbour’s roof, the hall light
my mutt. it’s almost all here. ‘if God will, when the morn doth break’
I will awake and make everything new that has been taken
from me during the night: the skin I have shed, the pain
in my head, this God and the dust, a fresh heart
                                                for the beast.

when I left the afternoon was already over. straggling
children tidied themselves from the playground into the
houses. the first rockets hissed invisibly, still almost inaudible
the throb of the bass. the roadside for quite some distance
was overcast with the haze of denuded trees, they smelled of

cuckoo flowers in the woods, and dozing above them the real
clouds in the wind hole, polar light, biting ice. once a chunk
of milk glass fell in front of me. before I could tread on it
it melted away. that’s when I finally left. after that I forgot
everything here.                          I was back by new year.

                                         

authors(s)

Ulrike Almut Sandig was born in 1979 in Saxony in the former East Germany and now lives in Berlin. In 2005 she completed a degree in Theology and Modern Indology and in 2010 she graduated from the German Literary Institute in Leipzig. Alongside various editorial activities she has published four volumes of poetry: Zunder (2005/2009); Streumen (2007), Dickicht (2011) and Grimm (2015) as well as short stories and radio plays. Her new collection ich bin ein Feld voller Raps, verstecke die Rehe und leuchte wie dreizehn Ölgemälde übereinandergelegt appears in September 2016. With the poet and musician Marlen Penny she set up the project ‘poetry for friends of pop music’ which gave rise to the CD Märzwald (2011), and she has also collaborated in various multimedia projects, especially with musicians and sound artists. She has won numerous prizes including most recently the Droste-Förderpreis der Stadt Meersburg (2012).

translator(s)

Karen Leeder

Karen Leeder is Professor of Modern German Literature and Fellow and Tutor in German at New College, Oxford. She has translated work by a number of contemporary German-language poets including Raoul Schrott, Durs Grünbein, Evelyn Schlag, and Michael Krüger. Her translations of Volker Braun’s Rubble Flora, with David Constantine, were commended in the Popescu Prize of the Poetry Society 2015 and she has won numerous prizes, including, most recently, The Stephen Spender Prize 2013 for her translation of a poem by Durs Grünbein.