The Week of the Festival: Literatur & Wein in Krems

Wretched and Strong

A Review of Parablüh by Cornelia Travnicek

/ by Timo Brandt

Es ist nur die Stille, die (It is only the silence,

einem entgegenschlägt: moving towards you:

Insektenflug, ein Bellen, flying insects, a bark

das auch nicht von dort far away, not near

 

Kommt, denn nichts mehr to you, because nothing

kommt von hier. comes from here anymore/gets clear here.)

Her inner turmoil, her obstinate self, her lyrical struggle for liberty – whether heroic or merely tilting at windmills – her whole manner of yelling against any kind of subservience and humiliation made Sylvia Plath an icon. The Colossus and Other Poems, the only book of poems published during her lifetime (her poetry became famous only when the poem collection, Ariel, was published after her suicide) which was translated into German as recently as 2013, serves Cornelia Travnicek as correspondence object for her book Parablüh, as a source for her own poetry or as “quarry for her inspiration,” as the epilogue quotes. Similar to Plath’s collection, Parablüh also contains 44 poems. As Travnicek’s poems – without revealing too much in advance – clearly have their own qualities, it is not absolutely necessary to read both books, either one after the other or in parallel. But some subtleties and the resulting sharpening or expansion of certain motifs will only reveal themselves to the reader who knows both books. And as the German/English version of the book Cornelia Travnicek refers to in her opus (already mentioned above and containing translations by Judith Zander) is still available from Suhrkamp Verlag, nothing stands in the way of reading both books in parallel.

Im Kohlekeller machen die Geranien lange Hälse

(In the coal cellar the geraniums crane their necks/make long necks)

Right from the beginning, I discovered, time and again, that dense atmosphere that lures you with a kind of familiarity, but is also laced with a drop of danger or threat, which I know so well from Plath’s poems, and which so often bursts through there. The same holds true for the subtle weirdness of Plath’s texts, the exuberance which is partly grotesque and partly cheerful, while at the same time showing signs of seriousness. These can be found in Travnicek’s texts, too, albeit lightened by a few incantation weights.

Ruft den Käuzen zu und (Call out to the owls

den Amseln: Dass sie endlich and the blackbirds: they

lernen sollen, ihre Nester should learn to build

höher zu bauen! their nests higher!

Weg von der Katze, Away from the cat

hin zur besseren Aussicht. higher, where the view is better.)

But enough said about similarities, as this text is not about Sylvia Plath, who oscillates overly-large in the background anyway, jumping into the picture and out again, but rather about Travnicek’s poems.

 

Rural life and childhood themes often occupy center stage and a certain kind of other-worldliness glints on the surface of most poems. What catches the eye is the perspective which seems to rotate nearly all the time, and seldom allows for a definite focus to be found, perhaps owing to the fact that many poems have their origin in an association derived from Plath’s poems. Travnicek’s poems then rise above this original association, sometimes a little bit rashly, sometimes clearly leaving the original link behind und emancipating themselves towards their own thematic priority.

Da kommt die Frau, die (Here comes the woman, who

vielleicht oder vielleicht auch nicht may or may not

ganz passabel verdient make quite a lot of money

 

Und von der anderen Seite tritt auf: and from the other side appears

Ein Mann, der a man who

vielleicht oder vielleicht auch nicht may or may not

ein guter ist be a good one)

The poems accord themselves a certain kind of fool’s license, a certain naiveté which is, however, sharp – not only due to the texts being critical, but also because they are the opposite of crude. Their cheerful and sinister pictures show no rapid signs of disintegration and can hardly be passed by, firmly positioned with in the poems as they are, hinges of a subtle kind of perception. Their greatest asset remains the suggestion, a dynamic suggestion that not always evokes a corresponding image in the mind straight away, but rather makes ruts and sows seeds, so that it does not take long before something blossoms or breaks forth from the fertile ground of the words.

It is a large shadow that Cornelia Travnicek has burdened herself with, in the form of Sylvia Plath. I cannot and will not try to judge whether her poems can keep up with those of her shining example, her dialogue partner. Fortunately, this is not necessary, as these poems clearly cut their own path and had a striking and lasting effect on me. Despite their origin and connection, the texts have a masterly autonomy which, far from being noticed only in passing, deserves to be mentioned as a definite characteristic, giving the poems an aura that makes them well worth reading.

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Timo Brandt

was born in Düsseldorf, 1992. He lived and went to school in Hamburg. In 2014 he moved to Vienna and started his studies at the institute of Sprachkunst at the university of applied arts. He published poems, reviews and essays in several magazines and on fixpoetry.com und signature-magazin.de