- Germany -
Romina Nikolić, born 1985 in Suhl, grew up in Schönbrunn/Thuringia. Studied literature and philosophy. Since 2009, in addition to her own writing activities, she organizes readings and various literary projects, including freelance work for the Literary Society of Thuringia or being co-founder of Love Crime Books, an independent label for fanfiction, in which the anthologies RADIANCE (2017) and RAVAGE (2019) were published. Two-time prize winner at the Young Literature Forum Hesse-Thuringia, Walter Dexel Fellow of the city of Jena. She is librettist of the opera MOTHER (2021) by Giordano Bruno do Nascimento. Nikolić lives as project manager of the Literaturburg Ranis, poet, translator and editor in Jena. Her recent publication is the poetry volume "Unterholz" (Edition Muschelkalk 2023).
“Out of the mist / I return once again …”
Meandering along Romina Nikolić’s poem “Underbrush”
See the microcosm
In macro vision
Our bodies moving
With pure precision
One universal celebration
Martin L. Gore
Is it not so that time seems to meander along borders, ever ready to break through the fallow walls of the Limes? And is it not also so that time seems to always lie in ambush, waiting to accost us with pictures of ourselves, images of who we used to be? Or is the opposite true? Are we ourselves provocative figures, alighted from a turbulent century to drive time—or at least, what we believe it to be—before us?
If this were so, would then the iron rule of thumb fall into abeyance: that time has nothing to fear besides the ancient Egyptian pyramids… They would still be standing even if there were no people left to count the years appointed them. From the mist of existence, they bore witness to us: Those dunes and forests which could instead decide to recover from the imposition we have been.
But maybe things don’t need to go that far. Maybe we can still reflect on our beginnings and the gifts bestowed on us—return from the mists of time and remember our digressions. Much like the lyric speaker of this poem, setting the precise location of the speech act, departing from the rustling, yes, from the persistent and proverbial “underbrush” of origins, departing from biography.
Back from the mist—a voice returns, arriving in articulation at precisely the same time: It is an honor to welcome this poem by Southern Thuringian poet Romina Nikolić to MuschelkalkEdition. The text represents Volume 55 of a series which is itself undergoing tremendous changes: mourning the loss of its founder, the great Wulf Kirsten, and yet, nevertheless, still curating an imprint of this country’s literary present.
Our epoch pulls at us, changes us, it seems these days more than ever. We are impelled to remember, to seek assurances from memory, so that we may keep the courage to go on, ever onwards. And not merely for the immediate present as a time of increasing isolation—memory, reflection on meandering and the infirmity of the years we’ve put behind us is always a necessity, a prerequisite for self-assurance—emancipation without erasure (and how should this be possible?)—but also, a prerequisite for literature. This is made plain to us through this poem, served to us so enchantingly and so exemplarily, in ‘excerpts.’
This poem gestures toward its unique origins, alongside its inspirations—Paulus Böhmercomes immediately to mind. It describes its own literary journey, speaking in visions as well as tongues: at times both clear and mythical together, at other times as rapt as it remains infinitely present. I say ‘excerpts’ because this poem never ceases to speak and contemplate at once. A bold, impressive, moving plan, exploring foundations, the search itself, the paths: departure and confinement. Yes, captivating in its chiaroscuro beauty, too. Those who experience a reading from Romina will not soon forget it.
Time, too, catches up with us in its pages, continuing on through the mirror of this elevated, yet intimate speech act, operating, guiding with the kind of “hard providence” Böhmerhimself demonstrated so brilliantly. Romina Nikolić was born in Suhl in 1985, and grew up in Schönbrunn, a landscape molded by the Itzgründ dialect—a culture of its own where the vernacular shifts from village to village, despite its own tender encounters with the wider culture of Southeast Thuringia. The lyric speaker develops, too, with a Schönbrunnerinflection of Itzgründ experience, while the author, herself, went on to study literature and philosophy in Jena, followed by a teaching position in Braunschweig, time as a project manager, and literary entanglements including work at the Literaturburg Ranis. Nikolić has received numerous distinctions for her writing, but this extended poem is her first book-length publication—a work more than a decade in the making.
In verses as far-reaching as they are finely chiseled, the author tells of people’s rootedness in alandscape, of the proverbial “underbrush” of her own origins, there at the southmost tip of central Germany. In doing so, she brings together seemingly irreconcilable things—like pop music and the melody of the Thuringian Forest—the stuff of fairy tales in disarming juxtaposition with the aesthetic of video clips. Empathy and rebellion in artful composition, sprinkled with both humor and yawning depths.
“Out of the mist / I return once again…” This opening guides the trajectory of the text across the entire spectrum of human speech, directed at a counterpart as if by way of explanation: “For you, I would dare.” Before this dialogue, there is only the articulation of solitude. In asense, we are an “individual organism,” but we cannot exist outside another’s view. And so, sometimes we construct a counterpart for ourselves, making contact with the vestiges of the ephemeral through exchange. In this poem, that counterpart’s name is Kaspar, appearing at the poem’s beginning and disappearing again on page 59.
“Underbrush” is snapshot and survey at once, gesturing toward the work that went into it, circling the motifs in Romina Nikolić’s hyper-precise, suggestive language, gyrating on an axis of its own impressions, as if churned in a giant’s cauldron, directing our vision or perhaps permitting it in the first place. The pinnacles and depths of this language move the reader, lending a bold familiarity to even those passages in dialect. And this is precisely that which poetry permits: that we find ourselves again within it—arriving, and in the clearest moments—seeing through the ‘eyes of words.’ It is a riddle and also an unfolding wonder, a world remembered and a world in transition. The word delivers it, conjures it, renders it recognizable, even as its presence is already directed onwards toward something else as it remains attached. And so, it conforms to the ancient ideal of scripture adopted by its daughter, literature.
It is probably one of the most moving texts in which our expanding perspective on the world melds with the treasure of what has already been experienced, seen, taken to heart—an exit and a point of reflection back into those linguistic traces of the ancients—lending the text a depth and authenticity. Romina Nikolić delivers an artifice that remains in one’s memory as much so as in one’s solar plexus: The past is embedded in an eternity, in which it remains. This forms the fundament, one might say, of our striving, allows it to proceed. And it speaks to the merit of the author that she has managed to put this into words through her lyric speaker.
Is this so? The spoken word remains in time. And whoever speaks the word, remains in the passage of time. And the bird’s feet of writing—reliant, as they are on speech and pronunciation—carry them into eternity. The formative sounds of origin reverberate within them, and the world meanders along its horizons—the big as well as the small (they are, in the end, analogous).
Time meanders, as well, along the borders, unfolding from the innermost sanctums of this poem, ready to brush against us, possibly in mild fear. What a wonderful poem: this “Underbrush,” appearing to us upon the wake of speech. It speaks to us in great poetic wealth, directing us from the wideness of the world back through Schönbrunner forests.
André Schinkel, February 2023.
Undergrowth (abstracts) / Unterholz (Auszüge)
If I had to believe in something:
I believe in moss,
ferns, yellow lichens,
sponges on trunks, mycelia in mulch
and in caddisflies, larvae by the creeks,
newts and salamanders,
springs seeping out of the ground,
the glitter of tiny streams,
the coolness of summer in swales in the woods, the bustling
under the bank stones, soft murmuring pebbles,
the brown trout and bullheads,
rustling in treetops
and the damp, cold earth
beneath my feet.
I believe in the millions of organisms
decomposing, destructing, digesting the soil,
I believe in horn mites, woodlice and worms,
I believe in larvae, bacteria and spiders,
I believe in the Holy Spirit
in the litter layer of the forest,
in the glyphs that beetles carve into beech leaves,
I believe in the precision mechanics
of their mandibles.
I believe in the fibers of fabric
from the headscarves of women
blowing from the thorns of the brambles,
deer rub between branches,
scraps of fur on silver fir bark,
the fluttering and swarming,
the tumbling over meadows filled with light,
I believe in the Holy Spirit
in looping flights of butterflies,
in dandelions, forget-me-nots.
I believe in cotton grass, in stalks and bloodroot,
I believe in seeds, germination and sprouting,
overgrowing and taking root
deep, deep into the earth
and in the Holy Spirit
in the fur coat of bats
in their filigree whirls,
in their flight paths at night,
I believe in the screeching of martens
and that God speaks from the whistling of a rat's litter,
I believe in the open heart of a vixen,
I believe in the claws of buzzards,
the throat bites of lynxes,
in furies, in medlars
and wild pigeons,
in the hissing, the hacking
of bare skulls
I still believe in it today.
I can’t get over it,
I can’t get over this!
Our neighbor dug through the ground,
the bed a higgledy-piggledy hole,
an open wound.
No one knew
what she was trying to do
and nobody dared to ask anymore.
I just can’t get over it.
When I was a child fog rose
from the undergrowth and old women
crept out of bushes,
on their humps, branches and twigs
bony fingers in the children's hair
in the evening under the dovecote,
they put sorrel
into open mouths, gooseberries
pawing over sleepy heads,
in their aprons they cradled the smallest
and at night they kept on and on
with their shaky voices and
their incredible sayings:
haunted words, it was always haunting
white women, wildlings,
groundsmen without heads.
Our neighbor has lost two children.
The third has grown up to be a beautiful boy.
Since he moved away to study,
our neighbor has been in a psychiatric ward.
People say she's gone crazy.
But one thing has nothing to do
with the other, says her husband.
When I was little, I thought,
things would be given names and enough would be said.
I said: That's the Schnettersberg, that's a tree,
and knew nothing about mountains and trees
except that they were there,
blocking the view, a jagged horizon
hiding other mountains, trees, maybe -
I thought names
gave weight to things.
So that a lapwing weighs less than a beech leaf,
someone named Ulla was more likely to break through a manure cover,
Marie curls up to sleep in a calyx,
that marriage weighs heavier than a fling,
that love can cover you
like a blanket of moss
and hate can make you jump
like a wasp's sting, the spark escapes easily
like a squirrel.
Kaspar sat in the crown of a beech tree
and spat words into the grass:
spleen, fawn, dew.
He had chewed them thoroughly
until their meaning was lost,
only a kernel remained
on the green ground, germinating
pierced the earth, branched out,
grew and grew.
If I can still / Ob ich überhaupt noch
If I can still be happy at all,
you ask, and I say: look, the clear
night sky, the ice-cold garden...
Serenely a deer chews on the branches
of the short cherry tree in the dark,
wrapped in a blanket, I stand at the window
opened wide and wish you were here,
naked and still awake... I say: look, happiness
is a strong animal, Orion, sparkling
at the moment when a twig snaps
Summer – don’t, now / Sommer – jetzt nicht
write about the sea
hang on to wasted dreams of jellyfish
sink so low
fall asleep, break open
shine far and wide, stream downwards
burn up hastily
peel off layers of skin, visibly
miss, allow for cracks to show
bare everything, yet, in the end
how you open it / Wie du es öffnest
how you open it
your knuckles slowly
along the fold -
I should have probably
given you my book
your picture then, from
the train, two fingers
between the pages
lines of a song:
I can be cruel
a try / Einen Versuch
I guess it's worth a try, so I:
step up to a frozen puddle at night
in an empty parking lot
imitate the cry of a seagull
let the reverberation fade
shake some sand out of my sleeves
line up coquina fossils
in order of size
light a sea torch on the asphalt
in the bright light, signal with my hands correctly
whisper to the sea to come to me as the flickering fades
throw a stone you had slipped me
as far as I can into the darkness...
It's just a try, but if it works
I’d like to feel for new gills behind your ears
later, gently, as we kiss
Dream Walk / Dream Walk
through an empty city
from tattered bags
the remains of crumbling cereal bars
someone has pasted Winter over
the nameplates on doors
the last fishermen threw
their hopes up too high
safe footwear hangs in the trees
for a time after the catastrophes
a bottle neck sticks out of the stream
Rotkäppchen, surrounded by feisty drakes
a little way upstream through Paradise
with every step a little sting:
how the path reminds me of you, because you were walking
how trees remind me of you because you wore shoes
how the air reminds me of you, because you’d breathe, live
that's what the message in the bottle said:
you’re still breathing and live
in another place and
I pull hook after hook
from my skin, hang them on the branches
for drakes, the future fishermen
for the time after ridiculous humans
when they grow teeth
and winter can be easily detached
from the signs by the doors
Amuse Bouche / Amuse Bouche
I am a connoisseur, certainly,
a wink across the table,
a first course of You & Me...
You promise me half of your liver,
you order as much wine as I want for me,
you get to my head, and far too quickly
through bone and marrow and every fiber
resonates the smallest thought of you.
I suspect it, I know it, I'm sure:
This hangover is going to be horrible!
And yet I just don't let it be,
the tiny bites
- lips, fingers, neck and skin and, alas -
they never fully satisfy!
You always whet my appetite!
My heart remains untouched
on your plate,
so weary are you of any kitsch.
"Muscle meat," you lecture,
"you can get elsewhere well enough,
you don’t have to dig through your chest for that,
let it be, Honey, stop the thinking
let us just keep on drinking!"
Oh, bitter-sweet, rough, volatile... you ...
Your table is not one just for two.
Your love grows and
gives itself away, every day anew.
12-course-madness, already over?!
How quickly we consume ourselves,
get lost in taste.
You pay and I,
head over ears,
blood on my face,