Nelly Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. She is known for her poetry about the Holocaust, the experience of which dramatically...moreNelly Sachs was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966. She is known for her poetry about the Holocaust, the experience of which dramatically changed her style and approach to poetry. She is also known for her close relationship to Paul Celan, a Holocaust survivor, a friendship that almost exclusively took place through an exchange of letters. It is in part for this reason I read the book, which is roughly half of her collected works, though I had read some of her work decades ago, and was reminded of her through Anne Michael's new book of poetry, Correspondences, which quotes her and features a portrait of her. I didn't read the verse play, Eli, but I read the poetry, focusing especially on what seemed to me the greatest work, In the Habitations of Death, And No One Knows How to Go On, and Glowing Enigmas, the latter translated by the great Michael Hamburger. I think in part because of Hamburger's vibrant translations, I found the Enigmas her best work, but it was really all powerful and impressive. Amazing how little we hear of her today, a chronicler of rage and trauma and grief, like Anna Akhmatova.(less)
I read this because I am teaching a postwar American fiction class this spring and we are reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (and some of her poetry)...moreI read this because I am teaching a postwar American fiction class this spring and we are reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (and some of her poetry) for the class. I hadn't wanted to read it so much, I hadn't wanted to revisit my anguished feelings about her life and poetry prior to her suicide, but I had given the enrolled students a chance to choose novels from this period, and some of the class wanted to read it, so I added it. Then, I recalled never having read this book by Ted Hughes, her former husband and equally famous poet. Hughes is a fabulous poet who has been vilified to this day for being partly responsible for her suicide, as he was having an affair when they were married (and knew she was suicidal when they were married), divorced her… and then, to add fuel to this particular fire, the woman who he had had an affair with also killed herself and their son… and then later, Plath's and Hughes' son committed suicide. So you can' very well ignore all this, and it might be best to read all the biographies attending to all this mess, but I haven't done that. I just read the poems and skimmed a few dozen of my fellow Goodreads reviewer's reviews, and my assessment is that Hughes is a terrific poet and these poems (which he began writing after she died and wrote until his death in this, his last book, poems we are told he had never intended to publish, until he finally chose to…), written as "letters" to his ex-wife, are wonderful, brilliant. Some see them as self-serving, as a character assassination, as a justification for his leaving her and as a castigation of her madness and suicide and suicidal poetry, and while I can see that, my reading of these poems is that they are, as poems, amazing, and as a kind of biographical exercise (flawed as they all are in some respects?) amazing, moving, and ultimately loving, his coming to terms with what she was to him. There are some that do seem more "self serving" such as "Rabbit Catchers" but you know, it and other places such as this seem just searingly honest and self revealing and anguished and not whiningly self justifying. Maybe if I read more of the biographies I might fault him more as a man, but the poetry seems brilliant to me, poem for poem, attempt after attempt to understand in one of the only ways he knows how, through the writing of poems. Do you need to have read Plath to appreciate it? Well, he is in dialogue with many of her poems, and even if you read this book without revisiting the poems, you will (as I will) read or re-read her poems (and maybe life, too), in part through his poems. Maybe, if you hate Hughes as some kind of murderer (and I don't, I don't blame him for her death, not based on what I know, anyway), you will see this as his getting the last word, but I don't read it this way. It's great art, great literature, and sometimes such work is accomplished by imperfect human beings, even assholes, but for me, I don't know about him, but his poetry in this (and in other volumes), is amazing.(less)
One of my favorite books of the year, which I received this morning and read today and will read and read again. It's an accordion book, in a beautifu...moreOne of my favorite books of the year, which I received this morning and read today and will read and read again. It's an accordion book, in a beautiful hardcover frame, of a "poem" created as a kind of pastiche out of a very few lines from the writing of various individuals that bind themselves together in various ways, that correspond. On corresponding pages are the portraits of these individuals, done by Bernice Eisenstein. And then Michaels does, on the other side of the accordion, her own poetic reflection on some of the historical figures that for her work together, many of them Jews, many of them important figures in the Holocaust and WWII, generally.. The poem and all of it, really, is historical, but the impulse for the project seems to be primarily personal, focusing as it does on the death of her father, which serves as the basis for a meditation on language, on oppositions, of language, silence, art (no words) and art (with words). The portraits and the fragments of language from each portraited figure are haunting, lovely, spare, just minimal shards of words that touch on the ways various figures correspond, including, among others, W.G. Sebald, Kafka, Einstein, Primo Levi, and how they help her think of her family, her father, meaningful work, resistance to oppression everywhere, language, hope…the correspondences are multiple, between her father and all these famous people, and especially between him and her, but there are also two additional sets of correspondences that are central here, between Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs, and between Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam.
I guess the thing that disappoints me a little is that the poem Michaels writes is a little too dramatic and narrative and less poetic and fragmented than what she presents in her excerpts from the writings of those in portraits. I like that language best, because it is evocative, intuitive, they speak with few words, and no narrative, as the portraits themselves do. Michaels in her elegy and narrative poetic meditation says more than she needs to in her poem. It is the poem of a novelist, not Celan or Pessoa, those she lauds. But this is still a beautiful artifact in so many ways, and powerful, worth re-reading.
One more thing: I did not know that there were words on both sides of the accordion when I first opened it! I thought it was only the fragments of writing and the poetry, and I loved that. It was only when I was writing the review/reflection here that I dropped the book and saw it had Michael's poem on the other side! I just say that because it may not be obvious…. but that's cool, too. As Michaels writes, of the process, "not two to make one, but two to make the third. Just as a conversation can become the third side of the page." Each of the three dimensions of this book creates its own set of correspondences. Great work. Also, some of the quoted material will give you more ideas for great works to read and make your now correspondences with them and you.(less)