Rebecca's Reviews > Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs by August Sander

Emblems of the Passing World by Adam Kirsch
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really liked it
bookshelves: poetry, read-via-netgalley, history

A charming mix of historical photographs (1910s–1950s Germany) and poems. Kirsch uses his poetry to bring these one-dimensional figures to life, imagining the stories behind their generic titles (“Office Worker” or “Farming Family”) and sometimes slyly questioning the political and status connotations of such designations. Most of the verses rhyme in an ABAB pattern or rhyming couplets; usually I don’t like such persistent rhyme schemes, but here the word choice is subtle enough that you hardly notice them except as a pleasing lilting rhythm. One of my favorites was “Student of Philosophy,” which ends

Spending his life inside the giant shadow
Cast by the real, which his philosophy
Describes as the Idea, the noumenon,
And other honorifics that suggest
The actual’s to be looked down upon
By those predestined to the second-best.

I also especially liked “Aviator,” a symbol of “what remains of the antique desire / To leave ourselves behind by going higher.”

The most striking/disturbing photograph, entitled “My Wife in Joy and Sorrow” (1911), depicts a woman holding two infants in identical garb in her arms, one of the twins clearly dead. That and a photograph of a recently deceased elderly woman are testament to a time when death was a more accepted part of life and photos were both a memento mori and a way of keeping the dead close. This book could draw people whose interests usually run more to nonfiction – especially social history – into giving poetry a try.
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Reading Progress

August 22, 2015 – Started Reading
August 22, 2015 – Shelved
August 22, 2015 – Shelved as: poetry
August 22, 2015 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley
August 27, 2015 – Shelved as: history
August 27, 2015 – Finished Reading

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