Poets Katharina Ferner and Uljana Wolf
Katharina Ferner & Uljana Wolf
We feel the shocks & aftershocks of big things. We are seismometers.
Joyce hits us hard. Joyce's Ulysses is a seismograph, recording shocks and aftershocks of Homer and in effect, everything in between.
Joseph Campbell was perhaps the last big exegete of the Symbolist movement, giving us his Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (co-authored with Henry Morton Robinson). And after Campbell, there was, for me, confusion. The shocks & aftershocks of Joyce & Yeats, Wagner, Baudelaire, etc, are palpable. Likewise, the rising naturalism from Spinoza to Goethe, Wordsworth, Emerson, and Whitman are a palpable force. It is less messy from this distance to become engaged with pre-war culture--Symbolisme, Yellow Book, Decadence, Aestheticism; with Schoenberg and & his Expressionist poets; with the Austrian positivists--Musil, Broch, Schnitzler (these positivists all have something in common with our American artistic positivist Milton Babbitt.) I consider Djuna Barnes the closest thing we have to an American Expressionist. I suspect she got it from her brief time with her fiancé Hanfstaengl, of the Stuttgart Hanfstaengls.
Is this what Katharina Ferner calls a "Punktesystem"? Perhaps, but it is a qualitative system, seismographic, registering shocks to the system and their aftermaths, also registering desires and answers to desires. Reasoning our way to a value system is fraught with perils.
Reasoning our way to a value system is fraught with perils.
Postwar culture is confusing and confounding. I theorize: perhaps the blame goes to dark PoMo--rationalistic naysaying bug spray? (PoMo--postmodernism--is inevitable, not all bad, but I object to some strains.) Baby boomer pathologies? The malaise may have to do with something that died after the wars, or something that was interrupted by the wars?
It certainly has to do with the rise of pop culture & consumer culture. I like to think of Jon Anderson’s Yes lyrics as *pop-Inkling*. The fantastic nature scenes of Roger Dean were an indispensable part of the mix. The baby boomers started from scratch. The contents of their bubble is vast, even infinite, but not everything is there. (There are many infinities.)
Roger Dean's album cover for YES' Close to the Edge
I'll be the round about
The words will make you out 'n' out
You change the day your way
Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley
The music dance and sing
They make the children really ring
I spend the day your way
Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley
In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there
One mile over we'll be there and we'll see you
Ten true summers we'll be there and laughing too
We should study Jon Anderson's lyrics to see what he excludes. He eliminates prerequisites. That is the baby boomer--hipster move! It is mostly good. Its downside is that it's a bridge burner?
Odi et amo... It's a love/hate affair. I feel too many gaping holes in the baby boomer panopoly. Baby boomer culture lacks a certain charm.
For decades I felt wrong for not feeling strong connections to living poets. Recently I made real progress with overcoming my insalubrious estrangement from my contemporaries.
I have to thank Harold Meltzer for setting texts by the excellent young poet Aracelis Girmay for Vox n Plux. Note, Girmay is not a baby boomer. That was a few years ago, during the time when I was setting Djuna Barnes. I want to get to know Girmay’s work.
I have some Sarah Lawrence students to thank for forcing me to think about and acknowledge the quality of the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
And this year, two German language poets have pulled me into the present, leap-frogging over the baby boomer malaise: Katharina Johanna Ferner and Uljana Wolf. Neither is a baby boomer. I thank Katharina Ferner for introducing me to Wolf and also to Masha Kaléko. Kaléko is also not a baby boomer, born 15 years after Djuna Barnes. Kaléko & Barnes lived blocks away from one another in Greenwich Village for years. Did they know each other? Kaléko should be better known in the city of her exile.
I am going to record here some very raw first impressions of the post-baby-boomer poetic *Renaissance* that has come to my attention--a composite reaction to Ferner & Wolf.
I was introduced to Katharina Ferner by guitarist Yvonne Zehner and composer Klaus Ager who organize a Bloomsday concert in cooperation with the Gunnar Berg Ensemble and Literaturhaus Salzburg. I am ever grateful for this introduction. I must also thank Agustin Castilla-Avila.
For the Bloomsday event I am collaborating with Johanna Ferner, who created “T-räume”. She sent her new work to me in the last week of March. Her working title was “My Ulysses”.
Mir träumte:goldknisterndes Geschenkspapier
knirschen knacken krachende
The movements and crossings around “Meer” create a large-scale musical form.
The waning enthusiasm in the progression to “Handvoll Sand” quickly turns around with “Meer!” In the next stanza.
Der passende Zeitpunkt
die Kinder hören Punk am Schulweg
die Ferien nahen
eine Handvoll Sand.
Träum dich doch lieber ans Meer!
The effusive "Goldknisterndes Geschenkspapier" is neutralized later at the seaside to mere “Goldpapier”—personal litter and globalized litter. And a reader might easily jump from a life cycle to the Anthropocene. The poem offers the opportunity to move in that direction, with perfect transparency, which is another way of saying, with no agenda (punkt!)
William James introduced us to the German philosopher Gustav Fechner, who was perhaps the first person to think of the earth as a living thing. His thinking was a major move toward planetary consciousness. Fechner’s idea was later popularized as *Gaia* by Chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s.
Consciousness of the Anthropocene is a planetary consciousness coupled with awareness of a troubling pattern in the fossil record. In eras where one species proliferates, occupies every niche, the fossil record consistently shows a cataclysmic collapse, an abrupt de-proliferation.
We have that growing, gnawing anxiety and a backlash from those who reject it.
I am now very curious about the poetic record of Anthropocene consciousness. We have always feared for our survival, but only recently do we begin to suspect that our proliferation is our demise.
Ferner introduced me to the work of Uljana Wolf, who is no less fascinating. Wolf’s is a poetic world that emerges best through the kind of clarity we get from psychedelic mushrooms. Poet Yoko Tawada (who writes in both Japanese and German), in her introduction to Wolf’s English translation, calls Wolf a “multi-lingual poet”. Wolf's translator Sophie Seita uses German when Wolf moves to English. Wolf lives in Brooklyn and Berlin.
There is much lighthearted fun:
Two heads are better than ohne.
But there is so much more to Wolf’s work than clever wordplay. She is the poet of mixing languages with each other and with our bodies and the juices that animate us.
Zweite Rede Mit Koppelzwilling
“….wenn einem die milz stieg in des andern übervolles kummersieb—ob sie einander übersetzten, am zackenkranz des dämmerns ihre fälle wetzten?…..”
Second Speech, With a Conjoined Twin
“...when the spleen of one flowed over into the other’s overfull sorrow-sieve—did they translate each other, tweaking their cases with the crown-pronged Dawn?....”
Poetry has long dealt with the humors—Baudelaire’s “Paris Spleen” is a late-comer. Wolf continually reminds us of the biological basis for our words. Reading her work leaves us with a strong sense that her cognates & false cognates are both grounded in our biochemistry.
Wolf's cognates and false cognates share a glandular basis.
This recalls the shorter or longer biochemical leashes that define our freedom, as described by Harvard biologist EO Wilson in his book, Consilience. How interesting to see a similar notion hitting our poetic seismometers.
Returning to Ferner, it was a great challenge to create a musical setting of her spectacular unwording—“Gluck gluck gluck”.
Kreischen den Hafen voll,
Gluck gluck gluck.
Das Meer bleibt ungerührt.
In den Fischernetzen:
The joy of wordplay shifting to soundplay, to the joy of sound, the calls of sea birds. The birds and other creatures are like those glands of Wolf that generate linguistic meanings, organs of Gaia.
The unwording of "gluck" will invite some to de-Romanticize the sea (Poe always and Whitman, sometimes), depending on the fullness of one's sorrow-seive.
I've thought this before and I think it again now--
Is Ulysses one of the best performances of the mindfulness of Heiddeger's Dasein? If so, they are likely parallel developments, like the cactus and the euphorbia.