Lorsque je sculpte mon poème
à coups de hache
le soleil noircit
le temps retient ses heures
comme une meute de chiens.
(As I carve my poem/hewing it with my axe/the sun darkens/and time keeps the hours close within/like a hound)
Anise Koltz, from Le Paradis brûle (Heaven burns)
I’ve been re-reading Anise Koltz’ poems recently. I find her dissection of life felled by death’s chainsaw and lingering despite falling particularly impressive. Her decision to switch from German to French in writing after her husband’s demise in 1971, is a political as well as a poetical choice: she deliberately distanced herself from the horrors the former language symbolized for her loved one, and consequently for her. Far from being a mere exercise, this choice of using a different vehicle to express loss and mourning is a refusal to compromise with history to wade through personal and collective pain and let truth emerge despite spoliation, or rather, because of it.
Carved with the axe of memory, her poems sound dry and implacable yet also incredibly alive, beating with the inevitable truth of aftershock. They are more like sawdust or residual wood than timber, not because she decides to focus on the wasted part of existence, but because her words testify to the impossibility of existence after deflagration, though at the same time embracing survival because there’s no other way out of death.
While Tranströmer composes poems as sound chambers for silence or afterthoughts on human wonder and despair while colliding with silence, Koltz creates afterpoems, parched moments of life after life lingering despite death hewing its pulp to pieces. There’s no way of living, she seems to suggest, but becoming sawdust, or celebrating sawdust, after the log has gone and everything has burnt down to the ground. The burning may have destroyed much, but the debris are still there, fermenting in the earth ready to sing their song in our bones, to let the word be born again. Let the healing begin.