One more day

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 22.06.2018

After their first book, a collection of short stories by Anne-Marie Reuter, came out last year, Black Fountain Press have now turned to an altogether different genre since they are releasing a selection of poems by Lambert Schlechter, one of the big beasts of our national poetry scene.

Most of the texts in One day I will write a poem come from four collections previously published by Éditions Phi. The French nine-liners have been seamlessly translated into English by Anne-Marie Reuter. Some of the poems, though, appear in print for the very first time, while three were written in English by the author himself.

It might sound like a mixed bag of things, but as you read through the selection, you will find a deep sense of connection and continuity, with lots of variations on different themes. Love, sex, death, nature and the writing process itself loom large. The volume reads a bit like a journal, a poetic journey through everyday life. Musings echo each other as seasons come and go. Tone and rhythm are key while the texts flit between moods: at times the tone is elegiac and intimate, elsewhere it turns caustic or even mordant. Reading Schlechter’s poetry never becomes an exercise in unlocking obscure metaphors or decrypting intricate imagery. It is too spontaneous, too direct for that.

Composing poems seems to come to the author naturally, almost like an extension of his incessant reading. A few cups of coffee, a few cigarettes, and the day will start at the writing table. To quote Raymond Carver, who is one of Schlechter’s literary heroes, “the stuff I live with every day” comes alive on the page. Nothing is too small or too insignificant for the poet’s attention. From the Nutella for the mice to expired yogurts.

Elsewhere, the mundane and the magical intermingle as love is imagined into words. Reflections on his own writing punctuate the volume, though there is no grandstanding anywhere. Death is invariably hovering in the background: “death is everywhere and in everything”, its triumph guaranteed. The omnipresent menace gives an urgency to the act of writing and of love itself, though, ironically, it seems to give meaning to life as well. Thus, a visit to the graveyard becomes a raw yet subdued celebration of love but also a reminder of pain and loss. Even if understated, the emotion is overwhelming.

At the other end of the spectrum there are relaxed moments skilfully put into simple words: “the earth is round, life is beautiful.” A moment of respite, an appreciation of life’s little nothings before darker thoughts hit home, before “the shiver of existence” rallies round or a threatening presence appears in the midst of “the chaos of contradictions” that constitutes life. Somehow, the very few poems that carry the odd clumsy line are the ones evoking sexual feelings and desire. Here the male gaze seems to just sit and stare.

No doubt, the most endearing feature that appears throughout the volume is the self-irony of the “unrepentant scribbler”, a sense of humour that adds a delightful lightness to some of the texts: “it’s silence and solitude here almost all the time/pussy cat is wondering about me”. Or later, “I often talk to the non-existing God”. Later still, and beautifully detached: “I am a pronoun without consequence”.

Dotted here and there are illustrations in black and white by Lysiane Schlechter, the poet’s sister. Her graphic art has shapes twirl and tumble. Away from the tidiness of the nine-liners, letters seem to curl and uncurl. Together with the quasi-Whitmanesque energy of the Prologue and the crisp simplicity of the Epilogue, these scrawls frame the poems beautifully.

Lambert Schlechter: One day I will write a poem, Black Fountain Press, 2018
(ISBN 978-99959-998-1-0)

Janine Goedert
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