Heroines From Abroad – poetry review

Heroines From Abroad by Christine Marendon translated from the German by Ken Cockburn

Scottish launch 13.7.18

Heroines From Abroad is Christine Marendon’s first collection, and published by Carcanet Press, it is half-and-half English/German, translated by Edinburgh based poet Ken Cockburn. Launched at Lighthouse, Edinburgh’s Radical Bookshop (formerly Word Power Books) in the capital’s Causewayside area, the pair were introduced by Annie Rutherford who leads the Women in Translation fiction reading group there. Alternating, Christine and Ken read the poems in both languages and an illuminating Q & A followed.

Marendon was raised in Bavaria and currently lives in Hamburg. She has a personal and individual approach: “I meditate and try to think of nothing. I don’t read other poets when I am writing. In this act of forgetting, you find things you usually do not find, hear something you otherwise won’t hear.” With a distinctively female voice, there is indeed a dreamy, Dali-esque quality, where apparently unconnected images circle around each other and leave the reader to make connections, to recognise something deep inside themselves. “I am only following my own logic”, Marendon intertwines her hands delicately, “not to hold, grasp it, but watch it and surround it with my words”.

Cockburn initially translated six of Marendon’s poems 13 years ago, saying it was the “wonderful coming together of images” which attracted him. “It was intriguing rather than frustrating that there were aspects which I didn’t get the gist of, that the poems created their own worlds with a kind of dream logic to them.” As if, on waking, there is a tumble of words related to half-remembered visions, or middle-of-the-night thoughts, all co-existing, some of which are too painful to bear scrutiny in the cold light of day, but these Marendon has committed to paper. “we snarl and dig our bared teeth into each / others’ flesh…torn skins hang / sideways to the floor,” (from Fifty Ways).

The poems make new associations, fresh meanings emerge from juxtapositions of words you previously thought you could rely on. Cockburn quotes from Rotunda and Breath, “Your warm handshake has you kneeling / to the saints of motorway slip-roads and service-stations..” and, “My dearest is a / missing feather, a snapped-off star”. (The latter referring to the automotive emblem of a Mercedes which a friend stole.)

Christine Marendon
Christine Marendon, poet.

There are many recurring natural images – water, air, wind and stone for example. In Bahamut, “I am the fish who, coming for air / kisses the water’s surface: / you see the disturbance, the circles it creates, but, me, the fish, / you don’t see.” Memory features strongly: “My memory is a darkroom / into which only blood-red light is admitted.” (from Negative). However when asked, Marendon stated, “I wrote these at different times of my life, they stand alone. But I am almost the same person so there might be connections.”

The book title Heroines From Abroad is a phrase from Rotunda referring to her family matriachs. She explains, “Men are responsible for most translocations and women have to solve the problems and hold the family together when they get there.”

On the page the poems often have the appearance of prose with short, succinct phrases of 2 or 3 words. “The day, / forgotten. There at the edge. Where the darkness / lives.” The first few silent readings in your own head do not reveal a recognisable tempo, but hearing them aloud made more metrical sense. Cockburn stated, “there was a rhythm I was trying to recreate in English.”

Letting her ‘found’ voice be concretised was brave, and ultimately successful. This is an intrinsically creative first poetry collection, and I am guessing that you will find that wisps of fascinating thoughts will be ribboning through your mind long after reading it.

The Guardian’s Poem of the Week

Christine Marendon, No Man’s Land

New Books in German

Info about Christine Marendon in German

They say that the readership for poetry is really low, especially in translation. Do you think that’s right? Leave me a comment and we’ll do our own poll!