cover image Breathturn (Atemwende)

Breathturn (Atemwende)

Paul Celan. Sun and Moon Press, $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-55713-217-8

In Europe, Celan has become an increasingly important poet of the second half of the 20th century, largely for his efforts to create a post-Holocaust language for German poetry. The facts of his life seem inseparable from his work: his term in a Nazi work camp, the murder of his parents by the Nazis, his death by suicide in his adopted France in 1970. Joris, a poet and professor at SUNY-Albany, places Celan and this work (Atemwende, originally published in 1967) in context for the uninitiated American reader and discusses the problems in translating this poet's writing. Celan consciously attempted to move the German language away from lyricism toward a terse, charged accuracy that could reflect the unrepresentable: ``Down melancholy's rapids/ past the blank/ woundmirror:/ there the forty/ stripped lifetrees are rafted./ Single counter-/ swimmer, you/ count them, touch them/ all.'' Joris's translations (on pages facing the German text) capture much of the multilingual resonance, subtlety and compressed power of Celan's brilliant, difficult work, which has absorbed the interest of such critics as George Steiner and Jacques Derrida. (Sept.)