Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Reader Survey
PN Review Substack

This poem is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Poems (translated by Richard Dove) Dieter Leisegang

Translated by Ricliard Dove

Introductory note
It is tempting to see only one serious theme - death, and indeed death by suicide -in the poetry of this translator of Hart Crane who shot himself shortly after his thirtieth birthday, in March 1973. Leisegang once claimed 'My poems are made of nothing but last words', and this was certainly so from the start: he wrote Daedalus. Daedalus at the age of sixteen or seventeen - 'All the things which could be said/Let someone imagine://The way that in summer/He buries a fallen bird//And then - some years later -/With the most innocent face in the world/Lies in the morgue' - and Karl Carino surmises that the title should be read as a cry for help from the falling Icarus ('patrium clamantia nomen': Metamorphoses Bk. VIII), or rather from a would-be suicide who in the end fails to escape from himself. There is, furthermore, an eerie irony in the lethally light-headed text It's easy to remember (Mayakovsky) - reminiscent, in tone, of late Benn or early Enzensberger - which was penned some five years later: 'Anything but memories/Yeah, Vladimir's right/Shoots all that humbug/Out of his skull/At one in the end/With so many/Even with Seryosha.' For Mayakovsky shot himself in the heart, it is as though Leisegang was looking forward nine years to his own solution. But this text also shows the monothematic thesis to be wrong: death spells union even with the likes of Seryosha Jessenin (who had criticized the author of Vladimir Mayakovsky - a Tragedy for killing himself); getting beyond the principium individuationis to achieve liberty is a centnral consern in Happy and finite, for instance, and - for all the defensive sarcasm - in Lonely and Alolle as well (J-Iarald Hartung, for one, sees a positive pre-socratic dimension in the pun 'Doch allein is talles ein': 'For Alone, all's onc, onc's all'). Leisegang's concept of liberty is decidedly ditfferent, of course, from that of the hippy generation which took no noticc of his four slim collections (so too was his reaction to magazine photographs of Vietnam victims - 'It wasn't pity or/Grief, more a feeling which dwells in crypts with skeletons' - and his allegory 'Progress walks abroad on/atavistic sales' would not have gone down well either). One could indeed argue that, from his nondescript small-town base in Offenbach am Main, he was exploring - and seeing through - the disillusioned post political positions of Neue Subjektivitat long before that particular movement got going. Nevertheless, it cannot be a coincidence that Leisegang's various forest poems are among his most memorable: the disappearance of the world concerned him at least as much as the disappearance of the self. And, if he has a place in the pantheon, it is perhaps on account of his forms as much as his themes: his brittle trochaic quatrains simultaneously rubbish and revive the world of rococo idyll, and his unhurried, (as it were) disinterested, free verse at times achieves an unprecedented transparency.

Self-portrait with a Cigarette (Selbstportrait
mit Zigarette
Down in the grass by the river
Under the railway-bridge
I'm sitting

Inhaling Virginia's
Boundless fields

Encounter (Begegnungy)
Your brother in the other train
You can see him there sitting

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image