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SEED WHEEL
APRICOTS OF DONBAS
Masquerade
ECCENTRIC DAYS OF HOPE AND SORROW
WATCH OUT: Selected Poems of Kuno Raeber  
|
  Translated from the German by Stuart Friebert

ISBN 978-0-9968584-2-7     $18.00  /  $21.00 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

104 pp      
PUB DATE: SEPT 2016       Poetry





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These translations of a wide range of the poems of the Swiss poet, Kuno Raeber (1922-1992), come from a life of many interests in matters theological, philosophical, and cultural—he was a lecturer in history at German universities. The poems’ settings are often timeless in nature; their subjects and objects, as Christiana Wyrwa writes in the comprehensive introduction, often “move from real situations into magical surroundings,” and readers are advised not to look “for rationally understandable connections” as they make their way through real land- and seascapes to interiors where the world is powered by uncertainty but on the cusp of righting itself again. The translator, Stuart Friebert, produces, as closely as possible, Raeber’s lineations and rhythmic patterns, right down to individual word choices.

Born in 1922 in Klingau (Aargau), Kuno Raeber grew up in Lucerne, Switzerland, went on to study philosophy, literature, and history in Basel, Zurich, Geneva, and Paris, and received a PhD in history in 1950. Along the way, he studied for the priesthood, but lost his path after a “spiritual crisis.” In 1958, he settled in Munich as a freelance writer, where he spent most of his life, aside from trips abroad to Oberlin as Max Kade Writer-in-Residence and to the Swiss Institute in Rome. An early member of the Gruppe 47, he survived malicious attacks by the group at first, but prevailed with the support of a few sympathetic writers, and by the time he died in 1992, he had won a number of prestigious literary prizes and produced a commanding body of poems, stories, novels, plays, essays, reviews, and translations, which have recently been collected in a definitive seven-volume edition edited by Christiane Wyrwa and Matthias Klein. Many critics now count him among the most significant writers of the second half of the twentieth century.

WATCH_OUT

About the Author

Translated from the German by Stuart Friebert

FriebertStuart Born in Wisconsin, Stuart Friebert spent an undergraduate year in Germany as one of the first U.S. exchange students after World War II (1949-50), after which he finished a Ph.D. (1957) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in German Language & Literature. He began teaching at Mt. Holyoke College, subsequently at Harvard University, until settling at Oberlin College in 1961, where he continued teaching German until, in the mid-1970s, with help from colleagues, he founded Oberlin’s Creative Writing Program, which he directed until retiring. Along the way, with colleagues, he co-founded Field Magazine, later the Field Translation Series and Oberlin College Press. Among the fourteen books of poems he’s published, Funeral Pie co-won the Four Way Book Award in 1997; and Floating Heart (Pinyon Publishing) won the Ohioana 2015 Poetry Award. In addition, he’s published ten volumes of translations—most recently Puppets in the Wind: Selected Poems of Karl Krolow (Bitter Oleander Press, 2014) and Be Quiet: Selected and Selected Poems by Kuno Raeber (Tiger Bark Press, 2015). He has also published a number of stories and memoir-pieces, collected in a volume entitled The Language of the Enemy, published by Black Mountain Press in 2015.

ABOUT THE EDITOR • CHRISTIANE WYRWA

christianewyrwa

Christiane Wyrwa studied German and English Literature at Göttingen, Durham GB and Berlin where she took a Ph.D. in 1981. With her husband Matthias Klein, she edited Kuno Raeber’s Collected Works in seven volumes from 2002 to 2010.

Awards

 

REVIEWS

WORLD LITERATURE TODAY

JANUARY 2017 | BOOK REVIEWS
Watch Out: Selected Poems of Kuno Raeber translated from the German by Stuart Friebert
VERSE
Author: Kuno Realer
Translator: Stuart Friebert
Lost Horse Press. Sandpoint, Idaho.
2016.
90 pages.

According to the back cover of Watch Out, “Many critics count [Raeber] among the more significant writers of the second half of the twentieth century.” I agree. Kuno Raeber’s exquisitely artful poems express a spiritual shift that fits many post–World War II psyches. These poems abandon religious dogma, arguing powerfully for the legitimacy of direct spiritual perception.

Raeber was once a Jesuit novitiate. When that experience “ended in disaster,” he suffered a spiritual and psychological loss. “For me,” he said, “the church contained everything.” Depression took hold, but eventually Raeber discovered that the physical world could fuel expression of his spiritual intuitions.

In Watch Out, his perceptive faculties reclaim ancient imagery and symbols, creating an old / new point of contact between the individual and a greater cosmos. “Upright, you’ll / shoot up at some point mute and shackled / on the stony seat in back, scared / from sleep and see / the rooster, its eyes smashed / to splinters, broken in pieces on the pavement . . . / But like then, remember? remember?, / a single cricket will / chirp . . . / And look, outside / there’s someone still pushing, like then, his new / bicycle by and whistling.”

Raeber’s deep obsession is with reality, and in reality a lot goes on. You may be experiencing a moment fraught with finality and death, but someone else is enjoying his new bike. Raeber’s psyche is awake, upright, willing to connect directly. He sees, he accepts, he refuses to interpret, as in the poem “Twilight”: “Twilight and a gentle breeze / from the meadows. / The path / a snake alone / into the unknown and white.”

Raeber also investigates man-made vistas. The third section of the book, “Steps, Winding,” focuses on cities, those Ozymandian edifices that attempt to create a foothold in eternity. In “New York,” he writes: “Skyscrapers as new / bodies for / Venetian senators torn / down in the construction and / endlessly erected / the processions / of scarabs / of pharaohs.”

He describes Sixth Avenue where, despite man’s apparent control of the world, nature asserts itself: “An Uptown wind drags / Downtown the feathers / the down plastered with tar and mud / the avenue / Uptown Downtown torn / off by the east wind the feathers / filthy the down / plastered with tar and mud.” We build cities, then rebuild them, again and again as if this one, this last one, will stand forever. But cities fall while feathers, however besmirched, remain.

Stuart Friebert’s long friendship with Raeber and close reading of these poems make him a superb translator. Using the poet’s vocabulary and rhythmic patterns, he brings Raeber to life, introducing us to a different kind of mystic—a realist whose aesthetically gorgeous spiritual investigations refuse to overreach.

And in the end Raeber claims no definitive understanding of the cosmos. His poems issue no promises. No certificates of certainty. Life, for Raeber, is decidedly ambiguous: “Below / right at the bottom of the fountain suddenly / open expanse. Sails / next to the swans. But / up through the cracks / fumes of blood.”

The “disaster” that ended Raeber’s stint as a Jesuit novitiate destroyed his sense of the world. Raeber’s poetic investigations mitigated the pain and filled the vacuum created by the breakdown of his early beliefs. He started over, rebuilding a relationship to his experience, to things he could know and things he had to accept as beyond his ken. Although the particulars of crises differ, many of us share this task.

Raeber’s work is a window into a singular mind in the process of becoming conscious. His poems do not comfort, but they do provide challenging companionship. That alone is valuable, but in Raeber we also get word art of the highest order. Like Caravaggio, he understood that even in darkness and shadow, beauty persists.

—Deborah Bogen Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

TOMORROW

Drunk, by early light, I force myself
into the garden, which stares at me through
a thousand eyes. Only
the tortoises stir, gathered together in
the wet grass, and talk over
the sights of the night.
If I were clear minded, they’d take me
into their confidence. I tumble
by to the last
window lit up, as if I could save it
from dying. Someone’s
already sharpened tomorrow’s
sun-dagger behind the horizon.

—Kuno Raeber