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April 01, 2010

At the Edge of Night: The Poetry of Anise Koltz

Edge of Night

Anise Koltz is scrupulous about brevity. For those less familiar with her work, Koltz is thought by her translator to be Luxemburg’s best known poet. At the Edge of Night brings together four recent collections. Koltz originally wrote in German but crossed the borders of tongue to write in French.

The poet believes that ‘when a Germanic sensibility is transfused into a Latin language, something almost physical takes place – the transfusion produces a kind of spark’. The world of Koltz’s poems is austere, unindulgent and unindulged. The poems certainly ‘spark’ but what that flash of language leaves on the mind is an after-effect against a blackout:

Life is no long quiet river

but a bloodbath

Yet you ask me for

poetry decorated with flowers

with little birds

I’m sorry Ladies and Gentlemen

each of my poems

buries your dead


I need to condition my critical response by saying that I was probably reading Koltz at the wrong time in my life. I may have been searching for longer moments of light among the wire-drawn darkness of her poetry. Her austerity is in its way beguiling and inviting. At one point she writes, ‘Because this poem is a lie / it has the right to be beautiful’. But the fictional ‘I’ in Koltz’s poetry never seems too far from a reality which is awful and battered by grief. The presence of the Second World War, although not overt, exacted a toll. Her husband’s death in 1971 as ‘a late victim of the Nazi occupation’ gives rise to the brief emotionally-riven poems of Fire-Eater which are harrowing to absorb:

When my love was born

I washed him

with my right hand

When my love died

I washed him

with my left hand

Without a future

I stay behind

both hands severed

At the Edge of the Night, Anise Koltz, translated by Anne-Marie Glasheen, Arc Visible Poets, hb., 158 pp., £12.99, ISBN 978-1-904886-60-0

My thanks to Fiona Sampson of Poetry Review where this piece first appeared.

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