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Ernst Meister Uncollected Later Poems (1968–1979)

By Ernst Meister
Translated By Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick

Ernst Meister Uncollected Later Poems (1968–1979), translated from German by Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick, is a slim volume that is both dense and expansive. The poems open up space in unexpected ways; the objects, places, and things specified seem to carry no weight or consequence. Freed of the substantive claims of nouns, Meister’s poems serve as scaffolding for a space open to movement:

what’s high climbs
above what’s highest,
and is,
an icy head,
not blindable by suns—
the heavens

This stanza records a flow: something is high, and it is climbing above the highest. What is it? We cannot know, but we are left with an impression of having come upon a clearing atop a mountain, as if the short, sharp lines of the poem have given way to an expanse. Another poem begins: “To allegorical birds / I am / branches.” Here, birds are a device, and branches a symbol, nouns emptied of their materiality to leave behind a space filled with the textures of talons and wood.

Meister is often written about as a poet interested in existential themes like death and time. But he nestles such weighty ideas into his poems in surprising places, relieving them of some of their associations.

At its zenith
it perceives you
as an inmost
in the sorrow
of here.

The clout of words such as experience and sorrow falls away as our attention is drawn toward the delightful prospect of assuming the position of a “you” who is perceived by experience and rendered into the unfamiliar noun inmost.

Meister is irreverent toward the images he sets out on the page, tending to them as if his poems were mirages, which he then writes backward out of existence:

The measure set
for all effort
by a head
that wants negation.

In his cave
nothing is seen
of man or beast
from a gray and yellow age.
Reviewed By Janani Ambikapathy
Cover of Uncollected Later Poems (1968–1979) by Ernst Meister
Publisher Wave Books
Pages 64
Date November 7, 2023
Price $16.00