is there a zone of darkness between all languages,
a black river that swallows words
and stories and transforms them?
— from “translation”
Distant Transit by Maja Haderlap (translated from German by Tess Lewis) is a collection of poems reflecting on memories of her homeland. Haderlap is bilingual Slovenian-German Austrian writer, best known for her multiple-award-winning novel, Angel of Oblivion, about the Slovene ethnic minority’s transgenerational trauma of being treated as ‘homeland traitors’ by the German-speaking Austrian neighbors, because they were the only ever-existing military resistance against National Socialism in Austria.
The first section of the book delivers poetry of memory and youth. Haderlap captures that idealized picture of youth and the surroundings. The region of her youth is a land of great natural beauty, but also a land of 20th Century violence and division. Her voice shifts. Her poetry demonstrates a loss of identity. In explaining borders, we learn that they mean little, just political lines, drawn through the countryside not reflective of the people. Cities and towns stand on their own without mention of nationality. Her language to communicate with the world has also been replaced. Haderlap embodies the desolation of her poetry in her words and in the lower case “i” when referring to herself.
Distraught bees buzz in the corridor
of my abandon language,
birds of passage purge themselves in
rooms assailed and reviled
as if they were finally home — that is, there where
they once were, language
kept in me thrall to the world but left me
unsatisfied were i to bite through it,
i would taste it desolation.
–From “house of old languages”
This collection, however, does not offer any insight to the poet. An introduction could have helped other readers connect with the poet and her writing. Her grandmother was sent to a concentration camp during the war and her father, as a boy, was tortured by the Nazis. These images still haunt Haderlap in her poetry. A fine collection that shows the loss of cultural identity and being left outside the new order.