I was introduced to Gisela Hemau’s poetry by a mutual friend. I was immediately struck by the spareness and absolute rightness of her language and also amazed that I had never heard of her work. I began to translate a few poems and sent her an email asking if she would like to see what I was doing. So began what has become an immensely helpful interchange.
Gisela is an extremely painstaking writer and an equally painstaking reader of my translations. She has led me to reconsider any number of words, phrases, rhythms, line breaks; at the same time, she has accepted my decisions not to make certain changes. Her style is often somewhat surrealistic — sometimes in a playful way, sometimes as a means of treating psychological issues from a certain distance. I have tried to preserve the strangeness of her diction and imagery.
“Henri Matisse” is my favorite among a number of Hemau’s poems on painters. The contrast between the coldness of the geometric perspective-lines and the warmth of the fruit, flowers, and women is striking and at first convincing, until you begin to wonder whether there’s a chill beneath the warmth after all.
The German original was taken from Blinder Übergang, Blind Passage (2013), by Gisela Hemau. My thanks to the publisher, Königshausen & Neumann GmbH, Würzburg, Germany, for permission to publish this text.about the author