Anja Utler, translated from the German by Kurt Beals, Engulf—Enkindle, Burning Deck, $14.00 (paper)
The English word “engulf” usually refers to ingesting, swallowing up, yet can also (when passive or reflexive) mean disgorging, as a river into the sea. While this secondary sense captures the primary meaning of Anja Utler’s original münden, the translator’s deeper discovery (one of many in this volume) is precisely the term’s volatile complementarity. Object and subject, matter and language, fear and desire: these familiar distinctions become—in these heavily enjambed, syntactically fractured, yet sonically taut lines—freshly permeable. Drawing on her training in speech therapy as much as her studies of Slavic and English literatures, Utler’s language continually unweaves itself into abstraction that it braids back into the sensory, whether in the natural history of the first half of the volume or its mythological re-imagining in the second, where Marsyas, the flayed satyr, and Daphne, transformed into a laurel, demarcate the apparent extremes of exposure and incorporation. Throughout, in a fitting twist, Beals’s confident translation recovers the spirit that Utler so closely identifies with the letter, subtly reconfiguring German syntax into an English that preserves both her connotative richness and the underlying scenes to which it is tangent. A striking work in English, this translation provides a superb introduction to an exciting young German-language poet of rare linguistic and imaginative inventiveness and power.