regarding the shadows

Levin Westermann

German, 2020

“Overnight / they have replaced the woods / with woods, / the birds / with birds, the fox / with a fox. / And outside / in the dusk / snow is falling, a wrecked / car grows white / on a lake, in the garden / no bees nor / dragonflies and / no child – / We set off. / The last to leave / puts out the fire. / A candle extinguished / is a sun / that dies.”

Awarded

Levin Westermann’s poetry collection regarding the shadows brings together four poem cycles, full of references to contemporary poetry as well as to Greek antiquity. The sound and rhythm, while distinctive within each cycle, is powerful throughout. All four poem cycles pose the question of what remains as shadow after the death of the patriarchy, the person, the culture.

The author Levin Westermann was born in Germany and lives in Biel. ‘regarding the shadows’ is his third poetry collection and was awarded the renowned Clemens Brentano Prize in 2020. Inspired by writers whose work preceded his – Ilse Aichinger, Anne Carson, Roland Barthes – Westermann composes a compelling homage to language and poetry. The author takes up the shadows of the great works of world literature and enters into dialogue with them – sometimes playfully, sometimes ironically, and always with a keen instinct for form and rhythm – weaving all these influences into his own unmistakable poetic voice.

We thus rediscover Roland Barthes in the setting of a Greek tragedy, where he loses himself in soliloquies about his own suffering. Facing him is a furious young woman, the daughter of Alcestis, who is fighting against the patriarchal myth built up around her mother: “First mythological / women are abused and then they are silenced.” 2500 years later the young free climber Hazel Findlay is the first woman to climb an E9 route, and documents her success for all the world to see on YouTube. The rage of the female voice from antiquity thus finds a liberating contrast in the optimism of a future which has only just begun: “Poetry emerges / from a black nugget within the body, / it sweats itself out.”

Westermann’s language is a vehicle for serious topics; alongside the feminist motifs, he explores the relationship between humanity and nature – we follow a fox through the world’s twilight, through grief, “darkness and fear”, where oceans rise and angels fall. In the main cycle of the book, the narrative poetry steers – in simple yet artistically crafted language – towards a post-apocalyptic end-time which seems almost impossible to prevent. Can we halt the fall of humanity, can we save ourselves onto an arc? Or is it too late: “A blue whale / glides / silently / above pine forest / and hillside”?

His language is often close to that of prose, allowing itself to be read easily, and is best read aloud to appreciate its rhythm and sound. The narrative perspective subtly changes from that of an omniscient narrator and observer, to the third person, to “us”, to I, to you. Repetitions and enumerations contribute to its flow and rhythm:

“Then rain again, then / night again.”

“and we lie / and we listen / and we fall back to sleep”

Westermann’s poetry unfolds itself in the shadow of words and sentences which are already written and have often been responded to before. Awaking the referenced texts to life, he fetches them into the dark and lovely present of the reader.

Winner of the Clemens Brentano Prize 2020

Title
bezüglich der schatten
Publisher
Matthes & Seitz, Berlin
Translation rights
Loan Nguyen, l.nguyen@matthes-seitz-berlin.de
Publication date
December 2019
Pages
158
ISBN
978-3-95757-781-8

Author

Levin Westermann

Levin Westermann was born in 1980 in Meerbusch, Germany. He studied at the Bern University of the Arts and lives as a full-time writer in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland. unbekannt verzogen (address unknown), his poetry debut, appeared in 2012. It was followed by 3511 Zwetajewa (3511 Tsvetaeva, 2017) and bezüglich der schatten (regarding the shadows), both published by Matthes & Seitz, Berlin. He was awarded the prestigious Clemens Brentano Prize by the City of Heidelberg in 2020.

Photo: Bettina Wohlfender