Poetry News

Gina Myers Talks to Graham Foust About Ernst Meister

By Harriet Staff

At Frontier Psychiatrist, Graham Foust is interviewed by poet Gina Myers about In Time's Rift, Foust's new translation of the work of German poet Ernst Meister. "Published by Wave Books, the collection consists of short, concise poems that 'at once entice and irritate the mouth and mind,' as translators Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick write in their introduction." An excerpt from their interview:

Frontier Psychiatrist: How did this project come about? Did you have experience prior to this book doing translations? What got you interested in translating this particular writer?

Graham Foust: I’ve been working on these poems since about 2004 because Jack Davis, this guy who lives in Canada and has something to do with sitting in fire towers during the summer, wrote me this letter because he had read one of my books and he said it was strange to see an American poet influenced by Ernst Meister, and I was like I have no idea who that is. So we corresponded for a bit about that. And it was funny, right after he sent me that letter, I read at Woodland Pattern, and I was looking at this wall of poetry books kind of overwhelmed, but I saw this British selected poems of Ernst Meister’s called Not Orpheus done by Richard Dove, who is this well known translator of German, so I bought it and read it, and was like, yeah, I totally get why he said that. I felt an immediate kinship with the book. But the translations seemed a little weird, or wooden, or not very poem-y. They seemed more like sketches for what a poem could be, so I just started teaching myself German and tried to retranslate the poems. The poems aren’t really in any order, but I didn’t know that at the time. So I would just kind of work on it when I didn’t have things of my own to do and that went on for several years, maybe six years. And then I met my dad’s wife’s daughter’s husband who is a German professor–that’s Sam. And I was like well this guy will surely have heard of Ernst Meister, and he was like I don’t know who the fuck that is. It wasn’t that he was uninterested, he was just like, who is this guy? So I sent him the poems, and he said they were amazing poems but the translations – eh. So he asked if we wanted to work together, and we did. And the focus of this was that no one had done a whole book of his in English before, they just sort of cherry-picked poems throughout his corpus. But his last three books are sort of a trilogy, so we decided to do the last three books.

FP: And In Time’s Rift is his second to last?

GF: Yes, it’s the middle one. The last one, Wallless Space, Wave is going to do, and we’re finishing the draft of the first volume, Of Entirety Say the Sentence, now. We’re currently just have the rights to do the last two.

FP: Meister was a prolific writer, even considering the huge break he took from writing during his lifetime. Why translate these particular books?

GF: Some of his early poems rhyme, so they have their own weird difficulty. These poems he was writing toward the end are short, but they really work as books. For me they feel like long poems in sections, but they work on their own too.

FP: Has this process improved your German language skills?

GF: Not speaking it. But translating his poems has gotten easier for me. There’s so much of the same–he plays with a lot of the same, like any great poet, like Stevens or Dickinson–like snow, leaves, the same stuff circulates over and over so you get used to it. . . .

Originally Published: October 16th, 2012