From Berlin, Eine Fantastische Literaturzeitschrift!
In the preface to issue 11 of SAND, the editors of Berlin’s English Literary Journal, write that the issue is meant to explore a few of the most distinctive historical moments in Berlin’s “layered history,” celebrate the landscape, and probe the ways history and place together shape identity. There is a feeling of immediacy throughout this issue, but a telescopic quality as well, in that the reader can feel as if she is seeing Berlin, seeing the people of Berlin from a perspective that equalizes human experience, makes each shaping influence meaningful, whether it be for the tired traveler on a treacherous highway or a Nazi propagandist in Horst-Wessel-Stadt.
One of the most delightful ways the editors achieved their objectives for this issue of SAND was choosing to include poems originally written in German, Icelandic, Polish, and Spanish, alongside their respective English translations. The German poems include pieces by Rainer Maria Rilke and Utz Rachowski, translated by Annie Muir and Michael Ritterson.
Rilke’s poem, “The Animal That Never Was,” is a wry comment on self-actualization and “forgetting about trying / to be,” while Rachowski’s poem, “THE COLD WAR IS LONG SINCE OVER,” describes a “rescue” from oblivion that nonetheless does not relieve the narrator from feelings of despair and loneliness. Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir’s poem, translated herself to English from the Icelandic, is titled “The Difference” and captures one of this issue’s major themes: the mind’s concessions, out of sync with the body’s impulses.
Other works of translation include Tadeusz Dabrowski’s polish poem, “The Final Night,” a poem about parting, translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, and Homero Aridjis’ Spanish poem, “To a Monarch Butterfly,” a simply gorgeous reflection on the ephemeral and consciousness, translated to English by Jorge R.G. Sagastume. The original language pieces included in SAND are a part of what gives the publication the aforementioned sense of immediacy and texture, while the English translations allow the reader to feel the “layering," and in a sense to “pan out” a little and see the feelings and images as universal.
Other poetic contributions are multifaceted, and speak to a duality beyond language. Jennifer Raha’s “Symmetry” takes an almost Daoist approach to describe an eternal balance of things; a human desire for transcendence, juxtaposed with effort in the most mundane of circumstances. “Listen. Here is how / We draw heaven near: / Raise white steeples to the sky, / Forget the sky.”
Timothy Otte’s three poems, FEATHERMUCKER, HEATHERWALKER, WEATHERLURKER, which together form a loose triptych, each build on the previous to convey a sense of loss, introversion, and ultimately, detachment as the narrator gradually understands landscapes and bodies as fragile containers, ill-fit to protect the humanity’s collective soul. In fact many of the poems in SAND 11 rely on juxtapositions and the trope of transience or the ephemeral in some way or another. Adrian Nichols’ “no.xi” contrasts pleasure and pain, events, experience, and the concept of eternity with happiness and unhappiness, ideas, beliefs, and time, while Aaron Graham’s gripping poem “PTSD Poem #12” sets the “miasma of souls in Dante’s inferno” against “barroom floors full of autumn girls,” a way to describe the waste of death he feels in his psyche as contrasted with the ennui of his attempts to numb the feeling.
The fictional seletctions in this issue impressed this reader with the authors’ expert character development and dialogue. It has been some time since I’ve read short works in which the characters, regardless of their personalities or likeability, draw me into their world completely. In Kasia Juno van Schaik’s story, “Highwayman,” a middle-aged divorced father travels a treacherous stretch of road, reminiscing on his life and his shortcomings as a husband and father. When a near-fatal collision occurs, he finds himself in survival mode, confronted not just with regret, but with the source of much of it—a deep-seated fear of the unknown.
Will Studdert, winner of the The Reader Berlin’s 2014/15 short story contest, delivers a striking first person narrative, from the perspective of a Nazi radio propagandist, addressing his “Snooper,” a presumed future reader of the private diary in which he is describing the town that is the title of the story, “Horst Wessel-Stadt,” a small suburb of Berlin, and his work/leisure life during the first winter of World War II. This man is a sympathetic character, despite his affiliation with the Nazi party. He is cavalier but fallible, apathetic but contemplative; incredibly human.
Simon Ward’s colorful story, “Gegen Entgegen” follows Sammy, a transgender man as he makes his way through seedy tracts of Berlin. Sammy maintains a cool compusure and confidence depite a gamut of reactions to his appearance: heckling, hostility, suspicion, and the occasional kind smile. The story’s brilliant trajectory takes the character through many and varied experiences of “other-ness” before it finally resolves in a setting where Sammy feels true belonging. Other narratives include “Third Date” by Julianne Pachico, “Passenger” by Adam Baltieri, and “Delirium,” by Lucy Renner-Jones, all of which deliver characterization that is exceptional and prose styles that are delightful and unexpected.
Issue 11 of SAND, Berlin’s English literary journal, is one of the most cohesive compilations of literature and art that I’ve recently encountered. The majority of the contributors flesh out a landscape that focuses on liminal spaces, and experiences of transition or otherness or being in two places at once, emotionally or mentally. And throughout the entire issue, the textured history of Berlin, as it once was and as it exists for Millennials today, is examined in new and unexpected ways.