#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews THE TRILOGY OF SURFACES AND INVISIBILITIES by Nora Gomringer

This is Nora Gomringer’s second volume in English, another product of her electrifying collaboration with the star translator, Annie Rutherford. The Trilogy of Surfaces and Invisibilities is distinctly different to Hydra’s Head (reviewed for ELNet in 2019), but has caused a similar level of excitement in this particular reader. And, to top it all, this book is illustrated – still a rarity when it comes to published poetry, especially in this country. And what a treat these collages by Reimar Limmer are – bursting with colour and texture, full of surreal juxtapositions, sometimes seemingly illustrative, at other times taking the reader in a completely new direction. Limmer’s illustrations have been showcased at exhibitions in Cologne, Vienna, Zurich and Hanoi. It would be a dream to see his work exhibited in the UK, ideally paired with Gomringer performing her poetry. Because Gomringer is a really captivating performer, building a strong and exhilarating bridge between spoken-word performance and page poetry. Indeed, while reading this book I felt, not for the first time, enticed by Gomringer to read the poems out loud, such is the strength of the performance that is their foundation. 

The first part of the book, ‘Monsters’, has a fairy-tale air: there are animals, plants and woods; there are monsters and Red Riding Hood wolves, lions and bearded ladies, kings and queens; there are strong colours, smells and tastes. There are also figures from more contemporary history and pop culture – for example Richard the Gere (which might need explaining to younger generations), or Breivik and his island. At the end of the section it is revealed that this part of the trilogy relates to various films: Them!, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 50 Foot Woman, Psycho and Michael, among others.

Part two, ‘Morbus’, focuses on the physical and on health – or rather ill health. There is a poem about obesity, another about viruses and pandemics, and still more about dementia, herpes, malaria, polio and typhoid. A heart-lung machine is made a symbol of all-encompassing love, or, as it calls itself, ‘the great automated love enforcement machine’. How refreshing this all is, and how appropriate in our plague-tired times!

Part three is called ‘À la Mode’, and here we enter the otherworldly realm of Lagerfeld and Westwood, Elle and Vogue (including Anna Wintour herself), Carrie Bradshaw and her Manolo Blahnik’s, clutch bags, wigs and makeup. I was left with a sense of bewilderment at this artificial world and its rules.

A strong undercurrent of humour runs throughout this volume – often sarcastic and always cutting. There are also beautiful games with rhythm, cadence and repetition: ‘I am the maiden / am the maiden / the maiden is me’. There are tasty neologisms and words glued together: ‘This little boy / is an alwaysaway, / halfwayhere, / overampedanalogue, / ubiquus. / The simultaneity person of the world. / Doctorspeaksostrange’. Languages are mixed and shaken – ‘house crashbangkaput’ – and there are some very successful examples of alliteration, rhyme and mirroring: ‘I’m silent, admit, omit and permit’.

I read this substantial, 140-pages-long collection in one excited sitting and was left wanting more. Can we have more of Nora Gomringer’s poetry in Annie Rutherford’s translation, pretty please? As soon as possible would be great.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak


By Nora Gomringer

Translated by Annie Rutherford

Published by Burning Eye (2022)

September 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.

Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her translation of Maciej Hen’s According to Her is forthcoming. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.


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Category: September 2022Reviews


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