Stoic faces, stiff poses, graceful envelope rhyme—this book is built on the difference between a caption and a title, between identifying an image and re-animating it. As Adam Kirsch writes in his introduction to Emblems of the Passing World, August Sander’s photographs reveal “what is ordinarily hidden from us—the way we ourselves appear, and will appear to posterity, as types, when we stubbornly insist on experiencing ourselves as individuals.”
The poems that follow are based on photographs of citizens from Germany’s Weimar Republic, a period of political upheaval between the first and second World Wars. Despite severe economic inequality during these years, many of Germany’s most famous artists and writers flourished, including August Sander, a photographer with the ambition of documenting people from all walks of life. Rather than using names, the portraits identify their sitters by social class or occupation, and the poems use their captions as titles. Kirsch, who is both critical and admiring of Sander, carves these subjects from the geological strata of their history and attempts to give them back a semblance of individuality.
Olivia ZhengReview: Emblems of the Passing World: Poems After Photographs by August Sander
Navels end sometimes.
Before that happens,
the body draws a road
from the door
through which you will arrive
to the place of areolae
where you will calm your hunger.
Origin of anthill
of white light that from me
will return to you to teach us
that a navel ends
when another is
about to begin.
While eating sardines because they swim for a shorter time in the dying oceans than larger fish and are thus less full of mercury and industrial cocktails (and also because they promote neuroplasticity with all their Omega-three fatty acids, and who doesn’t want to grow new neurons?), and while vigorously churning the sardines with a fork in the can so they didn’t look so suited and ready to swim, I spied a lunula of minute vertebrae dangling from my fork.
At the meal with the earnest centurion and the woman full of pain, he wanted to say the lamb was delicious. It surprised him to love it as much as he did the blinking gaze of the newly sighted, but to say so didn’t suit the narrative that was running through his fingers like water.
The bed they’d given him for the lonely night was more than adequate for a man. Besides, he was now nearly sentimental about the roughness of linen and the funk of straw.
Late night howling down a dark dirt road Headlights
killed and so the world gone black but for the two blunts
lit illuminating Jojo’s fake gold grin One girl each screaming
from the backseat we raced the red moon rawdogged