Rolf Hermann

Switzerland

Rolf Hermann, born in 1973, studied English and German Literature in Berne and Fribourg, Switzerland, as well as in Iowa, USA. He writes poetry, prose, and radio-plays in German. He lives with his family in Biel, Switzerland.

 

Hermann’s publications include three books of poetry: Homage to Backstroke Swimming in Chicago and Elsewhere (2007), Chronicles of a Crash-Landing (2011), and Cartography of Snow (2014). He has also published several CDs of radio plays and spoken word performances. His poems have been translated into Arabic, English, French, Lithuanian, Polish and Spanish and have been included in various literary magazines and anthologies.

 

Angelika Overath, a writer and literary critic from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, described his works as follows: “Hermann hotwires space and time. And something flashes into being: a new sense, a beauty, something which often makes us smile. … his work belongs among the most exciting reads in contemporary German-language poetry.”

Rolf Hermann is a member of the Poetry Group Basel which organizes an annual lyric festival. Furthermore, he teaches creative writing at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel.

 

For his creative work, Rolf Hermann has received recognition through a number of literary awards which include: the Cultural Encouragement Prize of the Canton of Valais (2009), Writer-in-Residence for Poetry in Tübingen (2010), the Rilke Encouragement Prize (2012), the Literature Prize of the Canton of Berne (2015) as well as a writing grant from Pro Helvetia (2015).


From the Review of Kurze Chronik einer Bruchlandung. Gedichte. (Short Chronicle of a Crash Landing. Poems.) by Angelika Overath, first appeared in Neue Züricher Zeitung, January 18, 2012.

 

For years, Rolf Hermann has been working on a “museum catalogue” in which to collect his picture collages. He attributes them to imaginary artists and displays them in fictive museums. Hermann excises gestures and postures out of images and combines these with fragmentary nature photographs, snapshots from the fields of architecture or technology. In this way, he brings together the pipe-smoking petit bourgeois in the idyllic rural landscape from Carl Spitzweg’s “Friedlicher Abend” (“Peaceful Evening”) with a high rise juggernaut, and then titles his creation “Happiness on the 37th Floor / Escape from the Concrete Capsule” (“Happiness on the 37th Floor / Raus aus der Betonkapsel”) [according to Hermann, the painting, by an R.J. Carlos, hangs in the Guggenheim Museum in Hausach, Germany]. Moments in images separated from one another by centuries collide. In “Peeping John / Johannes der Spanner,” John the Baptist (à la Rogier van der Weyden) contemplates Ingres’ “The Small Bather” through his window.

 

Hermann hotwires space and time. And something flashes into being: a new sense, a beauty, something which often makes us smile. What is immediately apparent in a single picture collage becomes more abstract in their succession, particularly as Hermann likes to write without punctuation. The reader can expect a dizzy spell. There lies a lyrical I “stark naked and / rolled together in a defective laundry drum / an El Greco in which the heavens / like blood vessels in the early morning / I sort the clothing hang the white laundry / on the cork oak and the brights / on the holly oak until it all flutters above me / in the dry wind which gathers speed.” This poem, “Duplication Attempt” (“Verdoppelungsversuch”), concludes: “so we are carbon copies / what he does I do as well and the other way around I strike / a match and he calls up the firemen.”

 

This is a doubling of the lyrical I. To say the least. Just as every picture collage has a different artist, the lyrical I in the texts struggles over its identity. It lives with its “Extended Family of Things in Danger of Collapsing,” it stumbles and falls: “The impact threw me head over heels / in a thousand pieces luckily I / was not alone / and the month was right / we three were two rats / and the multiplicity of my Is.” This lyrical I is “born in every place” in which it writes itself. And yet, it finds its surest footing in the vicinity of the unspectacular and the linguistic nuance it so fully expresses.

 

“He who doesn’t know his own furniture by its first name / should move into a smaller apartment,” his poem, “Small Advisor for the Rectification of a Burst Pipe” (“Kleiner Ratgeber zur Behebung eines Rohrbruchs”). It is completely absurd to ask after the name of the advisor. Is it also absurd to move into a smaller apartment? Creative sparks radiate out from this point. For where should one move to? “Better yet, into the toolshed / surrounded by buttercups and blackberry bushes / sheet weaver spiders.” Unexpected intensity hides in the miniatures of small relations. In the end, characterful reifications beckon against the impersonality of the plural “furniture”: “Here he measures the changes of the leaf veins / memorizes the contents of the toolbox / above all the lever mechanism of the pipe wrench.”

 

Despite the familiarity of the toolbox, writing remains a gamble of the first attempt. It is radical attention, a leap into an unexpected connection (the reality of aphids, mites, migratory butterflies). Constellations arise out of crash landings, shattering space and sense, then stitching them back together (“He who sinks into the observation of a paperclip / discovers there his own self portrait”); they provide assurance of a psychic reality. Even the love for Anna, the librarian, finds its place in words. Lapland, Helsinki; horizons of polar light become codes for departure into a shy happiness. Rolf Hermann has a dual aptitude for collages in both pictures and words; his work belongs among the most exciting reads in contemporary German-language poetry.

 

 

From the review of Cartography of Snow. Poems. (Kartographie des Schnees. Poems.) by Beat Mazenauer, first appeared in 041 Kulturmagazin, November, 2014.

 

In Swiss circles, Rolf Hermann is well known as a member of the Gebirgspoeten (mountain poets), along with Matto Kämpf and Achim Parterre. Together they advance folk poetry to a new level. But Rolf Hermann also writes lyric poems. Following the 2007 Hommage an das Rückenschwimmen… (Homage to the Backstroke…) and the 2011 Kurze Chronik einer Bruchlandung (Short Chronicle of a Crash Landing), Kartographie des Schnees (Cartography of Snow) is his third volume of poetry.

 

Hermann is a mountain poet who also displays great competence on the flatlands. For one thing, he lives in Biel, at the edge of the midlands; for another, he engages in a kind of “flat painting” on the accompanying vignettes in his newest collection. Under a pseudonym, he colors over the classics of oil painting with a roller and white dispersion paint. To this end, the collection begins with a sentence in white on its opening pages: “Soon it will snow, -” A sentence which can surely be attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. And those who quote philosophers often philosophize themselves: an aspiration of Rolf Hermann’s, to be sure, though not without a touch of irony.

 

For this is about snow, after all, as the title would suggest. More specifically: a cartography of snow. The Swiss Society of Cartography defines the word “cartography” as a “model image of the world” in cardboard form. These models contain within them information concerning topographic, meteorological or sociological data. When covered in snow, the information disappears beneath a blanket of white. An approximation of the fundamental division between describing and mapping. A “fore word” further accentuates this point:

 

and deep in the inner ear

where the engraving stylus wanders

 

scars of snow

scars of

 

The pointy object that penetrates the eardrum breeds silence, deafness, a white rush of fear… so, too, these poems, whose commonality arises both from their propensity for winter whiteness, as well as from their complex lyrical forms. With this volume, Hermann furthers the poetic program of his initial publications. They achieve a topographic layer. Many of the poems are located concretely: in Swabian villages, Parisian streets, or even in Youtube.

 

unter dem gleichen himmel stands the air

unraveled from the snow

no further friends only acquaintances

 

The narrative, anecdotal of his earlier poems is replaced here by a collage combining images, symbols, and signals into new exemplars. The leitmotif is snow, whether as a silent carpet or in the swirling static of a blizzard. The lyrical perspective multiplies, acquiring hard fractures, sharp edges, and crooked layers: creating a trompe l’oeil effect. “every poem is an instruction manual” one poem reads, to some extant a challenge by the author to his readers to discover themselves in his lines and create something useful. Subject, verb, and object no longer follow one another in distinguishable form, but rather mark upheavals and truncations, spanning one another. “into the present i was i am / with you with me still long unfinished.”

 

In this rhythm less form, freed from punctuation, Hermann’s poems demand neither premature “under standing” nor joyous fun. Cartography of Snow plays with both noise and wonder, with quotations and embedded particles, with the comforting wisdom of snow.

 

Those searching for rhyme and reason will—with a bit of patience and intuition—strike the jackpot here.

 

beneath the earth a

sky rests unhewn

as foundling

Download Poetry booklet
by Rolf Hermann